World Triathlon Coaching and Training Guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic period

4. Coaching implications of the COVID-19 period

4.3. Change mindsets

Adaptation to the above-mentioned major changes is a challenge for all, especially for young athletes. Coaches need to communicate many things very clearly and definitely:

  • Priorities have changed, health is the most important, performance is of less priority.
  • Athletes should not feel guilty or at fault because of missing training sessions or experiencing a setback in their performances. This is completely acceptable and normal and is outside their control.
  • Coaches need to make decisions regarding the withdrawal from those originally planned competitions which are not realistic anymore for whatever reason (postponement, cancellation, lack of preparation, risk, etc.). They also need to take the responsibility for these decisions allowing athletes to accept the changes more easily.
  • Athletes should feel the continuous support of their coaches in whatever way it is possible. This includes but is not limited to: missing planned training sessions until they are allowed; writing individualised training plans; giving advice; getting in touch on a regular basis; keeping the team together - mostly likely virtually, etc. 

Enhanced motivation could be achieved if the positive sides of the changes required are explained to athletes, possibly opening new opportunities and maybe also setting some new goals. As there are probably more relaxed weeks to come, escaping the everyday rush of modern life, they can start working systematically on possible flaws or continue solidifying their base with no risk in terms of everything being temporarily suspended and will need to be re-planned once returning to normal.

A simple mobility issue, a difficult drill or an imbalance can easily be addressed during this period, which will enable further progress right away upon restarting regular sessions.

Athletes also have the opportunity now to change or adjust some of their routines that they already know could be improved. Allowing time for proper rest and recovery, eating healthy, avoiding junk food, going to bed earlier and at a regular time, establishing better sleep hygiene, getting engaged in "old fashioned" tasks of reading books, listening to music, drawing or solving quizzes and puzzles, etc.

Coaches might also need to address some stress issues linked directly to the pandemic. Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Advice for such problems other than exercising, eating well and sleeping well can include:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. For example, check the news only once a day from a reliable source.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
We can allow it to get us down by choosing to get angry, frustrated and depressed (negative option) OR we can accept that the situation is what it is (positive option)

We have 2 choices:

Option1:

We can allow it to get us down by choosing to get angry, frustrated and depressed (negative option)

OR

Option2:

We can accept that the situation is what it is (positive option)

Keeping in mind that what we think (our thoughts) influences what we feel (emotions) and how we behave in the world.

If we choose option 1 our negative thoughts will transition into negative feelings and negative behaviour – these fuel each other taking us on a downward spiral. For example, if we think that we can’t cope, we start feeling helpless, our confidence goes out the window and we make mistakes.

Whilst, if we choose option 2 we can initiate an upward spiral.

Option 2 speaks to acceptance of the situation.  Now, acceptance does not mean giving up, becoming detached or simply not caring. Acceptance means being attached, taking hold of something no matter how difficult and embracing the true, deep understanding of how things really are.

In Mindfulness practice we see acceptance as a pause, a period of allowing things to be just as they are, a period of seeing clearly and of turning towards the difficulty rather than trying to avoid it.

When we pause and acknowledge and accept our negative thoughts, feelings and sensations it breaks the initial link in the chain that leads to negative downward spiral and prevents the mind’s automatic aversion pathway from kicking in.  

Therefore, when we pause we give ourselves more time and space to respond in the wisest and most creative way to difficult situations.

If we choose to accept the situation as it is, we open ourselves up to new possibilities which could include the view that this crisis too shall pass.

Imagine you are a surfer, no wave is ever the same, sometimes the conditions are rough and sometimes calm, sometimes the waves are small and sometimes enormous. This is much the same in life, we never know what challenges we will face and often circumstances are out of our control. As in life and in surfing, we can’t control the waves but we can learn to ride them. So rather than fear the wave, harness the power and energy of this force and have the ride of your life.

Enjoy the ride and remember to breathe..


References:
  • Manage Anxiety & Stress, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), How to Prepare, 2020
  • The secret to better health — exercise, Harvard Health Publishing
  • The effects of physical exercise on the immune system, Jeurissen A., Bossuyt X., Ceuppens JL., Hespel P., Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2003 Jul 12;147(28):1347-51.