Staying mentally tough is a discipline many athletes hone over the course of their career.
Experts say the lessons applied in professional sports can easily translate to challenges we face every day, especially during COVID-19.
Jean Francois Menard is a mental performance coach, working with athletes, executives, pop stars, surgeons, and just about anyone who wants to improve their mental game. When it comes to dealing with the stress of the pandemic, his view is simple.
“It is what it is, not what it’s supposed to be,” Menard said.
Professional snowboarder Max Parrot has confronted that reality while preparing for an unusual season of competition. “The plan would just always change, because of the rules, because of the flights,” Parrot said.
“The contests are cancelled, the mountain is not open that day, the list goes on.”
Parrot said figuring out ways to stay positive has been his key to success. “The faster you adapt yourself, the faster you can turn around and find another way to keep on going forward.”
This mindset is something Parrot has been able to practice throughout his career, in unexpected ways.
In 2018, Parrot was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and his snowboard career had to be put on hold.
“I wanted to live so I had to put snowboard away and focus on beating cancer,” Parrot said.
Two months after completing chemo, Parrot went on to win the X-Games in Norway, something he attributes to hard work and a strong mental game. Menard has been with Parrot every step of the way.
This year has presented new challenges. Menard said the coronavirus pandemic has shifted the way people think about the future.
“It’s very difficult right now to work with long term goals because it’s so difficult to predict what’s going to happen,” Menard said. “My definition of long term now is seven days.”
The mental performance coach said when things get challenging, it’s best to break a problem down and to simply focus on the next step. “It’s not as threatening; the anxiety goes down considerably. Why? Because it’s manageable,” Menard said.
For Parrot, this year’s snowboarding season has put those lessons to the test.
In January he won the World Cup in Austria. A week later, the Canadian men’s snowboard team was removed from competition in Switzerland, after some of the team tested positive for COVID-19.
Global News spoke with Menard after this development. “Lots of frustration, Max was mad,” Menard said. But he said Max quickly shifted his focus to the X-Games coming up in Aspen, Colorado.
Menard said having this mindset can help anyone, especially during the pandemic.
“My definition of mental toughness is choosing to have the right attitude in moments when you are not supposed to have it,” Menard said. “Going through adversity is an investment in the future.”