3 Questions with a Sports Psychologist on Coronavirus

A pandemic can create feelings of anxiety and confusion for student-athletes. Playing football is a big part of a high school student’s identity. Having that taken away can create a need for intervention by a mental health expert.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, is a world-wide authority in performance psychology. Cole joined us for a brief Q&A on the effects of the Coronavirus for high school athletes.

What do you suggest for athletes who are feeling overwhelmed or anxious after having their seasons come to an end?

“As coaches, we all know and encourage our athletes to control what you can, and let the rest go. That is the essence of peak performance training.

“The letting go part is hard. It does not mean you must LIKE what is happening. But it does mean you must ACCEPT what is happening. Acceptance does NOT mean you want it, or approve of it. It just means you accept reality as it is. You accept the cards you’ve been dealt.

“Now, the big question is: As a mentally tough athlete, how will you PLAY that hand? This is the challenge, the task ahead of you.”

What can athletes do to keep themselves motivated to achieve their athletic goals when there is so much uncertainty in the future?

“Many athletes normally don’t take time to plan or to set goals. This is the perfect time for that. Setting juicy goals gives juicy motivation. Take time to watch videos of the idols in your sport. Read about their lives and careers and how they made it big. Dream big dreams. Get excited of what can be, once this COVID-19 is defeated.”

How can coaches connect with athletes with the new social distancing suggestions/rules in place?

“A new US government-funded experiment shows that the virus can survive on surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to three days. And air droplets can hang in the air up to six hours. Therefore, the distancing suggestions of six feet or two arms’ length sounds good, but we need to walk through ‘common air’ to get to that distancing. Lots of unknown facts as of yet.

“Younger, healthier athletes may have more COVID-19 defenses, but a recent report said that even younger people’s lungs can be attacked in scary ways by this disease. Finally, a person who gets and recovers from COVID-19 may have up to 20-30 percent permanently-reduced lung functioning.

“All of this tells me to take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach. Train on your own for a while. Do virtual team training with athletes checking in via social media. Put the coach on Zoom video for a session. Capture training data remotely. Do all that to keep training in effect, to maintain motivation, and most of all, to stay safe from COVID-19 until all risk factors are known and well-defined.”