The COVID-19 pandemic saw the Canadian Olympic Committee be quick to put together a mental health task force to help its athletes get through the crisis and stay ready for the postponed games.
In the first meeting, the members of the task force were given a graph outlining the phases of disaster. It starts with impact — a feeling of shock and disbelief at what is happening.
In the short time after that, there’s a climb that likely everyone can remember. There’s the heroic phase first.
“It’s a very adrenaline-induced action,” said Bryce Tully, mental performance coach for the women’s national basketball team.
“People kind of come to service and do everything they can to help and solve the problem as best they can.”
Athletes, and of course most other Canadians too, stayed in that high through what is called the honeymoon phase. That’s a time of community cohesion.
“You see everyone come together,” Tully said. “There’s a strong sense of community.
“There’s people not just coming to action to solve the problem, they’re actually working together with each other and realizing that the problem is more pervasive than affecting one person.”
That was evident with Twitter and Instagram posts of athletes working out at home, using what they could with no access to a gym or training facility.
There’s a crash after that some say is inevitable. It’s called disillusionment, and that’s where people can lose their belief that everything is going to be OK. It was made harder for most of the women on the national basketball team with the death of George Floyd and the subsequent anti-racism protests.
While these athletes were questioning their futures, it got worse.
“I’m losing my skills, I’m losing my strength because my training environment is so not ideal,” Tully said. “While at the same time getting piled on this new disaster. They’re now coping with multiple things at once while being in the depths of this emotional dip with COVID(-19).
The mental health task force was vital in how it would help athletes get through the pandemic. It had to build up athletes’ tolerance to the uncertainty of whether their goal — in most cases the Olympics — is still there.
For Tully’s athletes with the basketball program, they’ve all integrated back to their professional teams, but it has taken work to build up their confidence.
“Confidence is a really tough thing to achieve when you’re not able to train in a normal circumstance,” Tully said. “Everyone has a different set of things available to them.
“Some people could shoot hoops, some couldn’t. So working with the athletes on their confidence as they reintegrate in to training is definitely something that came up quite a bit.”
In terms of the graph, the basketball team is now in reconstruction.
“They’ve had to do some radical acceptance of what is,” Tully said.