The match which currently pits the sports community against the COVID-19 pandemic is more than an unexpected clash, it’s a crisis that generates ignorance, unpredictability, uncertainty, ambiguity and a loss of control. These sudden changes in the sports community are leaving it in a state of shock, disbelief and distress and leads us to ask questions which have no answer: When will the fields and gymnasiums open again? When can I go back to school? When can I start training?
For some athletes, this unknown adversary and the crisis it provokes means more than a simple break in their sports careers. Some of them will not see the end of their season, will not experience their last high school or college championship, depriving them of the opportunity to loop the loop or saying necessary goodbyes. For others, with the arrival of spring and the approach of summer, it’s the idea of missing the beginning of the next season that worries them. In other words, regardless of the scenario, this unusual situation for our young athletes could lead to the sudden disappearance of their sporting identity.
In addition to being deprived of their main activity, today, and for an indeterminate period, sportspersons are deprived of their teammates and friends. For some, this disconnect can end up being a major emotional shock and even dramatic in some cases.
Tips to better accept and manage the situation
Despite the discomfort created by the situation, here are a few ways for you to manage it better.
- Take care of your basic needs first
Start by meeting your physiological and safety needs (see the Maslow hierarchy of needs below).
Take care of the basic needs, such as food, water, housing, clothes, sleep and health as much as possible.
Next, have fun exploring these various other needs and reflect on what you can maintain in the current circumstances (e.g. which members of my family can I currently spend time with? What are my qualities, my skills and my capabilities beyond my sport?)
- Stay connected with your friends and teammates in a way that will help to support you emotionally
Prioritize video technology such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms. Staying connected in general is the key! Keep in mind that – rather than use text messages – physically seeing your friends and teammates will be particularly important in these difficult times where solitude could become your worst enemy. Finally, it is important to remember that everyone is experiencing this generalized solitude.
Maintain virtual communications but
Also benefit from the people who are physically around you
- Talk about it!
Identify the people you trust and who you feel can be a source of support and orientation during this period. Talk to your parents about what you are feeling. Stay in contact with your coach and your teammates via video and social media. As well, do not hesitate to contact a mental health or mental performance professional for additional support for your current concerns (Note that Sport’Aide’s team of counsellors is available to listen to you while other organizations like the Institut National des sports du Québec (INS), Excellence Sportive Île-de-Montréal (ESIM), Excellence Sportive Québec Lévis, etc. offer their members a list of mental performance consultants and sports psychologists.).
- Remember your “why” and honour the person you are, beyond sport
While being mindful of the importance of respecting the general recommendations, especially those linked to social distancing, you could probably continue to train to a certain degree. Despite the current context, it is important to realize the opportunity you have to benefit from this new free time to rest
and recuperate; devote your time to other interests; manage your educational or professional commitments; and/or continue to train or maintain your level of physical fitness.
You can also discuss the situation with your coaching staff, by reviewing your goals and expectations. Therefore, even without an impending competition, reflecting on, remembering and recommitting to your “why” – the reason justifying the training and competition in your sport -, can help you stay positive and motivated while adapting to the current restrictions.
In the rainbow on the left, one of the colours (your sport) has probably been taking up a lot of space in your life for several months, if not years. It is normal to be destabilized by the fact that you can no longer express yourself in your sport. But why not take advantage of this time out to reflect on your other qualities, your other passions or desires, as well as other or spheres of life? In what other field can you excel right now (school, music, design, communication, cuisine, community…)?
Keep in mind that you are more than an athlete, but a human being with many other colours that deserve to be expressed!
- Focus on your physical and mental health
If you decide to continue to invest in your training, it could be easier right now to continue to improve your flexibility, strength and mentality during this period. Physical activity as such helps to manage stress, fight illness and maintain positive mental health. Even though you cannot go the gym to train, there are other creative alternatives to help you remain active. If you decide to run or practice a physical activity outdoors, make sure you respect the social distancing recommendations. If you choose to exercise at home, use what you have available.
Search online for reliable sources that offer various training options adapted to your interests and needs. The current context is favourable since many online training platforms are currently waiving the enrolment fees. If you have a health problem, make sure you respect all directives provided by your medical team.
This time out may be a gift to perfect aspects that you normally “don’t have the time” to develop or optimize. Take advantage of the opportunity to improve your mental skills such as confidence or visualization with the help of a mental performance consultant or using applications like Headspace, Calm, WellU, Woop or Fit Brains.
It may be an excellent time to feel better and stronger mentally
Don’t lose sight of the importance of rest, recuperation and relaxation which are just as important for your future performances as for your current and future well-being. In this respect, do not hesitate to ask qualified persons (certified yoga instructors, mental performance consultants) to provide you with advice and tips to learn to meditate and relax.
- Establish a daily routine:
It is important to keep in mind that you control the way you start and end your days, as well as the items that you prioritize daily or weekly.
To do this, you have to solidify your morning and evening routines, get enough sleep and deliberately incorporate other physical activities and rest times in order to partially restore the feeling of control and comfort while sustaining your health and well-being.
Finally, remember that it is also important to socialize and set up virtual meetings with friends or members of your family or take the time to play board games, read or cook.
These few tips which combine prevention and pro action offer you the possibility of “benefiting” from this forced break… on the condition that you take the time to reflect, identify and express your emotions and get organized. By accepting to adapt your daily routine to this pandemic, you succeed in improving your psychological well-being and, another aspect which is too often ignored, strengthening your immune system against this adversary.
Élise Marsollier, PhD
Mental Performance Consultant
Sports Psychology Researcher
Ordre des Psychologues du Québec : Coronavirus (COVID-19) : conseils psychologiques et informations au grand public (accessible en ligne).
Association pour la psychologie du sport appliquée : The COVID-19 Pandemic: Tips for Athletes, Coaches, Parents, and the Sport Community.
Washington post: A psychologist’s science-based tips for emotional resilience during the coronavirus crisis – 16 mars 2020 (accessible en ligne)
Fédération Française de Natation via la Société Française de Psychologie du Sport : Quarantaine Covid-19, comprendre et gérer les impacts psychologiques.
How Student-Athletes Can Cope With the Consequences of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic – 4 Things You CAN do to Respond to the new (Ab)Normal – Dr. Greg Cypher
For some athletes, this unknown adversary and the crisis it provokes means more than a simple break in their sports careers.