September 18, 2020 

Marie Gülich adapts to the WNBA bubble environment

Before the start of the 2020 WNBA season, Marie Gülich had plenty of questions

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Los Angeles Sparks 2020 team photo at IMG Academy in Bradenton FL. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Sparks Twitter Account.

Before the start of the 2020 WNBA season, Marie Gülich had plenty of questions.

The league and the WNBPA had agreed upon a plan to start the season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida in a ‘bubble’ environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the country. Strict measures were to be put in place to properly ensure the health and safety of players and league personnel.

On the outside, the league’s plan seemed to be solid and concrete. The bubble environment along with strict quarantine and testing protocols seemed the only way to provide a safe atmosphere for the players and guarantee that nobody would be exposed or contract COVID-19.

But inside the bubble, a different set of concerns were being raised by players, among whom Gülich was a part of.

“We’ve all been open and concerned about mental health being in this bubble. There were a lot of questions like is this sustainable for mental health? Are we able to take care of each other? Can we have our own rhythm, are we going to be comfortable, is this going to be completely out of our comfort zone? Are we going to be able to play a game the way we want to,” Gülich recalled to The Next Hoops. “There were a lot of questions, and I think mental health right now, especially being in the bubble, is a huge aspect as players to take care of.”

Adapting to life inside the bubble, and the possible mental health issues that came with it, was something incredibly important to Gülich. She admitted that in the months prior when the WNBA season was far from guaranteed to happen, she struggled with trying to maintain a daily routine.

With the world on lockdown, and gatherings prohibited, including team basketball workouts, being isolated from her new Los Angeles Sparks teammates and not knowing whether or not basketball was going to happen was mentally taxing for Gülich. To help her cope with the uncertainty, she turned to a mental health coach for help.

“I had a few days where I really struggled with the idea of not knowing when something or if something was going to happen and if we were going to get together as a team or not. I had a few days where I just felt really low energy,” Gülich said. “We just worked on having a routine, getting in a rhythm, by that I just mean simple things like structuring your day in a way that you feel like you’re not just sitting at home waiting for the day to be over because all of a sudden the days get so long.”

One of the things Gülich harnessed her quarantine energy towards was painting. When she was younger, she recalled loving to paint. But when she started taking basketball seriously, she kind of gave up painting.

Although she still made sure to get some individual basketball workouts in, she saw this as an opportunity to go back and rekindle some of her old hobbies that she liked to do outside of playing basketball. Along with her mental health coach, she started feeling better and inspired to establish a daily routine.

“I think that was a really good opportunity for me to think about what I do I actually like outside of basketball because I hadn’t really thought of that before. Basketball has always been such a huge part of my life, something that I’ve always focused on,” Gülich said. “We also talked about basketball and focused on mental reps because I couldn’t get physical reps in, so just mental reps, watching film, thinking about movement. That was a completely different aspect I’ve never really worked with. It really helped me to mentally stay prepared, and I really liked that aspect.”

When the WNBA began moving forward with plans for the 2020 season to get underway, some of those same concerns and issues Gülich had, started to come back. She wasn’t sure exactly how the bubble environment was going to work. She didn’t know what to expect and what it would mean for the mental health of the players.

She arrived in the bubble from Germany and since she was coming from out of the country, she was required to undergo a longer quarantine period than all of her teammates. Once she arrived in the United States, she had to self-quarantine for 10 days, and then an additional four days after touching down in the Bradenton bubble.

She recalled getting to leave her hotel room for daily WNBA coronavirus testing as being the highlight of her day, but that her teammates kept her in good spirits with the constant communication, especially former Oregon State teammate Sydney Wiese. And when she was finally able to leave quarantine and experience the bubble first-hand, it was much different than what she had anticipated.

“You think that you have a lot of time, but there are a lot of time slots where you have to be available for certain times, there’s time for the weight room, and time for lunch, there’s time for dinners,” Gülich said. “It is really structured and it keeps you busy so you don’t have much time to think about it. I was like, ‘oh I’m actually really busy, I don’t have much downtime to think about being outside of the bubble. I think that’s really good.”

Aside from the daily activities in the bubble keeping her busy, Gülich credited the Sparks strong team chemistry off the court for being a contributing factor in making the bubble experience a good one. Since the start of training camp, many of the Sparks new players have commented on the team atmosphere and the strong bond they all have.

Their off the court camaraderie has an effect on the court and it’s been evident this season. This is a group that genuinely likes playing with each other. The trust each other and they’re willing to battle for one another and it showed when they rattled off nine straight wins last month.

For Gülich, she believes that in any season, team chemistry is a necessary and important component for team success. But in this season, a season that is anything but normal, she believes that strong team chemistry became that much more of a determining factor in a team’s bubble experience.

“I think trust is a huge component of that. It’s really important in a season like that where you don’t have a lot of time. Just giving in to that and trusting one another, that everyone does their part. And also respecting one another and being able to communicate about mistakes and responding to criticism and feedback in the right way,” Gülich said. “I think it’s really important that we’re all just being open-minded and getting together as a team and trying our best to support one another and trust one another.”

Now that the season is winding down and the playoffs are in full swing, Gülich reflected on her bubble experience and how the Sparks have made that experience an enjoyable one.

“Being in the bubble definitely has its ups and downs, but it helps that you’re surrounded by good people. Coach Fish and Coach T are very aware of how physically and mentally draining this can be to have so many games in such a short period of time,” Gülich said. “Everyone is really aware and that helps to take care of one another. I think we’re doing a really good job as a team to make sure everyone is ok and can bring their part to the team.”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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