Stronger together  

With social distancing and self-isolation forcing us apart to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Olympian Katie Foulkes reveals different strategies for coping with the current situation and why trying to stay connected with your entourage and your support network has never been more important. 

  • Katie Foulkes represented Australia in rowing at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. 
  • She now works as an executive coach and leadership consultant. 
  • Here, she reveals different strategies for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Social connection is a fundamental human need, and it’s been linked to a range of benefits like wellbeing, physical health, motivation and stress reduction. Of course, the challenge right now is that during this time when we really need to be together, and use that social connection to navigate our way throughwe need to stay physically apart. So, this is where we really need to be leveraging virtual platforms to stay connected, and using the good oldfashioned telephone call to have a chat to someone. 

Build up your support networks  

One of the key components of the current COVID-19 crisis is that it’s shown us that we can’t go at it alone. We really need each other to navigate this challenge, and so my advice to you and your entourage is to use each other. Talk to each other, be supportive of each other. Now is also a really good chance to build up your support networks and, of course, this will include your entourage. But who else can you reach out to? It takes time to find the people who you can trust and who you can work with. But when you have them, you’ll have them for both current and future challenges. 

Focus on your feelings 

Take some time to acknowledge how you’re feeling right now. Rather than just toughening it out, take some time to actually recognise and articulate what’s going on for you. There’s a lot of research that shows that recognising and expressing your thoughts, your emotions, can actually take the power out of them, and then you can move forward and do the things that really matter to you. 

We are in a pandemic and it’s really uncomfortable, but we also know that high levels of stress over long periods of time don’t serve us well. You have plenty of experience in dealing with unexpected events – from race cancellations to non-selection – and I’d really be encouraging all of us to draw on how we navigated those previous occasions and what worked for us in those times.  

Check out Dr Jane Thornton’s advice on using the athlete skill-set that you already have to navigate this situation, and reframe it in a positive way.   

Make a plan as a team 

I think this is a great chance to make it all about the team, and it begins with a conversation between you and your entourage, where you engage in a process of co-creating a path forward for all of youWe know that a plan that is doable enhances our motivation and helps us focus. As an athlete, you need to feel that if you put the time and effort into executing a plan, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll achieve the expected outcomes at the other end. So your entourage can play a key role in co-creating plans with you, where it’s really clear what has to be done and what feels really doable. It’s also important to keep communicating with each other to check that you still want that outcome, that you‘re still connected to that goal that has been put in place.   

Draw on positive energy 

We often get a sense that, when we’re around positive people and optimistic people, there is an energy, an upward spiraland that positivity can turn into all of these amazing things. We end up being more creative, we perform better, we’re less stressed. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that we only talk to people who are positive, but we can certainly be strategic, think about what we need at certain points, and go to the people who might offer that. And of course, when we help otherswe reap the rewards from that as well. So reaching out to others and offering support can be a really uplifting or energyenhancing experience.   

When we help otherswe reap the rewards from that as well. So reaching out to others and offering support can be a really uplifting or energyenhancing experience.  

Check that your entourage is coping too 

Your entourage will not be able to help you bounce back until they deal with their own emotions that they are feeling right now. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to sit in those emotions, or those thoughts, but they need to give them a little bit of air and, as I mentioned before, acknowledge them.  

The opportunity in this is that, as you and your entourage develop and practise these types of skills now, they’re not just relevant for this particular challenge. They’re going to set you up so that you can thrive in future challenges – both in sport and beyond – and also help each of you navigate those challenges successfully. 

For specific advice on reframing the way you speak with your coach during this time, click here