Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NBA players are quarantined in the Orlando bubble, equalizing the disadvantages of traveling and increasing scores, but also causing mental challenges for players
With traveling suspended for many professional sports leagues due to COVID-19, such as the NBA and NHL, the disadvantages that traveling teams face are equalized, causing some teams to notice improved athletic performance and scoring.
On July 30, NBA players continued their season in a “bubble” environment located in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida, to keep teams safe from the spread of the virus and causing teams to score higher than usual. According to ESPN, on August 9, 17 out of 22 teams in the Orlando bubble exceeded the scoring averages they had before the season was suspended.
“If I am looking at it from a coaching standpoint, [the Orlando Bubble] can help bring players closer together and build the necessary chemistry and focus needed to have a successful team,” former professional basketball player and Basketball Program Director Corey Henderson said. “The negative to this is not having your family, friends and others that are your support system around when things get tough for you as a player.”
According to Dr. Alex Reed, team psychologist for the Denver Nuggets, the improved performance of these teams may be because teams are no longer traveling. Traveling before games can disrupt a player’s sleep schedule and quality of sleep, resulting from changing time zones, flying at night or sleeping in a hotel room.
“When players sleep better, they tend to react quicker, remember plays better and more consistently,” Reed said. “The other part too, is that… When you travel from east to west, it’s harder on your sleep cycle. It’s a lot easier to travel west to east.”
The NHL also implemented a “bubble” for the remainder of the season, beginning Aug. 1, located in two different cities, Toronto and Edmonton.
“Starting the games again is a good call because in hockey, you’re wearing a face covering and able to social distance,” former hockey player, junior Victoria Feuer said. “It could improve players’ game performance because players will be able to practice and focus more. Also, keeping them off of planes will help them to stay healthy.”
But while higher scoring numbers have increased overall for the NBA, athletes in both the NHL and NBA face mental challenges, dealing with uncertainty and isolation away from family. NBA athletes such as Paul George, Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray, have all released statements discussing the mental challenges they have faced in the bubble. The bubble schedule for the NHL gives players less time to rest between games, which may cause fatigue for hockey players.
“They’re away from family, so they’re away from being in person with their support systems,” Reed said. “They can’t leave the premises, so where you or I might be able to go out to a restaurant where we’d still be socially distant, they don’t have that accessibility… but it is forcing them to focus. They are really focusing on basketball.”
Henderson believes that the mental toll the bubble can have depends on the player, but admires the strength athletes have to continue playing.
“[The emotional effects] really depend on the player and where they draw their mental, physical, and spiritual strength and guidance,” Henderson said. “We are in unprecedented times, so if you add in all the chaos going on in this country, its amazing to see that for the most part, players are able to stay focused. There have been some that have struggled to maintain and gain their mojo back.”
Henderson played basketball in college at Texas A&M University and played professionally in Australia. From his experience, staying strong mentally is important to make the most of a rare experience.
“As a one time professional athlete myself, we are not superhuman, but you are being paid very well to do a job that less than one percent of this world will ever experience,” Henderson said. “It is important to make the best of your opportunity which means having the best mental, physical and spiritual resources and support around you to help your journey be a successful and productive one.”
Similarly to professional teams, student athletes also face the cancellation of traveling for sports. Reed also finds that student athletes can face similar impacts to their game performance as professional athletes when they travel, caused by long bus rides or changes in nutrition. As a former player and coach, Henderson has experienced these impacts firsthand.
“I have been on both sides of [traveling] as a player and coach,” Henderson said. “It does have a profound effect on student athletes more so on those that have to play the same day they travel versus those that have opportunities to travel the day before and recover. Student athletes that have a regimen and routine with their study habits and training tend to be more productive and successful.”
Junior Mac Rodvold travels regularly for lacrosse, and agrees that it is more difficult to play after travel.
“Traveling definitely affects my performance in games because [I’m] sitting down for quite some time [when] I could be a lot more focused on the game,” Rodvold said. “Playing a game coming right off a bus trip… is always hard to focus on playing your hardest. I can’t imagine traveling all the time, like they do in professional sports, but I bet they are used to it because it truly is their job.”