Mental and physical approach best for season’s “dog days”

DePaul players huddle at a pause in the game. Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics.
DePaul players huddle at a pause in the game. Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics.

It’s that time of the year.

Student-athletes have been practicing officially for four and a half months, working out for longer, and teams have played at least 23 games so far. The final stretch of the regular-season schedule looms, which includes conference tournaments and possible postseason runs. Players are sometimes glassy-eyed on the court, seem a half-step slower, and even coaches look weary at times on the bench.

These are the dog days of the season.

“We are exhausted,” one assistant coach said with emphasis recently after a team win.

Fatigue is showing across the Division I ranks, as most of the top teams have been upset at least once over the last few weeks, and many squads that began the year with solid runs have stumbled and fallen.

The key to getting through this period successfully, athletes say, is self-care and a strong mental game.

“We just realize that everyone’s at the same point in the season,” UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere said after Friday’s game against No. 10 Stanford. “We’ve played 25 games, and everyone’s tired. It’s a matter of finding ways to get through it and finding ways to stick together.”

Cardinal forward Alanna Smith said she and her teammates emphasize sticking to the basics.

“A lot of the times it’s the pillars of health like recovery, sleep, what you’re eating, and staying on too of your homework,” Smith said. “Sometimes one of those falls, so we pick it back up.”

Bruin forward Kennedy Burke said deliberate intentions and self-care are the keys to success right now.

“It’s about making that choice to stay committed, and to take care of our bodies,” she said.

Smith said team unity also helps.

“One special thing we have is that we really do everything together, and we support each other,” she said. “So if one of us is struggling, we’re there to pick them up and guide them along. Basketball is fun. It’s a grind, but we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun.”

Onyenwere said she is also helped by remembering why she first picked up a basketball.

“It’s about keeping it the back of our heads that though we’re tired, basketball is fun too, and we’re going to enjoy it,” she said.