On Tuesday evening, the unprecedented decision was made to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until 2021. This was the right call - everyone’s safety must come first.
For some, this is just another big event cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, when speaking to the athletes who have spent the best part of four years working towards the games, you hear a range of different responses and emotions. Some are heartbroken and devastated by the news, whereas others have said it means that ‘a lot of athletes can breathe’ and are ‘no longer under pressure to train and compete’ this summer.
Sport takes a backseat as the world adapts, reacts and tries to survive as best as possible. But at some stage, this virus will be defeated and life will resume in a similar way as it was before. With that in mind, we thought we’d share with you a few of the reasons our athletes are upset by the Olympic news and the top tips we are sharing with them to help them react best.
Why is the News Causing Stress?
Initially, athletes were not sure what would happen with the games. And even though there is now a clear message about postponement, what the rest of their competitive year looks like is still unclear. And it’s this lack of clarity that causes stress. Uncertainty is a breeding ground for stress and often, the not knowing is worse than the worst-case scenario itself. For athletes now, not knowing when they will next compete or how they will train can be very stressful - added to the obvious uncertainty and stress this worldwide pandemic is bringing to daily life.
Dealing with change
One thing can be assured in life, and that is that change is inevitable. However, big changes can be very stressful, especially when working towards a major goal that is taken away by no fault of your own. However, those who cope best with the change adapt faster, more effectively and embrace the challenge more.
Good work going to waste
Another reason that our athletes are stressed about this situation is that they feel as though their good work and preparation was for nothing. In the short term, the goal posts may have changed - however, no one who medals next year is going to turn around and say, ‘all that hard work and effort really wasn’t worth it’. So perhaps a better focus would be on how much time for preparation has been gained rather than what competitions have been lost (although we know this is easier said than done).
How to overcome the disappointment
So, if that’s why athletes are getting stressed what can they do to bounce back best? Here are some tips that will help:
Knowledge is power
Most athletes will feel very uncertain at the moment as they don’t know how or when they might compete next. This of course is a natural reaction but dwelling on it for too long can be unnecessarily stressful.
Interestingly, getting more information about the situation you’re in makes you better able to read your environment to reduce stress, uncertainty and ambiguity. Therefore, keeping up to date with all information that is available is going to be really important. Having said that, knowing what information you’re looking at and where it is coming from is important too. Check out our blog on how to make sure you are getting the right information.
Ask for help
Generally speaking, and especially in times like these, asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Good people to ask for help include friends, family, coaches and training partners. This is because it helps you learn from other experiences and can show you other ways to deal with the same situation. For example, if you know other athletes, ask them for help because they are in the same boat too.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Now more than ever, having a team around you is crucial. It enhances your effort, helps develop your resilience and helps you deal with stressful situations, amongst many other things.
Clearly, having someone to talk to is important. Whilst you may not physically be training, this is a great time to improve your mental performance and is often what separates the best from the rest. Sport psychology coaching is a great way to bounce back.
What are you focusing on?
Focusing on aspects of life and indeed performance that you can’t change can make you feel really anxious or frustrated. For example, focusing on the uncertainty of your situation or on the fact that you should have been opening up for the season/nearing your peak can be frustrating. And the reality is of course, whatever path you were on has most likely changed - the key is to adapt to it.
To ensure you are focusing on the right things ask yourself one simple question at the beginning of each day: ‘What can I do today to improve on yesterday?’ Another nice tip comes from our favourite saying: ‘be where your feet are’. What can you control right here, right now? Those who better deal with the present will more likely perform better in the future.
There are two main ways to see a situation like this. One is to stop what you were doing and give up on the season. The other and better way is that this is a time to be proactive without the usual pressures of a busy season. Like most athletes, if we offered you some quiet, regular, ‘you time’, you would probably take it. Well, here’s your time. This could include focusing on your non-negotiables, such as sleep, diet and recovery.
Remember: whoever reacts best gets the performance advantage!
Learning never stops
Although there are lots of negatives about the current situation, it offers a unique opportunity to keep learning. The athletes who react the best will spend this time becoming masters of their own performance. This is also a great time to learn about how you react. Remember, life if 5% what happens, but 95% how you react to it.
Keep a routine
Reacting to change can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a routine to follow. With the shift from training to staying at home, lots of athletes will need to develop new strategies or behaviours. These are more likely to be effective if you weave them into a daily routine.
A great way to do this is to write out your routine the night before. This should include as many of your usual behaviours as possible, for example when to wake up, getting changed what to eat etc. Here’s a guide to maintaining new habits to help you.
Remember your goal
When we have specific targets and goals, it is sometimes easy to forget what the bigger picture is. Remembering where you are going and where you want to be can increase your motivation to succeed. For example, although the goal posts may have shifted, the rules are still the same. This is to say that whilst the target has changed (i.e. the 2020 Olympics), giving yourself the best chance at success is still the same (working hard every day to improve aspects of your performance).
Those who adapt better to this will set smaller, more realistic goals to achieve every week which set them up for success - whenever that might be.
With uncertainty, new measures and new experiences, this is a testing time for everyone. But it is just that: a test. Those that see it as a challenge and hurdle instead of a barrier to performance will take every measure to improve where they can and be the athlete that bounces back best.