COVID-19 stresses present new challenges for athletes resuming their sports

One of the biggest changes facing these athletes, especially those on the college level, is the possibility of not having supporters and fans in the stands.

Athletes of all ages are coming back to their sports. And while they are getting back into game shape physically, there are many mental and emotional hurdles athletes face with COVID-19 still looming.

“In theory this break could have been good for the athletes, physically,” said Vanessa Shannon, Ph.D., Director of Mental Performance for Norton Sports Health and University of Louisville Athletics. “The problem is the time away was filled with other stressors. It hasn’t exactly been a mental, emotional or psychological break.”

Even with all the resources athletes have for their mental well-being and stability, according to Dr. Shannon, preparing to return will require them to adjust to changes designed to keep athletes safe during the pandemic.

With no fans in the stands, intensity of play may be lower

Two of the biggest changes facing these athletes, especially those at the collegiate level, are the possibility of not having spectators in the stands and a greater integration of technology. According to Dr. Shannon, these changes will require some athletes to implement new tactics into their preparation to get themselves ready for game day.

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“In terms of ready to play, most of the athletes are raring to come back,” she said. “However, the intensity of play, without spectators, could leave athletes feeling flat; some athletes will have to learn how to activate themselves without the help of the crowd. In addition, athletes may have to learn to manage the disruption of new technology, for example scoring in golf.”

Dr. Shannon also emphasized that athletes likely will have to shake off some rust from the extended break. This could be especially challenging as confidence for many of these players comes from daily preparation, which has been disrupted during the pandemic by lack of access to resources and facilities.

“Not only are athletes dealing with concern regarding the virus, but also about not living up their own expectations when they return,” Dr. Shannon said. “It will take some time for them to regain that confidence.”

Tips for athletes resuming competition

  • Practice your mental skills; they will help you as much as your physical skills.
  • Download a meditation app, or read up on mental training.
  • Take a mental break if needed; don’t expect to be back 100% right away.
  • Talk to a sports psychology professional if needed.

Tips for parents of athletes

  • Have open conversations with your child. Let them know it’s OK to be nervous when they return to their sport.
  • Encourage your child, but also have realistic expectations for them as they return.
  • Educate your child with concrete information on what is happening and how to stay safer while continuing to play.

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