The coronavirus pandemic has turned life in this country on its head and sportspeople - amateur and elite - are trying to cope with the new normal, just like every other sector of society.

A sportsperson can question their life's meaning when they're not competing, not part of a team, not gaining that sense of achievement and satisfaction - not to mention the endorphins - that come from training and overcoming challenges.

Then there is the social connection with coaches and team-mates, the thrill of competing in front of crowds, be they large or small - we all miss different aspects of our sporting life when it is taken away from us.

When something we love and are passionate about is taken away from us, we can go through many different thoughts and emotions like a grieving process. 

There has been uncertainty and confusion around returning to play in multiple sports across the country.

In this series of articles I will give you a guide on how best to view the current situation and how to emerge a more rounded and developed person first, and athlete second, when the restrictions are lifted and you can compete again in your chosen field. 

Skill 1
Practice Awareness

The certainty and routines we had regarding training times and competition dates have been wiped away for now. The focus daily towards preparing for the next session or next event has changed for now with no dates in mind.

Some people might be in denial or fear around what has happened, while the fact that different sports and events are coming back now means others might be feeling some frustration or anger.

Others may feel overwhelmed or helpless at not being able to see team-mates or participate, or trying to find meaning in this situation or their life by looking at what they have learned about themselves from this challenge and may reach out to others for support around it.

Then, of course, some might be accepting the situation and exploring options and have a plan of what they want to do during this break from sport. You might have found yourself moving across this continuum at different stages during the last two months.

  • The first step is to recognise where you might be now on this continuum.
  • What are you thinking in relation to the current situation that has resulted in this feeling of fear or helplessness for example?
  • What have been the helpful and unhelpful behaviours you have engaged in?
  • How can you view the current situation (differently) to progress from these feeling(s) you are having?

The key thing to remember is thoughts are not truths and feelings are not facts. We are not fixed in this thought or emotion. We can all develop new perspectives on issues we are having to move from a 'problem focus' to a ‘solution focus’.

Skill 2
Practice Control 

The next step is to focus your attention on what you can control and influence around the situation and let go of what is outside of your control. 

There is so much in the world that is outside of our control. When it comes to being your personal best, having an ability to focus on, or even master, what is 100% under your control is an essential mindset skill. 

Control is one of the mental frameworks on how we view the world. By focusing on mastering what is in your control, it can help you maximise your time and energy, two extremely valuable human assets.

What might be things in our control: my thoughts and feelings about the future, my effort levels, what I choose to practice (mental skills, video analysis, technical skills), preparing my meals, my sleep routine, setting goals and training plans, following HSE guidelines for hygiene, etc.

What might be things I can influence: what I listen to, read, watch, who I speak with and the topics we discuss, planning my day around my key priorities (health, career, family, friends, meals, exercise, hobbies, etc.).

What might be some things I have no control over: what other people say or do, what the figures are for Covid-19, when competition might restart, when we are back training, the economy, etc. 

When you catch your mind wandering (which we do almost 50% of waking hours) during the day and you start to feel anxious, confused, or overwhelmed, ask yourself what is my issue right now? What circle is it under? This will help you to detach and come back to the present moment and focus on what you can control. 

Skill 3
Practice deep breathing 

If there is one definitive way to short-circuit the stress response in the moment, our breath is the access point. 

The breath is an essential tool in calming the mind and body. It is a tool to bring us back to the present moment when our mind has projected us to future-based thoughts (sometimes anxiety) or past-based thoughts (sometimes regrets). 

There are so many kinds of breathing exercises to do. Breathing techniques can help stop anxiety from escalating into panic:

A) Heart-centered breathing

Place one hand on your belly and your other hand on your heart. Inhale through your nose for a silent count of 4, pause for 2, exhale through your nose or mouth for a silent count of 5. Ensuring the exhale is longer than the inhale. Do this for a few breath cycles, then allow your breath to return to normal. This is a great technique to decrease the overwhelming feeling and help us get centred. 

B) Diaphragmatic breathing

Place both hands on your belly. Inhale and exhale slowly through your nose (or mouth if that is more comfortable). Feel your belly rise and fall with each in breath and out breath. 

Committing to a deep abdominal breathing practice for five minutes a day sends a signal to our brain all is okay here, it helps us to come back to the present moment, allows our brain to produce the serotonin hormone which relaxes our mind and bodies by inducing the relaxation response.

Our breath is available to us throughout the day to move from fear-based stress response to relaxation response. Practice this as often as you can. Try to automate it as a habit by anchoring it around something you do each day e.g. before getting up in the morning, while the kettle is boiling, after lunch, before brushing your teeth at night, having a shower, etc. 

For some this might be information you have seen or heard before. That is great that you are aware of this. We all have lots of knowledge (things we learn), the top performers in life are those that can convert this knowledge into wisdom (using the knowledge they learn and putting it to use to improve their life).

The challenge for this week is to pick an area from this article and integrate it from knowledge to wisdom to improve your life.