Athletes are known as being some of the most tenacious and mentally strong individuals in the world. They have a strong ability to persevere through challenging situations; however, the pandemic has changed everything. Regular training was interrupted, and contributors have pulled critical financial resources. With all the pressure that is put upon athletes, many of them are experiencing tough times.
Without regular training routines or a clear direction to follow, most athletes feel disoriented. According to Strava’s Professional Athletes report, one of the key findings states that one in five athletes reported difficulty exercising related to their mental health and motivation being affected by Covid-19. While some athletes choose to continue their daily training with others amid the pandemic, many decide not to take the risk and train alone in their living room. For young athletes, it can be detrimental to their mental health.
Dr Jason von Stietz, the official sport psychology provider of the U.S. National Sumo Wrestling Team, said, “Many athletes are finding it difficult to maintain their motivation during the pandemic. Tournaments that they have been looking forward to have either been rescheduled or postponed indefinitely. This makes it difficult to consistently do all the little things that will lead to their success such as eating healthy foods, strength and conditioning, perfecting their technique, doing recovery work after workouts, etc. It can be very easy to lose sight of their long-term goals and not put in the necessary work to perform at their best when the opportunity finally arises.”
Dr Jason has brought his mental health expertise in relation to sports, to the sumo wrestling community through Zoom workshops. In these workshops, he offers team-building online sessions and one-on-one mental team training sessions, assisting wrestlers in performing their best by helping them focus under pressure.
“Oftentimes, athletes work on learning ways to reduce their anxiety and stay calm under pressure. However, it is not always possible to stay perfectly calm under pressure. For example, a sumo wrestler may only get one opportunity to compete at the World Championships in their entire career. It will be nearly impossible to not experience anxiety. Fortunately, athletes are able to perform their best when they are focused on the task at hand, whether or not they feel anxiety. This is why I introduced the US national sumo wrestling team to improvisational comedy. When the team is doing an improv comedy exercise together, they feel silly and uncomfortable and they need to focus on their task anyway. This helps them to practice focusing under pressure in a safe environment, which helps them to focus in their training sessions, and in turn, during an important competition,”- Dr Jason von Stietz
It is easy to overlook the importance of the mental and emotional aspects of participating in team sports, but it is an essential aspect for athletes to achieve success. Dr von Stietz acknowledged that sport psychology is a relatively new practice. Nonetheless, it is getting more attention this year as more athletes realise the importance of utilising these tools to help them do their best.
“Now there are lot less stigma, and people are really starting to use all the resources that are available to them, and I think that’s really a good thing, it can help their mental health and also can help them to perform at their best,” Dr von Stietz said.
Sports are just as much a mental activity as they are a physical one, and positive mental health is one of the driving qualities of a successful player. Dr von Stietz will continue to motivate athletes to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.