Sports psychologist Kanyali Ilako, award-winning tennis coach Rosemary Owino and javelin star Julius Yego, have spoken about challenges athletes are facing as the world battles to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.
The sports personalities who were speaking at inaugural National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) online sports conference also attended by Nock president Paul Tergat and acting secretary general Francis Mutuku, also proposed some solutions to some of the challenges.
The conference that lasted one hour and 20 minutes and moderated by Capital FM’s Alex Isaboke saw the panellists also field questions from viewers.
Yego, the 2015 World javelin champion, talked about how the Covid-19 pandemic had interrupted their training program forcing them to be innovative in the process.
Yego also noted that while the elite athletes are capable of training individually, the upcoming athletes are finding it difficult to keep up.
“Most still live with their parents and come from humble background where training or finding something to eat is a problem,” said Yego. “Its tough training without a coach or something you have been accustomed to.”
Kanyali, a former international swimmer, who has represented Kenya at the Commonwealth Games, African Games, World University Games and CANA Zone 3 and 4 Games, came up with a “Mental Toolbox” to help athletes understand and deal with the effects of Covid-19.
Kanyali noted that just like any other sector, sports industry has been hit with two waves with the first bringing anxiety and confusion when the pandemic hit the country initially.
“We are experiencing the second wave now where depression and change of mood come in as reality start to sink in. Athletes are unable to train together with their colleagues and coaches and online training proves not effective,” said Kanyali.
Kanyali said the “mental toolbox” is geared to help athletes with different tactics, improve their thoughts and ease their emotions.
Kanyali said that athletes must be creative and find ways to express themselves to release their emotions through activities like dancing, singing or any other positive distraction.
“When things get tough, they must remind themselves on why they picked a certain discipline. They need to rediscover internal motivation drawn from the medals or great performances they posted before,” explained Kanyali adding that visualisation on past training sessions helps combat negativity.
Kanyali also touched on diaphragmatic breathing, sticking to daily routine, self-talk and professional help as other components in the “mental box.”
Owino, the 2018 Safaricom Sports Personality Award (Soya) coach of the year, said that athletes will have to acknowledge if they are facing problems adding that the current situation will require high discipline levels in training. “They now must learn to exist without a coach and elite athletes must now guide the young ones,” said Owino, the Kenya Davis Cup Team captain. “We are now a collective society and this calls for resilience.”
Yego said the only solution now is to follow the regulations geared towards combating the disease. “It’s scary hence the best thing for us athletes is to remain healthy and fit,” said Yego.
Tergat noted that the current generation has never experienced a pandemic like the Covid-19 and called for solidarity, creativity, determination and flexibility.
“The biggest casualty possibly is the Olympics but we hope things will improve,” said Tergat adding that they have engaged the government, their affiliates and other stakeholder on the possible ways to help cushion the vulnerable athletes.
Tergat said the Covid-19 has forced them to review all their processes and change in response to the needs of the athletes.
Mutuku explained that firm decisions can’t be effected now since most people are waiting to see how the pandemic will be controlled. “It has opened our eyes to look at our facilities and infrastructure. We really need to take them closer to the people,” said Mutuku. “The crisis has helped us learn, react, engage and think deeper,” said Mutuku.