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Ask the experts: What does COVID-19 mean for athletes?

At a time of such uncertainty and concern, it’s perfectly normal to be unsure how to react to current world events. If you’re feeling frustrated at the postponement of your race season after putting a shift in all winter, or anxious about what this means for the wider world of sport, there are tactics you can employ to help you see the bigger picture. We spoke to Dr Mark Bellamy, former performance psychologist at UK Athletics about the impact that Coronavirus (COVID-19) could have on athletes.



Dealing with a new reality

“The first step is recognising that this is a period in our lives that will pass, but it is also a period where we are being asked to come out of the precious routines that form our lives,” says Mark. “We need to have the flexibility and growth in our approaches to enable us to mitigate the impact of the virus on us, our friends and families and those in the broader society.” 

Mark suggests reframing this new reality and looking at how you can make it work for you. With social distancing measures in place, being flexible on your approach might mean dropping your spring cafe rides in favour of a group Zwift session, or racing online for a couple of weeks. Remembering it won’t be forever will certainly help, but it’s important to try and see the positive in the extended indoor season. Didn’t work hard enough on your PES this winter? Now’s your chance. 

But what happens if, after a winter on the Wattbike, you’d considered yourself race-ready, or were about to tackle your taper when the calls to cancel came in? “As athletes, there is the potential disappointment of a season disrupted at best and cancelled at worst,” Mark acknowledges.

“Try to see the bigger picture and take a broader perspective on how we want to live and support the society in which we live,” Mark says.


Remember what makes you an athlete

When it comes to dealing with immense pressure, and newly enforced restrictions and routines, try to frame this in the same way you’d frame any other training routine. 

“Not only do [athletes] take on extra load when they train and put their bodies through the rigours of development and their minds through the pressure of performing under pressure, but they then have to perform under a strict set of artificially enforced rules,” Mark points out. “Try taking these same skills and applying them to help understand the wider perspective of the times we are living in.

“Most of us have experienced more disappointment than absolute success. We are used to sometimes training hard without always getting our just rewards. We are used to looking after our teammates and being supported by them and our wider team.

“Let’s make this a time where we bring our athletic skills to wider use and accept that how we behave now reflects on us as valuable human beings and not simply as athletes.”

To look at the bigger picture, consider the things that are most important to you. Most likely these will be your loved ones, and your health and development as an athlete. The only thing lost right now is the short term opportunity to perform, which admittedly can take some time getting over if you’ve trained all winter for it. However, whatever happens with your season, there are still things you can do to make the most of the isolation period.


What to do if your season has changed

If the season is simply disrupted, then the question you need to answer is:

·  What you need to do to come back from a base level to a performance level? That is the one skill you need to make sure you’re ready for action. Should you look at periodising your training differently? And how should you time your taper in a time of uncertainty?

If the season is written off, then the opportunity is to consider how you can use the period for development?

·  Could you race on Zwift to satisfy your competitive streak? Or do you have certain elements you know you need to work on for next year, such as your breakaway stage? There are practice race scenarios available on the Wattbike Hub.


Try to recognise the extended indoor season as an opportunity for development and progression. For example, how often does the competitive season arrive when you are ready and primed? How can you use this time to ensure that you have developed those areas that you would like to work on? How often does the time arrive when you have that little bit of extra time to do something that is totally different? There are a number of ways to set yourself up for an even better season when it eventually rolls around, as long as your training stays focused and you stay positive.


What to do if you’re not feeling productive

In the current environment, it might be that you struggle to be productive straight off the bat, and if that is the case, there’s no cause for concern. “We know there will be a playoff between our emotional brain and what we want and our rational brain, with what we need to do. Be kind to yourself and give some time to let that play out. If that means a week of going easy then so be it, but ensure that you end up doing what is best for you in the long term and the decisions that you make are ones that you can be proud of and reflect sound ethics and support others and their wellbeing.”


Introducing structure

Mark notes that for many of us, the structure will seem to rapidly disappear from our lives. Putting some structure back in is the key to staying focused throughout the pandemic. 

“I have been working with the 4 x 3 format with many of my clients to put a little structure and framework into the day and to make sure there is enough stuff in there to give a positive emotion that we have the energy to put in some of the other key ingredients to make each day work,”he says.

Following this structure would mean that you get these key elements into your days, providing you with a solid foundation to start working from. This could look like:

3 x 20 minutes exercise

3 x 20 minutes social phone calls

3 x activities that bring you joy

3 x meals that truly nourish you

Lastly, Mark reminds us that none of us has been here before, but that does not mean we cannot live in a way that enhances us as human beings. “Before you are athletes each of us is a valuable human being. Get that right and the sport will be waiting for us when this is all over and you will have developed in who you are.”


Wondering how you should fuel your extended indoor season? We asked the experts at OTE

Looking to switch up your training during the quarantine period? From free trials to YouTube workouts, we rounded up some of the most exciting things going on in the indoor training world right now. 



About Dr Mark Bellamy

Dr Mark Bellamy, is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.

Mark has been active in supporting and developing Sports-people, the Military and many performance environments over the past 25 years.

Mark has also worked with UK-Athletics across three Olympic Games providing Psychological support to their Olympic athletes. Mark was the lead Psychologist for UK-Athletics across the 2012 Olympic Games and works with athletes from a broad spectrum of sports, ages and levels of performance.

http://markbellamypsychologyconsulting.com/

Email: mark@performt.com

Facebook: Markbellamypsychologyconsulting

Tel 0794 1040013





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