How Athletes Are Staying Mentally Fit During The Pandemic


An athlete staying mentally fit with boxing

The pandemic has affected everyone and every industry from schools to sports. Everyone has had to pivot, be flexible and change during this time. Athletes are no exception; they’ve had to adapt to new ways of training, find different ways of competing, like in esports, and they’ve had to play it safe to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. With all the setbacks athletes have faced during the pandemic, they’ve remained both physically and mentally fit. Here’s how they’ve been resilient throughout this trying time, and how you can too! 

Support Is Key

Athletes have faced a lot of adversity during this time, including financial loss, an increase in anxiety, depression and loneliness, adapting to safety protocols (e.g. screening for COVID-19, isolation bubbles, mask-wearing), and overall feelings of uncertainty about the state of sports and their careers. Student athletes in particular have also faced numerous challenges including adjusting to remote learning because of college closures, increased stress and uncertainty due to cancelled sporting events, and physical deconditioning and increased sedentary behavior with training facilities being closed. One way athletes have been able to stay mentally fit is by having a good support system in place. Here are some of the individuals that have helped athletes during this difficult time:

  • Athletic trainers (ATs): These professionals are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. Even when ATs weren’t available in-person, they remained accessible for athletes virtually. ATs adapted quickly to bring athletes back safely to return to play by adhering to strict COVID-19 safety protocols. This includes temperature checks, sanitizing surfaces, managing rapid testing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, making sure athletes fill out screening questionnaires, and ensuring everyone wears masks and maintains distance from each other. No matter what, ATs always have their athletes’ safety in mind. 
  • Mental performance coaches: While fitness coaches help athletes stay physically strong, mental performance coaches help athletes stay mentally strong. Mental performance coaches motivate athletes to exercise and practice (this can be especially difficult during a pandemic), improve concentration and focus, set goals, manage pressure and teach their athletes relaxation skills (e.g. deep breathing, yoga, meditation) to reduce their stress and anxiety. Athletes can use these skills both on and off the field!     
  • Fellow teammates: The pandemic has brought with it isolation and inevitable feelings of loneliness. Athletes can curb these feelings by staying connected to their teammates. Fellow teammates are helpful because they can relate to one another and normalize each other's experiences during this uncertain time. 

Another way athletes are supported is with an Athlete Electronic Health Record (EHR) like Presagia Sports, used by medical professionals to stay on top of their athletes’ injuries, treatments, mental health and more. Speaking of mental health, Presagia’s Sports’ sport psychology module enables mental health professionals to track referrals, medications and historical mental health issues, to record notes confidentially and to provide select information to other members of the sports medicine team, as appropriate. 

Reframing The Situation

Acknowledging the situation, avoiding tunnel vision (e.g. spiralling negative thoughts), and having faith that things will work out are some other strategies that help athletes deal with difficult situations. Athletes understand that they need to accept the situation at hand (without getting overwhelmed) but they need to reframe it into something more uplifting. 

“We (team) have kept in contact even though we can’t train, we are communicating, but it’s a very real loss even though we are in isolation we have been doing fitness challenges, and that’s been really motivational not just to keep moving but also the realization that this is not forever; one day we will be back to play together again.” 

-Natasha (Athlete & Research Participant)

Endurance athletes are familiar with this concept since they’ve undergone extreme emotional and physical challenges and have come out the other side (this is known as post-traumatic growth). After years of training and developing an increased sense of personal growth, these athletes have learned how to persevere, conquer anxiety and become resilient. Here are some of their tried and true techniques:

  • Take it stroke by stroke: During difficult times, focus on taking one “stroke” at a time. Don’t look too far ahead at where you have to go, instead stop and see how far you’ve come. 
  • Accept the rule of thirds: When you’re chasing a big dream (or going through an intense period in your life), you’re going to feel good a third of the time, OK a third of the time and crummy a third of the time. On the good days you’ll grow your confidence and on the bad days you’ll gain patience, courage and resilience. 
  • Trust your future self: It’s easy to worry and obsess about the “what ifs” in life. Accept that you’ll always run into scenarios you couldn’t have foreseen and trust that your future self will know how to handle them. 
  • Recall your courage: Don’t dwell on past difficulties, rather look at challenges you’ve encountered and remind yourself that you have the capability to handle whatever comes your way to deal with your current issues. 

We could all learn a thing or two from athletes, whether it’s having a great support system in place or reframing the situation. As the current situation unfolds, we all have the ability to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever before.