by Lisa Clodfelter, MA, LPC

Coaching athletes during a pandemic…. Now there is a challenge.

How does this work?  Is it even possible when rules and mandates are changing daily, and everyone seems to be scrambling to come up with contingency plans on the fly?

How do I keep my athletes motivated?  How can I plan for a season when there are no guarantees on what platform the season will take?

Everyone in the sport community is feeling uncertain during Covid-19.  Competitions are being canceled and scheduling is taking on a life of its own. Training facilities are closing, and everyone is weighing the risks. The impact of this virus is heavy on coaches, athletes, parents, and all stakeholders in sport.

Fortunately, mental performance and mental health practitioners can step in and offer some mitigation for some of the effects of this extremely fluid situation.  Here are some tips:

  • Try to stay connected: Reach out often to your team collectively and individually.  Keep in mind that you are likely a valuable, important guide in their lives at this moment.  For your athletes, you may be one of very few trusted resources for speaking about their emotions, insecurities, feelings, and worries.  As often as you can, offer them an outlet to share what is happening with them, for you to listen, and ask how you can help.
  • Recognize the degrees of impact: Consider the varied issues your athletes are facing in this time.  Some may not have a safe place to stay, access to foods and essentials, and others may not be feeling much of an impact.  Another consideration is the toll of Covid-19 on motivation.  It can be particularly challenging for some athletes to train alone.  Especially if their motivation is strongly tied to feelings of being part of the community of a team.  Athletes that are unable to finish their senior season may be feeling a sense of loss and resentment over a multi-year cycle of hard work and dedication that will be left un-finalized.  Additionally, some athletes may experience a sense of relief from burnout, injury, or performance anxiety.  All these things come into play when it comes to an athlete’s motivation.  Seek first to understand where they are individually.  By uncovering their needs and insecurities you can provide the most support.
  • Continue to be a resource: Athletes will look to you on how to respond to this virus.  Composure, resilience, and integrity are key.  Try to stay neutral when it comes to the governing bodies of your sport and the decisions they make.  When it comes to postponing or cancelling events, try to set the example of taking it in stride. In order to help your athletes process any feelings of unfairness or doom, try to keep the Coronavirus in healthy perspective.  If you remain a calm, reasonable source of energy for your team, you can better help athletes understand and rationalize what is going on.
  • Practice and model self care: Examples of good self-care are engaging in personal hobbies, eating nutritionally, being physically active, getting enough rest, disengaging from media periodically, and journaling and practicing a mindfulness routine.  Done consistently these behaviors support all of us in feeling more in control and comforted.  Share these practices with your team and model solid coping skills.
  • Take care of yourself:  Give yourself time to acknowledge the stress and toll of this pandemic in your life. Rely on support networks such as family and friends and other coaches and colleagues.  Allow yourself to share resources, referrals, best practices, and to troubleshoot with respected others who can help. Reach out to a mental health professional /performance consultant to provide support as well.

If you would like more information or help with your team, I invite you to schedule an appointment at or call 618.302.1466.