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Psycho-Social Considerations for a Phased Return to Training from COVID-19:

As society gradually returns to a sense of normalcy after months of lockdown, athletes and sports professionals are considering how to resume training safely while prioritizing their well-being. Athlete IQ has issued guidelines based on a robust well-being framework to assist individuals during this transitional period. In this feature, we explore the five psychological phases identified in the guidelines and discuss how they apply to the sports community:

  1. Anticipation Phase: This initial stage involves organizing, expressing, and acknowledging anxiety and concerns about returning to training.

  2. Initial Impact Phase: Also known as the adapting period, athletes can utilize sports psychology techniques to manage stress and adjust to the changes.

  3. Core Phase: This phase may involve feelings of disillusionment as athletes encounter setbacks and challenges during their return to training.

  4. End Phase: In this restorative phase, individuals can gradually access the world around them again and adjust to the new normal.

  5. Long Term: The aftermath of the crisis requires individuals to reconnect with and adjust to the changed world.

It's important to note that psychological responses can vary, and not everyone will be in the same phase at the same time. Therefore, mental health concerns related to returning to training should be expected and addressed with an understanding of the framework in place.

To facilitate a better return to training, we should focus on the following core principles:

  1. Restorative Reintegration: Create an environment that allows individuals to thrive and gradually reintegrate into training.

  2. Compassion and Empathy: Demonstrate understanding and kindness, acknowledging that everyone copes differently.

  3. Opting Out: Provide a safe environment where athletes, staff, and coaches can opt out of training without feeling pressured.

  4. Emotional Support: Utilize the talents and skills within your organization to offer emotional support and guidance.

Addressing the Need for Accessing:

  • Allow flexibility for individuals to opt into training without prejudice, regularly reviewing their choices.

  • Ensure that those who choose to participate understand their psychological and social needs to make informed decisions.

  • Clarify expectations and communicate protocols, systems, and reporting related to the "new normal."

Addressing the Need for Affirming:

  • Prioritize self-care for all individuals involved.

  • Be open to others' experiences and perspectives, even if they differ from our own.

  • Seek clarity on expected behaviors and respect individual readiness to return to training.

Addressing the Need for Reconnecting:

  • Continuously seek feedback and maintain an open dialogue about opting into training.

  • Encourage regular peer debriefs in small groups to assess how individuals are adjusting.

  • Recognize the importance of personal relationships outside of sports, such as family and friends.

Key Considerations for a Phased Return:

  • Awareness of Competition Readiness: Understand that there is ample time for athletes to prepare for future competitions and avoid rushing back to training.

  • Acknowledging Differences: Recognize that individuals have gone through different experiences during the pandemic and show compassion toward their circumstances.

  • Integrating a Psycho-Social Model: Consider adopting a "role model" approach and provide emotional support through trained staff who possess emotional awareness.

  • Staggered Approach: Accept that individuals will be at different stages of readiness for sports training and ensure clear and consistent communication, especially from leadership roles.

  • Growth during Lockdown: Encourage personal reflection, sharing of experiences, and positive lessons learned during the lockdown to support personal growth and development.

  • Psychological Considerations: Understand that anxiety may arise among athletes due to concerns about infection, performance, and limited training. Trust plays a crucial role, and adherence to guidelines is essential to minimize risks.

  • Routine Disruption: Acknowledge that athletes' routines have been disrupted, which may impact motivation and the reestablishment of training habits. Address any unhelpful and unhealthy behaviors that may have developed during lockdown.

  • Ethical Considerations: Reflect on the alignment of values and morality, as awareness, acceptance, and ethics are reviewed in line with other industries experiencing a phased return.

  • Psycho-Social Factors: Take into account larger health factors, such as high-risk individuals in communities, caring responsibilities, and financial burdens within households.

  • Return to Work Mental Health: Be mindful that individuals may have varying concerns about their mental health when returning to work, and promote a supportive environment.

  • Respectful Reconnection: Understand the importance of maintaining contact with friends and family and be respectful of these connections as part of the return to work mental health approach.

In summary, as we adapt to the "new normal," a phased approach allows us to address the challenges we face. Understanding and respecting diverse perspectives and experiences are fundamental to implementing these guidelines. In the sports industry, where mental health in elite athletes is a significant consideration, recognizing the complexity of individual personalities is vital.

"We may have all been in the same storm, but some of us have been in very different boats."


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