Lessons From Sport 1

by Giles Mountford

Cover photo by Justin Luebke

The Coronavirus brought the world to its knees. Maybe all you need to worry about right now is getting back onto your own two feet. Here’s how to start.

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  • Lessons From Sport 1: The Big Reset 00:00

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Something has been taken away from us and the pace of change can be breath-taking.

Photo by Engin Akyurt

Many people reading this (me included), will be feeling frustrated, confused and upset right now. Maybe even a little afraid. And it’s all brought on by being powerless in the face of forces, seen and unseen, way bigger than we are. For those of you for whom the crisis has brought tragedy, my heart goes out to you and I hope you are able to find comfort in your grief. For everyone else, the world presents a new set of challenges. Something has been taken away from us and the pace of change can be breath-taking. 

What was normal and mundane a few months ago now feels like a precious memory. The plans we once had now repeat in our imagination like a bad joke.

Any athlete reading this may be getting familiar emotions rising to the surface. Why? Because much of the above is precisely what happens when an elite athlete suffers a serious injury. There’s not one athlete I’ve interviewed, from Olympians to Premier League Footballers, who haven’t felt a crushing anxiety as the realisation of the impact of their injury dawns on them. One minute you’re on top of the world, in tune with your body, progressing beautifully towards your performance target. Then, bam! All bets are off. You’re persona non grata, you can’t do what you used to do and your dreams of conquering all challengers lie in tatters. And (dependent on your sport) you may have also serious concerns about how you’re going to earn a living wage. 

Photo by Engin Akyurt

Your starting point is now. And that relates to anything and everything.

The first thing each athlete is taught, once the initial trauma and shock has been addressed, is to accept the situation and start to work out what they can do – rather than focus on what can’t be done. 

The shift from ‘I can’t do that anymore’ to ‘now I can do this’, is critical because without fundamentally re-shaping their thinking, getting their body back on track is almost impossible. If it sounds easier said than done, that’s because it is. But nonetheless, it’s how every successful rehabilitating athlete pulls themselves out of the doldrums and back into contention: often better than before. 

All that differs between the injured athlete and each of us facing the day to day realities imposed by the global reaction to COVID-19 is the scale of the problem. Otherwise, the same principles apply.

Holding onto to a way of living we have lost, or mourning the future we thought was coming our way, only adds to our anxiety –  yet it can be so hard to let go of either. But that’s what we have to do. It’s the only way.

You want to guarantee that the weeks in isolation are even more testing? Just dwell on the past you’ve lost and future you thought you were going to have. I’m not belittling your situation and the last thing I want is to inflict more pain, I’m just telling you how it is. The alternative? Re-set.

Every successful rehabilitating athlete pulls themselves out of the doldrums and back into contention: often better than before.

When your world is not only turned upside down but also stopped dead in its tracks – what do you do?

When Olympian and multiple World Champion Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill returned to training after giving birth (not an injury, but in many ways a more significant impact on an athlete’s life), her coach, Toni Minichiello introduced the PPPB: the Post Pregnancy Personal Best. In Toni’s view, “Everything for Jess changed – her physiology, her psychology and her circumstances. Why would we compare her to her pre-baby self. It’s not the same person let alone the same athlete’. For the record Jess went onto to win another World Championship and secure a silver in the Rio Olympics. 

The principle is simple: today is the first day of the rest of your life. It’s a clean sheet, a fresh start, an opportunity to reshape yourself. All that matters is what you’ve got today. You just need to give yourself permission.

Your starting point is now. And that relates to anything and everything.

You’re a new you. Where are you going to take you?  How are you going to grow? 

Tomorrow you only have one point of reference: yesterday. 

Re-set yourself. Define your own PPPBs. I’m going to. I wish us both well. 


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