Everyone in the sports community is feeling the impact of COVID-19. Events and competitive seasons at all sport levels are cancelled and training facilities are closed. Athletes, coaches, parents, and sport stakeholders are scrambling to develop contingency plans. With no live events to cover, media sources are focusing on the Coronavirus pandemic, which could be further exacerbating everyone’s concerns. Fortunately, mental performance and mental health practitioners and organizations are helping to mitigate the effects of this extremely fluid situation through online support.
The emotional rollercoaster is real
In the midst of the current global crisis, it is normal to feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster; the constant influx of information, changes to daily routines, uncertainty with personal health and the health of others coupled with rapidly changing reports, is characteristic of the ups and downs of a rollercoaster. All of which is physically and emotionally draining. The first step in managing your experience is to recognize how you feel. COVID-19 is impacting everyone differently, and the impact it is having on you is completely normal and valid.
Coaches, teachers, and instructors:
- Stay connected: Keep in touch with your team collectively and individually as much as possible. Recognize that you are likely an important, valuable part of their lives, and as such, you may be one of the few people who athletes trust and are willing to talk to about their feelings, insecurities, worries, and well-being right now. As much as you can, create space for them to share what’s going on with them, listen, and ask how you can help.
- Recognize the degrees of impact: It’s important to consider that some athletes and their families may not feel much of an impact while others may not have a safe place to stay, access to food or other essentials, or a stable financial situation during this time of crisis, and everything in between. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic can take a toll on other aspects of athletes’ lives, such as motivation. Some athletes will find it challenging to train alone due to their motivation being strongly tied to feelings of community with their teammates. Some athletes are feeling a significant loss due to being unable to finish their senior season or finalize a multi-year cycle of focus and dedication. Some athletes will experience a sense of relief due to injury, burnout, or performance anxiety. All of these can impact motivation; by seeking to understand athletes individually and uncovering needs, you can provide appropriate guidance.
- Continue to be a resource: Based on the needs of your athletes, provide insights into continued training options, home-based workout suggestions via credible online programs or apps, healthy recipes to try, or opportunities to get outside and move such as hiking, walking, running, and biking. You may also consider creative ways for them to stay involved in their sport, such as sending sport-specific trivia questions for them to research, books to read, or podcast episodes to listen to.
- Remain neutral and factual: Try to remain neutral regarding any governing body’s decision to cancel or postpone events. Keep the Coronavirus pandemic in perspective to help athletes understand and rationalize any perceived unfairness or doomness. Athletes will look to you for how to respond to this crisis. Composure and resilience are key.
- Practice and model self-care: Determine methods of self-care that you want to add to your daily or weekly routines moving forward. Examples are getting enough sleep, engaging in personal hobbies, eating nutritious foods, being physically active, practicing gratitude, or journaling. Done consistently, these actions will help you to feel more control and comfort, while modeling healthy, positive behaviors that you can share with your athletes.
- Take care of yourself, too: Give yourself space to acknowledge your own feelings related to managing this pandemic. Rely on your support network, including other coaches, personal trainers to talk about how you’re doing, mitigate stress and challenges, share best practices, resources, and referrals, and troubleshoot.
Parents and guardians:
- Maintain awareness and initiate action: Utilize COVID-19 updates to determine how the pandemic will continue to impact you and your family. Respect and support the decisions made by various governing bodies about sport and performance events that align with current Coronavirus recommendations. As new information or changes arise, use that as an opportunity to initiate or continue conversations with your family about facts, expectations, and feelings.
- Be a positive role model: No matter how young or old your children are, they will likely look up to you to determine how to respond under these circumstances. This is an opportunity to show them how to productively express emotions while managing stress and uncertainty. Show them resilience, rather than panic and despair. Help your children keep the pandemic in perspective instead of fueling any negative emotions over sport-specific decisions and updates. Be open and available to talk to, listen, and support your children. Be “all in” during these moments to help them feel valued and heard.
- Encourage self-care, creativity, and meaning-making: Check with your children about where they need dedicated support from you (i.e., with schoolwork). Outside of distance learning and perhaps training guidance from their coach, they likely have a lot of extra time on their hands; it’s important to help them find productive, positive, meaningful ways to spend that time, rather than logging hours and hours of screen time. You could help brainstorm alternative ways to engage in hobbies or activities, provide suggestions for self-care, or offer to help them stay active by playing games, throwing a baseball in the yard, or working on dribbling skills in the driveway, for example. Staying busy helps them to avoid focusing all of their attention on negative ramifications of the pandemic such as event cancellations, school closures, and social isolation. Not being able to compete could be a potential identity crisis for some athletes. While it is important to let your children process such feelings if this is what they are experiencing, helping them find ways to be productive and take care of themselves physically and mentally can help ease the pain and confusion they might be feeling.
- Take care of yourself, too: Establish your own self-care routine so that you are able to effectively manage stress and regulate your emotions while supporting your family. Virtually stay in touch with other parents, particularly ones who have children with similar ages and/or parents from your kids’ teams, to support each other, normalize your feelings, and problem solve.
- Reach out for help if needed: If your child is struggling and would benefit from additional support, look to your local community for resource recommendations. You may also consider searching for a mental health professional who can provide online services during this stressful period.
In this time of uncertainty, focus on what you can control, even when it feels as if there is little you can control. Utilize your networks and these tips to take it one day at a time. As we keep moving forward, remember that kindness is always free and we will get through this by supporting each other.