How to Cope with COVID-19 Sports Cancellations
Many are feeling a great deal of loss in response to COVID-19 sports cancellations and restrictions. And anytime you experience a significant loss in your life, it is important to be aware of your emotions and manage them effectively. For example, you may be feeling miserable or angry now that you can’t go to training sessions, socialize in person with friends, or compete against opponents.
As an athlete community, we don’t have full access to the activities in our lives that bring the most joy. Although we can still practice on our own or connect virtually with our teammates and friends, the sensation of confidence, pride, and happiness do not compare. Some of you may be reading this and think, how grim. But I’m bringing awareness to the reality of our life’s current situation to help you reach acceptance and move your emotions towards peace and satisfaction.
In fact, I am familiar with this grieving process having endured several major injuries – one of which ended my competitive soccer career. And the one thing that I made sure to remember throughout the recovery was that my loss was temporary, and my uncomfortable emotions would fade away. In each instance I knew I’d be back playing the game that I love once again – whether it was an organized league or for fun with friends. This mindset helped me to stay organized, motivated, determined, and disciplined in my recovery.
And the same is true right now. Yes, you have lost something significant in your life that brings positive emotions, but this is temporary. Given the circumstances, now is a good time to use my 5 A’s Emotional Management Process to help you build trust in your ability to face reality with courage and strategy.
As discussed above, awareness is the first step to coping with emotions. So take a moment and identify which emotion(s) you feel. For example, athletes have reported feeling miserable, angry, depressed, and bored because of their new reality. This is an extremely important step to the coping process so I highly recommend using an emotion chart to be as accurate as possible. While you identify the specific feelings, I want you to connect with the sensations moving throughout your body. In sport psychology we refer to this as your physiological response. Pay attention to your heart rate, ease of breathing, muscle tension, stomach, speed of thoughts, etc. And finally, start to pay attention to the specific thoughts or triggers that are making you feel this way. Maybe you are focusing on what you CAN’T do or you’re repeating, “I’m bored.” Since these thoughts are accompanied by negative emotions, try to focus on what you CAN do instead.
The more awareness you develop of your emotions, physiology, and thoughts, the more control and preparation you will have in the future.
There are two key factors that you will work to accept – the situation and the resulting emotions. First, what is the reality of your situation? For most, school is closed, and sports are postponed or canceled. To expand upon this, I want you to recognize the things that are happening that you cannot control right now. Be sure to leave out your opinions and just stick with the facts.
Next, allow yourself to truly feel the physiological discomfort of your emotional response. You’ve already identified what you’re feeling, now really connect with that sensation and take a deep breath – or a few. As you breathe, notice how the oxygen circulates through your body and works to move your emotions towards a calming state. If you do not have a regular practice of breathing, I urge you to participate in meditation, yoga, or other guided audio training (Apps like Smiling Mind, Headspace, or Calm) to further assist in your coping.
Since your reality is most likely unpleasant, the next step of the emotional management process is to boost your self-esteem and maintain a secure identity. Regardless of what is happening, you are still the same person. To help you connect with yourself, identify three strong character traits that you KNOW describe you as a person and athlete. For example, I know that I am passionate, driven, and creative, which makes me feel proud and confident that I can professionally adjust to this situation.
It is also helpful to remember a time that you’ve coped with a difficult situation before. As I shared with you, I know that I will be okay because I have dealt with serious injuries in my past. And not only was I fine, but I grew a great deal from each experience. Can you think of something that you’ve coped with before?
Now that you’ve accepted your reality and connected with more positive emotions, it is time to get focused on moving forward. Normally I would just ask an athlete, “What do you want?” However, I will be more specific because you may be thinking, “I just want play in a game this weekend.” As you can see this goal is problematic because it indicates a resistance to your reality.
Let’s think broader. What is your dream goal in your sport? To play on varsity or in college or break a record, etc.? But maybe that’s too far away and doesn’t spark motivation for you. If so, let’s focus on something more specific, like adjust to COVID-19 sports restrictions, commit to personal development, stay connected with teammates and friends, improve discipline or time management skills, or contribute to the family, etc.
Think about what will motivate you the most and determine the goal or goals that you would like to focus on at this time.
With your motivation sparked, it is now time to identify the process to achieve your goal(s). In other words, what are the necessary actions you will take to get what you want? When considering your actions, I have one rule – they must be controllable. As a result, your self-motivation and development will be further enhanced.
To help you get started, I will provide an example list of actions that I have recommended to athletes with the broad goal of adjusting to COVID-19 sports restrictions:
- Create a new schedule and daily routine.
- Compete against yourself by using measures like amount, time, or distance.
- Study your sport through video analysis, e-learning, discussion, and books, etc.
- Strengthen your discipline for self-care, including good nutrition, exercise, and sleep.
- Spend time doing things that you mutually enjoy with your family members. Be creative and try new things, like learning to cook, doing puzzles, arts and crafts, etc.
- Check in with people you care about and stay connected.
- Find joy and gratitude in the little things and moments in life.
Now that you have completed the 5 A’s Emotional Management Process, I want you to re-connect with your emotions. How do you feel right now? Determined, confident, relieved? Or maybe you still have the lingering feelings of loss. Don’t worry that is completely normal. Emotional management takes some time and practice. But my hopes are that you now have a tangible process to cope with the changes brought by COVID-19. Continue to study and reflect on the work you’ve just done while taking action to achieve your goals. Stay connected to yourself and stay connected to the process!
For more information or for those that need further assistance, please contact me directly at (631) 213-7547 or email@example.com.