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How athletes can cope with time away from training, competition amid coronavirus crisis

A glove sits atop baseballs before the start

A glove sits atop baseballs before the start of Game 1 of the ALDS between the Yankees and Minnesota Twins on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Fans are facing the potential psychological impact of the lack of sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professional athletes are facing the temporary loss of their livelihood through this indefinite hiatus, even if they are being paid.

“I’ve enjoyed this past little while with my family and my kids, they definitely don’t really understand why I’m home so much,” Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said on an NHL video conference call on Thursday. “But it’s getting to a point now where you just start to feel like things aren’t right. Sitting around and being told it’s going to probably be a little longer. It’s hard. It’s a mental game right now. But we know it’s for the right reasons. You see what’s going on around the world, it’s kept things in perspective for us.”

Professional athletes are being kept away from both the competition and their usual training routines. Navigating those losses takes help.

Baldwin’s Mark Lerman is a mental performance coach as well as a strength and conditioning coach who works with about 60 athletes, both through his affiliation with the United States Tennis Association — he also works in player development for the USTA — as well as his own clients.

He has given the athletes he’s working with a three-pronged strategy for dealing with the current situation.

First, he asks his athletes to set goals and try to grow “during this opportunity.” And, yes, looking at this as an opportunity for improvement is essential.

“They deal with adversity every single day,” Lerman said. “This is another form of adversity. You have skills to meet this and deal with it. How are we going to deal each day? That’s optimistically and realistically rather than hiding and making excuses.”

Second is to follow routines and schedules to maintain a sense of normalcy.

“That’s exactly why,” he said. “They have such structured days. Now, the structure has been taken away. They have to be a little more independent.”

Third is for the athletes to control what they can control. To that end, Lerman recommends minimizing social media interactions and computer screen time in general in order to maintain a better routine.

“It’s a big factor here now in this environment,” he said. “Limiting the news cycle so you’re not constantly filled with fear and anxiety.”

Lerman, in frequent communication with his athletes, said he has found them to have a “good mindset” about their current circumstances.

He was on a recent conference call with seven pro athletes and Lerman said he was somewhat surprised at the “lightheartedness and joking around.” He believes that was a reaction to being able to connect with other athletes.

“A lot of them are feeling cooped up,” Lerman said.

“Their concerns are more about, when are we going back?” he said. “We don’t know when we’re getting back so how are we taking care of our bodies? Are we doing the strength and conditioning plans? Are we doing everything possible during this time?”

New York Sports