How entourage members can help athletes
Dr Karen Cogan is a mental performance consultant and works as a Senior Sport Psychologist at the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Here, she advises entourage members on how to best support athletes in the wake of COVID-19 and major disruptions to the sporting calendar.
- Dr Karen Cogan is a sports psychologist who has been supporting athletes in dealing with mental health issues related to COVID-19.
- She has some expert advice for entourage members trying to support athletes in what can be a grieving process for some of them after the postponement of Tokyo 2020.
- These include helping to set small goals, pointing athletes towards a carefully selected number of useful resources, and staying socially connected with them.
At the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, we’ve got several coping strategies that we’re suggesting to our athletes as well as our coaches and support staff, and one of those is to look at what you can do in your life right now. Any time there’s a challenge, there’s also an opportunity.
So what’s the opportunity that this might bring, and what can you be doing? There are a lot of creative things we see all of our athletes doing right now at home in terms of their training programmes and staying physically fit, as well as working on their mental training components. We do need to stay physically distanced, but we don’t really want to stay socially distant. We really want to connect socially and be engaged, and so that’s what I’m encouraging our athletes and our staff to do with each other.
Break it down into smaller goals
Right now, the goal seems so much bigger. Tokyo 2020 is a year and three months away now, whereas before it was just going to be three months away. That may seem overwhelming to some of your athletes – especially not knowing when they are going to be able to get out and train again the way they expect to.
So one thing, of course, is to break it down. We know that, for the next month at least, many of us are going to be confined as we are. So what are we going to do in that next month? How will we keep our athletes’ fitness levels up? How will we find creative ways for them to train? How will we keep their mental game-plan going? How can we engage in some of the online resources that are now available to everybody? How do we stay connected? Let’s look at a goal for next month and maybe even break it down to the next week: what do you want to achieve this week?
Help navigate the way
Right now, there is a lot out there. Athletes are being inundated with all of this information and all these resources, and it is hard to know which ones are best or how to choose. So I think the first question to ask your athlete is: what do you want? What do you need? And what is going to be the most effective for you?
As an entourage member, you can help athletes talk through that, look at what’s out there and what is really going to be the best for them. You can’t take advantage of all of it; you really want to narrow it down a little bit so it’s not so overwhelming.
Don’t try to fix the unfixable
As coaches or medical support staff, typically we want to fix things. We want to tell athletes how to feel better, we want to get them out of their pain. But when it’s a huge loss like this, sometimes that just isn’t possible, nor is it even recommended. Because when someone has strong emotions, if they run away from them too quickly, they’re just going to stay there and at some point they’re going to come back even stronger.
And that’s one of the key things for an entourage member or someone in a support position to remember: you don’t have to fix the problem at this point, and you don’t have to take it away. This is something that the athlete needs to work through in some form, and you can be there to support them.
You don’t have to fix the problem at this point, and you don’t have to take it away. This is something that the athlete needs to work through in some form, and you can be there to support them.
Do the small things
Often it is helpful to check in with people, even if you haven’t heard from them and you’re kind of waiting. It’s good to be the one to initiate sending that message and checking in to say: “How are you doing, I was just thinking about you, what’s going on?”
You may have to be a little creative in what you can do, but you can send flowers or a meal to somebody or you can call and have them delivered, things like that. It’s going to be the little things that people aren’t expecting that you can do from a distance, to let someone know that you’re thinking about them and that you’re caring.
For advice to athletes on how to best make use of their entourage during this time, click here