Due to COVID-19, 2020 has been a tough year for anything taking place in person, including sports. Whether at a professional level or in school sports, many teams have faced uncertainty, fear, or have been unable to play altogether. That takes its mental toll.
Anyone who works with athletes knows that physical skill isn’t the only factor in success. Players have to be in a good state of mind to perform well on the field or court and to work together as a team.
So how do you keep an athlete mentally healthy during one of the most unusual and stressful years in recent history? Here are some tips.
Leverage Numerous Sports Psychology Techniques
Psychology is so important in elite sports performance that there is actually an entire career path devoted to sports psychology. Negative thoughts, stress, and anxiety can all affect performance. Distracted playing can also lead to injuries in training or during games.
The good news is that sports psychology techniques can help when players are struggling with their mental wellness. Sports psychologists use similar tactics for motivation as leaders do in an office setting because the underlying psychology is essentially the same.
You can help players by working with them to set goals and develop mindfulness practices. These techniques will help players develop focus and stay in the moment, rather than dwelling on stressful world events. Self-affirmation and visualization exercises can also be helpful for getting players into a healthier frame of mind.
As a group, you can do team-building exercises. During times of stress, it’s important to build strong team bonds. It gives players something beyond themselves to focus on and can be key in keeping the entire team mentally strong.
Have Athletes Take Time to Advance Their Passion for the Sport
Some players have had to quarantine in order to play, or have not been able to play at all during the pandemic. This is extremely frustrating for people who are used to being active and competitive. Over time, this frustration can lead to mental health issues and affect their quality of life.
There’s a silver lining, though: this is a great time to have athletes reflect on their passion for the sport and get back to basics. That could mean shooting hoops alone and practicing the most elemental skills, or it could mean studying the theory of advanced plays. It could even mean thinking about ways to give back to the sport.
Now’s a great time for athletes to think about their “why.” Why this sport? What does it mean to them? This reflection can relieve tension and even unlock new levels of greatness.
Meditation might seem like something that’s “trendy,” but it’s actually an ancient practice that can help anyone who is struggling with their mental health. Studies have shown that regular mindfulness meditation can help people cope with anxiety and even addiction. It’s a practice that can be done almost anywhere, anytime, with no special skills or equipment.
Encourage your players to meditate, and consider leading team meditations, whether in-person or virtually. There is absolutely no downside to meditation and it offers a range of benefits. Players will have the opportunity to build their focus, learn to stay in the moment, and feel calmer. Over time, regular meditation can have a positive impact on mood and overall well-being.
Take Time Away to Visualize and Develop Mental Focus
It’s frustrating to sit with uncertainty. If players are feeling restless during COVID restrictions, encourage them to focus on other aspects of their game. During a normal year, mental preparation often gets pushed off to the side. Now, it might be the only thing your players can work on.
Visualization exercises are a great place to start. If you can help your players visualize success and change their inner narratives, then they’ll be in good shape to get back out there when they can. Many athletes will feel discouraged when they return to the game and find themselves out of practice or even out of shape. Building mental focus, toughness, and positive thinking now will help players overcome these obstacles when they do return to playing.
COVID-19 might have changed the world. But it’s important to do all you can to keep players mentally healthy during this time. They’ll need to be at their peak when life gets back to normal.