By Michelle Rowe-Jardine
Kendra Challis says she couldn’t believe it when she got a standing ovation at the Sheridan College Athletics and Recreation awards banquet last year.
“I was still sitting down. I was like, ‘Wait, what, they called my name?’” Challis says.
Sheridan hosts an annual banquet to celebrate the achievements of hardworking athletes who play for the college.
Following the 2017-18 season for the OCAA women’s soccer league, Challis was given an Athlete of the Year award from her school.
And while the OCAA soccer season begins in August and wraps up at the end of October, Challis and her team train for these moments of glory and triumph all year round.
During the season their coach, Paul Angelini, has them training every weekday — except the days after a game.
But when the season wraps up, he says they should be training more and not less.
Angelini, a coaching veteran for over 20 years, advises his athletes to do two things during the OCAA’s off-season. One is to continue playing soccer at a competitive level. The other is to make use of the athletic therapy program at Sheridan.
“Every team has a therapist, and the therapists are prepared to make them personal training programs for the summer,” he says.
Angelini says the plans are tailored to each individual athlete and can include plyometrics, weight-training for endurance and stretching.
“They have more time on their hands and so we recommend six days a week in the off-season,” he says.
The OCAA season may run from August through October, but the main season for soccer is during the warmer months — from April to August — where many OCAA athletes continue playing competitively. Additionally, indoor soccer leagues run during the coldest months of the year, when playing outside isn’t possible.
When the OCAA season wraps up, Challis only takes a brief resting period. Then, she’s back to a rigorous training regimen to come back an even stronger athlete than the previous season.
“I usually take a few weeks off because the schedule is so compact and … you have to take a break at some point, your body needs it. So, I usually take a week or two and then I’m right back into training,” she says. “It feels good to relax but then after a while my body starts to get jittery and I want to start going again and it’s an athlete’s way just to keep moving, always working out.”
As both a kinesiology and health promotion student and a lifelong athlete, Challis is familiar with the effects of overtraining. She says she experienced some of the negative aspects associated with not taking a break last year.
“You’re just more sluggish, you really don’t want to do anything, your appetite is not really there. For me, I didn’t really slip into a depression, but I just didn’t want to do things and I was just tired. It’s just not a good feeling,” she says.
Athletic burnout and overtraining are two common conditions that many dedicated athletes can be afflicted with at some point during their careers.
In the 2013 study “Hope and athlete burnout: Stress and effects as mediators,” Henrik Gustaffson, et. al write that an estimated range of one to nine per cent of all athletes are suffering from some form of athletic burnout.
Burnout is characterized in this study as “a psychophysiological syndrome comprised of three dimensions; emotional/physical exhaustion, a reduced sense of accomplishment and sport devaluation.”
Sport devaluation encompasses a loss of interest in or cynical attitude towards a once-beloved sport.
“Because you’re training, training, training and then if you don’t take a break or anything, your body is just going to give up. The biggest thing is: take a break every once in a while,” Challis says.
But because of the rigorous schedule of student athletes, taking a break can be harder than it sounds.
Sheridan Bruins women’s soccer defender Marianna DeFina says she’s always on the move and she doesn’t necessarily take a break.
“I find that once the season is done I’m pretty much right into the next,” she says. “For me in the winter, my biggest motivation is that I prefer indoor soccer … and then in the summer it’s just what I love to do. I work at a job that involves a lot of soccer as well and I can’t see myself not doing it.”
DeFina works at a camp over the summer where she helps kids connect with their own sports-based passions.
“I don’t do much else other than the job that I work that requires running around with kids all day in the gym,” she says.
If OCAA athletes do take a hiatus from their sport, they risk not even making the team the following season.
“You see it the very first practice … they show up and you know right away who has been working in the summer and who hasn’t,” Angelini says.
Despite knowing that they have to stay on top to stay in the game next season, motivation can sometimes be hard to come by.
DeFina uses self-talk to get her through the days where she just doesn’t feel like putting the work in.
“On days like that I just try to self-motivate, so I just try to talk to myself and say, ‘You’ve got to do it, it’s going to make you better,’” she says.
Challis has been playing soccer since she was three, and has been playing competitively since she was nine. She’s no stranger to the year-round grind.
But throw school into the mix and it’s long hours of training several days a week, plus travelling across the province for games, all while trying to maintain a high GPA.
Challis says it can be a struggle because she also works on the side, but she’s still managed to win three OCAA-All Academic awards during her time playing at Sheridan.
The OCAA hands out these awards to athletes who maintain honours-level grades. DeFina also managed to secure one of these accolades last season.
When asked what makes the grueling hours of work and school plus the commitment to her sport worth it season after season, Challis says, “the biggest honour for me is being called captain of the women’s soccer team.”
“Staying on top of school work, getting the grades, setting an example for all the first years and second years… at the end of the day it’s about being that role model.”