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Pandemic and Elite Performance - Supporting Elite Performers through Lockdown

We are living in uncertain, unprecedented times. There has been a constant commentary on the impact of Lockdown on almost every aspect of life. Early announcements of major disruption to global sports events forced many professional and elite amateur athletes into unchartered territory. The purpose of this blog post is to consider the multifactorial impact that COVID-19 restrictions have had on our athletes. 

The IOC led the way in restrictions and announced the cancellation of the 2020 Olympic Games with potential for the Games to be rescheduled in 2021. From there, soccer, NFL, NBA, NHL, GAA and AFL followed suit with season cancellations and indefinite delays to competition schedules. The changes are essential in ensuring athlete/player safety however, the disruption to carefully planned training cycles can have detrimental effects on athletes. For example, players may experience fear of losing physical condition, competitive disadvantage, inability to train due to closure of facilities, limited social support, fear of illness and economic uncertainty and overthinking about uncertain futures. In sport, the impact of career transitions on player mental health has been well documented in research. Elite players typically experience numerous transition phases in their playing careers, due to the potential for negative repercussions during these phases, support staff help players to plan and prepare for these transition phases in advance. Transition phases can include injury, transfer or retirement. Some transitions are inevitable and unpredictable, but support staff work hard to ensure that players feel that transitions are under their control. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced situations beyond anyone's control. 

The undesired restriction can lead players to experience low self-esteem, burnout, withdrawal and denial. Professional players who were used to seeing their name in the media every week may be experiencing a sense of social death with the extreme change in media focus throughout the pandemic. Furthermore, many players/athletes who are predisposed to mental health conditions may experience exacerbation or expressions of anxiety, depression, mood disorders or obsessive compulsive disorders. Players and athletes are renowned for their mental focus and goal orientation, now with long-term goals forced into uncertainty, re-adjusting to a shorter term focus within the current scope of control is required. Backroom staff across all sports codes have been innovating to ensure that players/athletes are supported remotely, like the rest of the population utilising technology to ensure that communication, training and performance support can be modified and adapted to reduce feelings of hopelessness, lack of direction or isolation that players or athletes may be experiencing. 

Similar to the players and athletes, sports support professionals are in uncharted territory and forced to consider complete restructuring of training programmes to try and maintain or salvage competitive preparation despite the uncertainty around training and competition resuming. Technology has played a huge role for sports teams in lockdown. The integration of tracking devices and applications has allowed support staff and coaches to monitor players activity and training in remote settings. GPS systems, specifically STATSport have played a key role in providing players with individual tracking systems that allow their training (high speed running, acceleration, decelerations, step balance etc.) to be monitored. Professional teams (Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham) use STATSport equipment based at their training facilities. As this was not an option in Lockdown STATSport worked with clubs to get players set up on their consumer products that use individual vests and pods with data synced to their phone. The app allows them to get a training programme from their coach or conditioning specialist and then the data from the session gets sent back to the coaches app to view on their phone or device. In fact many professional players have opted to share their data on public leaderboards used by youth and amateur players as well. In times of social isolation, the shared leaderboard can provide a competitive outlet for players (of any level). The connectivity and surveillance capacities that performance analysis technology have afforded professional teams during the lockdown period has been invaluable. 

Now more than ever the true utility and necessity of performance analysis in professional sport has come to the fore. We are very excited to see how sport resumes post-COVID-19 and how performance analysis will benefit from lessons learned during Lockdown. If you are interested in Sports Performance Analysis or looking to integrate analysis in to your coaching practice, you might be interested in our Bsc or MSc Sports Performance Analysis programmes.

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