The Corona Challenge

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole provides some free advice on how to manage The Corona Challenge. During the 20 minute audio below he discusses concepts like creativity and not letting cancelled events impact on your motivation. This audio recording was put together to help anyone and everyone not just the current Condor Performance clients. Please share it with your contacts and feel free to add comments and ask questions below.

Transcript

Good day. My name is Gareth. I’m one of the sport psychologists from Condor Performance.

I decided that, today, I wanted to put together this relatively detailed audio recording after having had quite an unusual last 10 days whereby most of the conversations that I have had with my own sporting clients and most of the one-on-one peer supervision that I’ve had with my colleagues at Condor Performance, we’re now nine sport psychologists and performance psychologists, have centered around how to manage the coronavirus.

A lot of the conversations were generating similar kinds of suggestions on how to get through this difficult time, so I felt like it would be useful for me to put some of these ideas into this audio recording so that anybody and everybody could benefit from some of those suggestions, bearing in mind that, obviously, my colleagues and I at Condor Performance are genuine experts in helping people get through difficult situations.

The first thing is very specific to the sporting industry. One of the biggest disruptions is the fact that many sporting contests are being canceled left, right, and center. One of the bits of advice that I would strongly recommend that you do is to mentally separate your preparation from your competitions. By that I mean if one of the only reasons why you get out of bed in the morning to go training is in preparation for a particular competition, then maybe this is a fantastic opportunity for you to explore other motives for trying to improve yourself.

What I mean by that is if you take away the competition and all the motivation to improve goes with it, then you would potentially benefit from thinking about some of the other reasons why you would potentially want to continue your training despite the fact that there may not necessarily be any competitive situations coming up. These can include things like the pure feeling of satisfaction on improving one aspect of your sport. It could be that you are working hard to get a personal best in the swimming pool or on the track. This satisfaction can exist in the absence of competitions. You don’t necessarily need a competition on the horizon in order for that personal best to be an incredibly satisfying confidence booster. I would highly recommend that you separate your competitions from your practice. It’s something that we do routinely at Condor Performance with our clients.

Also, don’t forget that, although many sporting competitions from around the world are being canceled, there is the possibility that this health crisis will end as quickly as it started. What I mean by that is that, although it’s very probable that sporting contests over the next month or two may not go ahead, there is a reasonable possibility that many of them will be reinstated in June, July, August, September of 2020 and even, depending on the sport and the practicality of it, many of the competitions that got canceled during the March-April period may actually be rescheduled. You may actually get a increase in the number of competitions that you experience later on during the year.

Certainly, the sporting clients that work with one of the Condor Performance psychologists would be working hard to make sure that, if that happens, that there is not a overwhelming amount of training that needs to be squeezed into a short period of time because the training regime stopped at the same time that the competitions were canceled. That’s the first thing to mention.

The second thing I want to just briefly talk about is the concept of creativity. Creativity is a seriously under-utilized part of the mental side of sport and performance. There is no better time that I can think of whereby a little bit of creativity will go a very long way. What I mean by creativity is that, often in very highly predictable situations whereby everything’s the same month after month, year after year, it’s very easy for us to get into the mindset where we assume that everything has to be done a certain way. That is the enemy of creativity in many ways.

This current pandemic is giving us a really good opportunity for us to be forced to think outside of the box. I’m going to give you a couple of examples. Obviously, one of the bits of advice is for us to spend less time close to other people. A common environment that springs to mind that’s highly applicable for athletes and coaches would be a gym. It might be that your gym is closed or that you simply decide there’s too many people in your gym.

Now, if you think about it, the main purpose of going to a gym is to basically work on your physical capabilities as we call it. Those of you who are familiar with the analogy of the athlete being like an airplane central to the METUF model will know that physical capabilities are one of four engines on the airplane whereby the main body of the aircraft is your health and wellbeing. Physical capabilities includes things like improving muscle strength, cardio fitness, flexibility, speed, and balance.

I ask you this question. How many of those could you work on if you were restricted to only being in your home or your house for the next month or so? Take away the equipment from the gym. Let’s imagine that it’s closed, but give you the task of continuing to work on your cardio fitness but without access to treadmills, to work on your upper body strength but without access to dumbbells or bench presses, or to work on your flexibility.

Hopefully, what you will find is that, without too much difficulty, you will start to think of some fairly simple ways in which you can actually go about doing those same exercises or doing that same training at home. Of course, your body doesn’t really care how those exercises are being done. It just wants them to be done. Creativity is really central. I know that Gene Moyle up in Queensland, a really well-regarded sport and performance psychologist who works a lot in the performing arts, is a huge advocate of creativity. I totally agree with her, and I think this is a fantastic opportunity for us to all be a little bit more creative.

The next thing to mention is the impact on mental health. At Condor Performance, we assist our clients with both sporting or performance, mental toughness, and mental health. We regard them as being related but different from one another. Mental health is really about your day-to-day functioning as a person. Sporting or performance, mental toughness, is really about a set of skills, mental skills that you could apply in your sporting situations in order to improve your performance. For example, things such as concentration or how you manage your emotions.

