Further to its COVID-19 blog series, Sport’Aide is pleased to share a moving account by one of its partners, Plongeon Québec, outlining that group’s recent efforts to support diving coaches in this unique pandemic environment. Here’s the first of an interesting series of blogs about a great initiative that deserves to be better known and even emulated elsewhere.

Enjoy the read and BRAVO to Plongeon Québec! ☺

A time of upheaval

Thursday, March 12, 2020, and the pandemic has settled on Quebec’s doorstep. Government announcements come thick and fast: Indoor gatherings of 250 people or more are now banned; with less than 24 hours’ notice, the provincial championship Espoir is cancelled; sport centres, starting with pools, close one after another; and all sectors of economic activity begin to shut down. Sporting events are hit hard and diving competitions are obviously no exception.

The situation has grown dire for most of us. The survival instinct kicks in as we scramble for ways to counter the virus. Emotions run high.

After a few days, the initial shock subsides a little and a new reality dawns in our hearts and minds. It is far more complex and pervasive than we imagined, far more than sport by itself. In the first weeks of lockdown, coaches do their best to sustain their athletes’ enthusiasm. Virtual training multiplies and sport-revival committees form to ensure readiness when the right time finally arrives.

But what’s to become of the coaches themselves and their peak-performance strategies now that the pandemic has exploded, obliterating everything in its path? There’s certainly enough happening to destabilize and discourage any human being caught up in the storm.

How to support coaches

Since the outset of the crisis, several organizations have offered support for coaches as they work with athletes. But who will step up and give the coaches themselves a helping hand? It’s this particular dilemma that got Plongeon Québec thinking about developing a way to help coaches take care of themselves before assisting their athletes. In fact, it was in this framework that the Federation began its strategic planning process the year before, setting up workshops and listening to members’ concerns. The advent of the pandemic has only emphasized this concern for well-being and the importance of listening to everyone involved – most especially the coaches. Plongeon Québec quickly reached the conclusion that a number of coaches had in fact lost their bearings and seen their hard work crumble in less than 24 hours.

A joint approach

The idea of hosting coach-support sessions emerged following a discussion between Johanne Boivin, Plongeon Québec’s technical coordinator, and Jean-Paul Richard, former coach of the Canadian Freestyle Skiing team and co-founder of reRoot. Plongeon Québec and reRoot have already collaborated for several years on coach-athlete conferences and workshops, with an emphasis on the development of empathy skills for coaches. Richard’s generous proposal was timely then, and resulted in a firm bond of trust between him and the coaching community. In difficult times like these, his approach based on tangible elements was exactly what coaches needed.

In an airliner emergency you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Richard drew on this image to conduct his sessions, using concrete tools to design support solutions for diving coaches. “Our duty was to ensure that they all have the reflex to put on their own mask first, so they can effectively assist their athletes and colleagues,” says Boivin.

In collaboration with Jean-Paul Richard, Plongeon Québec has designed a plan consisting of four virtual sessions with coaches to develop a reflection/action process using concrete tools and conducted in an emotionally secure space. These sessions have proved to be a unique experience that is rich in reflection, awareness and sharing. “It’s not always easy to show vulnerability. However, asking for help by genuinely sharing fears, getting support from one’s peers, and managing to find one’s own solutions in a judgment-free space, are winning principles for facing this vulnerability and getting results that are sometimes unexpected,” Richard explains. “This joint approach was set up to support diving coaches, allowing them to become more confident and able to support athletes at their very best in the months ahead,” Boivin concludes.

We hope you appreciate this article. Stay tuned for the next post, when Jean-Paul Richard will share his ideas in more detail. Some coaches will also offer testimonials of their own experiences and explain how they used the tools made available to them.

It is far more complex and pervasive than we imagined, far more than sport by itself. In the first weeks of lockdown, coaches do their best to sustain their athletes’ enthusiasm.