Sport in the World of Zoom: A New Form of Training
Covid-19 has brought many challenges to athletes. Difficulties have stemmed from a lack of access to facilities, an inability to meet face to face with coaches, and the inability to train regularly during lockdowns. Naturally, these physical training elements have had a massive effect on most athletes' mental states (many studies have continued to show this). Although the challenges have been vivid in many individual sport athletes, team-based athletes have substantially adapted their training styles and mental focus.
"The simple fact that the foundation of team sports relies on constant contact with others does not particularly scream "ideal" during a global pandemic."
The Impact on a Team
Although there are individual training elements to team-based athletes (i.e., rehab, individual work-ons), most training sessions consist of training with others, whether on the field or in the gym. A team's success is not based on the individual talent of one or a few players, but on the ability to work together, to blend as a group of athletes working toward the same objectives. As a result, training together to build physical relationships and an understanding of how the person next to you performs is an essential component to a team's success.
The Mental Health and Performance Ability of Team-based Athletes
There are two sides to this element that, in many ways, interlink. The first is the mentality of the individual team player. Many athletes who choose team sports have a certain mentality distinct from an athlete involved in individual sports. They revel in the idea of training and working with others. As an athlete who gave up the opportunity to pursue an individual sport to engage in a team sport professionally, I have personally felt the brunt of this transition from team to individual training. Like myself, team-based athletes excel in environments where their teammates push them.
Similarly, such athletes enjoy and revel in training settings where they can build relationships with others. Pushing yourself to the limit with a group of other people is a very intimate and proclaimed act. It brings you closer and makes you feel a part of something bigger than yourself and your individual goals.
The second significant impact the pandemic has had on team-based athletes is physical. When one's fitness is typically derived from field-based fitness sessions and team gym sessions, it can be challenging to switch to individual-based training sessions. One study indicated that individual sport athletes were more likely to only participate in a single sport and were, therefore, more likely to train alone all year round. Research also found that anxiety and depression rates were more prevalent in individual groups compared to team sports athletes. Such research has concluded that training with others who have a shared goal and are experiencing similar challenges during training sessions has a positive impact on an athletes' ability to perform. Therefore, the adjustments in training style and environment for team-based athletes from joint training sessions to individual-based sessions are likely to take a toll on the athlete's mental state that will ultimately impact their ability to excel physically (Pluhar et al., 2019).
The Cancellation of Competition
One major impact on athletes' mental health - in both individual and team sports - is the cancelation or delay of competition. 2020 looked as if it was going to be an important year for many athletes with significant events taking place, such as the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Euro (European Championships in association football), and the Wimbledon tennis tournament. In Hong Kong, the 15ns Women's rugby team was preparing for the Asia Rugby Women's Championship in hopes of securing a spot in the World Cup Qualifiers, and the Women's sevens team were looking forward to the Olympic qualifiers. The delay and cancellation of such events is likely to cause a disruption in the athlete's lifestyles and routine and has, in many cases, has contributed to a loss of aspiration and self-fulfillment (O'Connor et al. (2020)
Like many premiership and national teams around the world, the Hong Kong women's rugby team has introduced a number of measures to support players during these periods of isolation. This has included regular team zoom meetings, team challenges, group fitness sessions over zoom, and sharing individual sessions with teammates. There has been a consistent and constant flow of communication between coaches and players themselves. Hong Kong athlete, Chloe Chan, described the importance of this communication to foster chemistry and maintain a healthy connection with her teammates.
"Seeing my teammates on zoom makes this weird situation feel a bit more normal as we would usually see each other every day! Knowing I have my team and coaches support during this tough time of home training has given me the biggest motivation!"
Another study suggested that this need to "stay connected" with coaches and teammates has been an essential coping strategy amongst most team-based athletes. (Samuel et al (2020).
This challenging time, however, has been an important opportunity for athletes to grow emotionally and physically. There are endless benefits to an athlete's ability to train and function as an individual and a team player. We can never know what the future brings, and it is essential to have strong mental and physical characteristics to motivate oneself without being completely reliant on others.
On the other hand, for us who get a kick out of team environments, the vaccine cannot come soon enough. The mental toll that comes with the inability to train and perform has been all too real for athletes this past year. We, who spend the majority of our lives thinking, training, and playing sports, won't feel quite complete or satisfied until our boots touch the spongy astro with our teammates in tow.
Samuel R., Tenenbaum G., Galily Y. (2020) The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic as a Change-Event in Sport Performers' Careers: Conceptual and Applied Practice Considerations. Frontiers in Psychology, 1-11.
Pluhar E. (2019) Team Sport Athletes May Be Less Likely To Suffer Anxiety or Depression than Individual Sport Athletes Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 18, 490-496.
O’Connor D. (2020) Research priorities for the COVID‐19 pandemic and beyond: A call to action for psychological science. The British Journal of Psychology, 11, 603-629.