For the majority of parents, the COVID-19 imposed isolation generates a multitude of sudden changes on a professional, academic and personal level. These changes have probably disrupted the daily family life of each family member in its own way (relief versus frustration, rest versus boredom). For the parents of young athletes, there is an additional consequence: the uncertainty related to the premature termination of their children’s season and the imperilled launch of spring and summer activities.
Different reactions and emotions are possible in the face of the momentary interruption of your emotional and financial investments to support your children’s sporting aspirations. You may also have to deal with the emotional consequences for your children, as different as they are, on top of what you already have to manage yourself.
Whatever way you are experiencing this situation, here are a few tips to help you take care of yourself, your family and your young athletes.
Tips to take care of yourself
- Respect and support the decisions made by the various authorities (political, academic and sporting), but which are in line with current sanitary recommendations. Use the new information and these changes as an opportunity to engage in or continue conversations with your family on the facts, expectations and feelings of each one.
- Take care of yourself – Establish your own routine so that you can efficiently manage the stress and regulate your emotions while supporting your family. The current period may be a good time to discover activities like yoga or meditation which are recognized for their impact on managing stress and emotions. Many yoga studios are offering online activities for free, with voluntary contributions or at very accessible prices. Gentle yoga, meditation, family yoga or yoga sessions for children are offered by individuals who care about people’s well-being (e.g. La Station Yoga, Yoga Bhavana, Espace Metta, etc.).
- Offer your support but don’t hesitate to ask for some yourself! In a situation like the one we are living through right now, it is important to seek the support of others. Stay in contact virtually with other parents, especially those who have children of similar ages and/or parents of your children’s teams, to provide each other with mutual support, normalize your feelings and solve problems. Discuss and share your questions, ideas and strategies on how to respond constructively to this situation. Do not hesitate to express your concerns and emotions and speak openly about your feelings together.
- Ask for help if necessary – If a child is experiencing difficulties and requires additional support, consult Sport’Aide or regional organizations (e.g. Excellence Sportive Québec Lévis, Excellence Sportive Île-de-Montréal, the Centre régional d’entraînement et d’événements de la Mauricie, etc.) to get recommendations. Also consider calling upon a certified mental performance consultant and/or mental health professional who can provide online services during this unusual period.
Advice to support your child during this difficult and unique period
- Be a positive model
Regardless of your children’s age, they will probably turn to you to determine how to react in these circumstances. It’s a great opportunity to show them how to express their emotions in a productive fashion while managing the stress and uncertainty. Teach them resilience rather than panic and despair.
Sadness, disappointment, irritation, devastation, despair, stress, anxiety, helplessness, frustration and anger are just a few of the emotions that can take over us in response to this period of inactivity. Aware of these emotions, how should we guide our young athletes?
- Allow your children to “feel bad” since an essential part of developing emotional control consists in identifying and understanding emotions, whether they are pleasant or not, and learning to express unpleasant feelings in a healthy manner.
- Allow our children to feel good since it could be that your children are relieved that the season is over, often synonymous with a sustained academic and athletic pace.
- Be empathetic: listen and reflect your child’s feelings.
- Don’t try to solve the problem (there is no solution).
- Over time, when negative feelings start to subside, refocus on the positive points of the past season and the coming opportunities for the next season.
- Highlight and emphasize their strong points as athletes, but also as a person.
- Make them aware of what they learned from their athletic experience and which could help them get through the current situation (e.g. perseverance, managing emotions before a competition, etc.).
- Ask them to focus on the things that they control.
Be open and available to talk, listen and support your children to help them feel worthwhile and heard.
- Put things into perspective
Because young people have little life experience to back them, they have a narrow view of their world and only see the present and immediate future. One of the most precious things that parents can offer their young athletes is a wider and longer perspective than that of their children. A bit of advice?
- Acknowledge rather than disparage your children’s short-term perspective (it’s their point of view and it should be respected).
- Think long term (it may seem like a big problem now, but in a short time it will not seem as big or crushing).
- Look at the big picture (since COVID-19 raises much more important problems in the world than cancelling or postponing certain sports competitions).
- Offer examples from your life and the world in general to illustrate the importance of putting things into perspective.
- Reflect on opportunities
The ability of young athletes and their parents to get through this situation in a more or less positive manner will depend on their ability to shift from the “losses” and focus on the potential benefits of the current situation. Among the positive aspects, there are different ways for athletes to benefit:
- Adjust their short, medium and long-term dreams and goals.
- See the interruption of all sports activity as an extended period to prepare for the resumption of activities.
- Identify the areas that they should work on in their sport development and focus on improving these areas (concentration, rest, relaxation, flexibility, etc.).
- Use this time away from their sport to experience a balance in their life and place importance in neglected aspects of life and activities (focus on school, enjoy a major, but neglected hobby, try something new and different, etc.).
- Adopt new structures and routines built and based around school, physical conditioning and social life.
- Encourage independence and time for oneself (see our blog Sportspersons and athletes confined – When emotions and uncertainty become overwhelming).
Check with your children the areas in which they need your support (e.g. school work). Outside of remote learning and training, they probably have a lot of free time.
The sudden end of the season could be a potential identity crisis for certain athletes. If it is important to let your children experience such feelings – if this is what they are experiencing – encourage them to find ways to be productive and take care of themselves physically and mentally in order to help them manage the various emotions that they could feel.
Keeping them busy will help them to avoid focusing their attention on the negative aspects of the pandemic such as the postponement and cancellation of events, school closings and the resulting social isolation.
Keep in mind that boredom can be a way to learn patience and become aware of time, which stimulates the powers of thinking and imagination, while calling upon creativity. Let’s teach our children to overcome boredom and help them to reflect on other ways to manage their free time while providing them with suggestions to take care of themselves.
- Plan family activities together
Despite the current situation, it is important to:
- Live as normal a life as possible (e.g. family dinners, daily activities, etc.).
- Benefit from this forced break to define daily or weekly family activities that mark the days and weeks while allowing you to have quality time with your loved ones. For example, each family member could, according to their tastes and inspirations, plan an activity during the week (cooking on Monday night, sports activity Tuesday morning, Wednesday night movie, etc.).
- Distract yourself from the current situation and do activities that generate positive and shared emotions (e.g. play board games, listen to music, read books, dance, cook, etc.).
We hope that these tips will guide you in helping your children and young athletes in successfully making it through this unusual period which, in the context, is an indisputable challenge. However, on the strength of what certain consider to be a “slump”, this COVID-19 episode could turn out to be a major turning point for our society and our young athletes who will see their ability to adapt tested… in a way that no other adversary could ever do!!
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 for Applied Sport Psychology: 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 online)
Fédération Française de Natation via la Société Française de Psychologie du Sport : Quarantaine Covid-19, comprendre et gérer les impacts psychologiques.
Sports Meets COVID-19: What to Say, What to Do – Dr Jim Taylor
Teboul, R. (2005). Plaidoyer pour l’ennui. La lettre de l’enfance et de l’adolescence, (2), 25-3
Keep in mind that boredom can be a way to learn patience and become aware of time, which stimulates the powers of thinking and imagination, while calling upon creativity.