The final thing I’d like to just mention is the fact that, during difficult times, obviously, we have to be particularly aware to ensure that our mental health is taken care of. That is easier said than done, of course. The first thing that you would want to make sure that you do, from a mental health perspective, is to ensure that, if you’re really struggling, particularly with some of the challenges related to the coronavirus, that you don’t suffer in silence. That’s the first biggie.

Telling anybody is always going to be much better for you than suffering in silence. Of course, that person doesn’t necessarily have to be a trained professional. However, if you are seeking advice, if you are looking to get an expert or a qualified mental health practitioner on board to assist you, then of course you’d want to make sure that that person has the proper credentials. Obviously, having a conversation with your grandmother, who’s not going to charge you for that advice, is certainly a pretty reasonable starting point.

The next thing to do, and in many ways, this is linked with my previous suggestion about creativity, mental health, like physical health, is going to be positively and negatively impacted by a lot of your decisions. One thing that I’ve been discussing with some of my clients is the fact that, in many ways, we could use the concept of us being housebound for the next few weeks or few months as a really good opportunity to maybe improve our mental health. Not only are we safeguarding our mental health because of these difficult situations, we are actually taking one step further and using a little bit of creativity to boost it so that it’s even better than it was had this coronavirus not taken hold in the first place.

Often, mental health gets confused a little bit. It’s a little bit intangible, and that can make it hard to improve. Really, if you think about it, there’s just some really common basic drivers that can really help with mental health. Some of these may well be easier for you to do if you’re housebound for four weeks compared with if you were going about your normal activities. I’ll just go through these very briefly.

One of them is sleep. A lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is incredibly damaging to mental health. One thing you could do is you could really prioritize your sleep. There are a few little tricks, going to bed at the same time. Trying to get up at the same time really helps. We use a term at Condor Performance called sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is simply the idea that you do a whole bunch of things that will assist you in getting a good night’s sleep.

Some of the most obvious ones, which I’ll just read here from my printout from the Center for Clinical Interventions, so basically you can avoid caffeine and nicotine, if possible. Try to avoid alcohol. They recommend it is always best to avoid alcohol for at least four to six hours before going to bed. Bed is for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex so that your body comes used to associating bed with sleep. Avoid naps during the day so you’re more tired at night. No clock watching. Many people who struggle to sleep tend to watch the clock too much frequently. Checking the clock during the night can wake you up. Eat right. I’ll talk about that in a second. As I mentioned, going to bed and getting up at the same time.

If you wanted more information on sleep, you can jump on to the Center for Clinical Intervention’s website, which is cci.health.wa.gov.au. They have a really good one-page PDF on sleep hygiene, which would be a really good thing for you to go through during the time where you may be restricted to your own home. Sleep is one.

Also, as was suggested there, eating. Maybe one of the reasons we don’t eat as well as we would like to is because we’re always rushing around between training and work or school. Therefore, one of the reasons might be that we simply don’t have the time to eat properly. If you’re spending the next four weeks or so at home, then hopefully you’ll have plenty of time to really think about what you are eating.

Of course, in certain places, I’m aware that access to food is limited, but to my understanding, no one so far has starved to death as a result of the coronavirus. My general understanding, although certain foods are unavailable, there is still plenty to go around and, again, a fantastic opportunity for you to ask the difficult but important question, “Am I eating the right things? Am I fueling my body?”

Of course, the most effective way for you to fight any virus is for you to ensure that your body is as healthy as possible. There’s really no more effective way of making sure that your body is as healthy as possible than eating and drinking the right kinds of things. That’s another aspect of mental health.

Another really important part of mental health is relationships. Again, using a little bit of creativity, relationships could be something that you really try and improve over the next few weeks. I can hear some of you thinking, “Well, that’s not so easy because I’ve been told to socially isolate myself from friends and loved ones.” Of course, once again, that’s a lack of creativity. Due to the wonders of modern technology, you don’t need to be in the same room as someone in order to have a conversation with them.

When I say that being housebound and having more time on your hands than you were expecting is a great opportunity to improve relationships, I’m talking about potentially reaching out to friends that we might have lost touch with and setting up a couple of conversations with them via things such as Skype. FaceTime video is amazing. A service that we at Condor Performance are using more and more and more is Zoom, Z-O-O-M, which is a really, really amazing webcam sharing or video conferencing system that allows for a whole bunch of fantastic features from screen sharing and so on and so forth. Why not contact that cousin that you lost touch with back in the late ’90s and see if they want to have a little bit of a chat with you via Zoom?

Those are some of the simple ideas, some of the ideas that we’ve been discussing with our clients that, obviously, are applicable to everybody.

Let me just finish with a little bit of a plug. As some of you know but many of you don’t know, the team of sport and performance psychologists who work for Condor Performance do the overwhelming majority of their sessions via webcam. Therefore, in many ways, we are ideally suited, both from a qualifications point of view and a technology point of view, to assist you through this difficult period if you feel like doing it alone is a bit overwhelming.

If you would like information about our services, then the best thing for you to do is to shoot an email to info@condorperformance.com. One of our team will get back to you, normally within 48 hours. Make sure you mentioned the country in which you’re located so they can send you information in the currency from the country you’re from. Any general information, as well, can be included in that email. Of course, it’ll be kept entirely confidential.

With that, thank you for taking the time to listen to this. I wish you all the very best of luck in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you to get through this very challenging and difficult time. Cheers.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.