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EIS National Director Nigel Walker on our journey so far during COVID-19

29 July 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges which it has so far thrown up have forced us to change the way we all work and live, and this has been no different at the English Institute of Sport.

The EIS, in playing its part like so many other organisations in combating the crisis, has worked incredibly hard to ensure performance support could be adapted for delivery during lockdown and then provided guidance for the process of getting sports and athletes back to their training environments. 

And, in this and other ways, we have provided valuable guidance to the high performance sports system.

But, what we have learned from the last few months will not just stay in the past, it will likely influence the way we operate internally and externally in the months and years ahead. 

“We will continue to talk with performance directors, chief executives and head coaches about the services that we’ve provided,” EIS National Director Nigel Walker said.

“It’s a two-way conversation, we can say ‘this is what we’ve learned, what have you learned? What’s the path we’re going to tread over the next three months, six months, 12 months to ensure that your athletes reach Tokyo in the best possible shape to bring glory to Team GB and ParalympicsGB?”

“Nobody knows what the new normal will look like next month or the month after but as long as we’re in the heart of that new normal and people know what’s expected of them day to day, that’s as much as we can do.”

With 12 months to go until the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games that follow, the EIS will continue to seek the best possible ways in which the organisation support sports and athletes.

This follows on from guidance and support athletes have received over the past four months, from remote performance support to virtual yoga sessions to mental health advice.

For example, every single athlete was contacted by a performance lifestyle advisor or psychologist in the first week of the COVID-19 lockdown, while a ‘We Are With You’ infographic was created and shared with athletes to showcase the mental health support on offer for them at home.

These are just some examples of the work that the EIS has done in the last few months, delivered across three key themes– stay safe, keep connected and get creative.

The theme of staying safe was delivered predominantly through the process of shutting down sites initially, and then abiding by the rules that came with lockdown.

Following that, connection and creativity were two other immediate priorities.

Nigel added: “Staying safe was the most important thing and the imperative that ran from day one, that people should not take any chances and that we should heed Public Health England advice.

“We have been reiterating throughout the process what is acceptable, especially as sports return to training.

“The goalposts have shifted, naturally, as we have worked our way through the pandemic but people should not go beyond what we consider to be safe based on the Public Health England guidelines.

“Keeping connected, our communication across the organisation – bottom up, top down and across the organisation – has been one of the key strands that we have concentrated on.

“Getting creative, in other words what we were doing before may not be possible or appropriate but how can we continue to provide the services we are funded for in a different way and in some areas that has been really quite radical.

“A nutritionist for example might have been face to face with an athlete and a coach, how can you do that online going forward?

“What we have done is made sure we’ve been as prepared as we possibly can be to get us through this pandemic and kept our eyes open and had a 360-degree view of this, every single day.

“We’ve been flexible and understood that we can’t operate in the way that we were operating three or four months ago so we’ve looked at doing the best we can given the circumstances that we find ourselves in.”

Alongside the focus of continuing to deliver our services, the EIS has championed putting people and their well-being first, from our staff to sports and through to athletes.

One example of this would be the combination of our psychology, performance lifestyle and mental health teams who joined forces to produce a document entitled ‘Psycho-Social Considerations of Phased Return’.

The document offers a framework of response to crisis used by the NHS, and practical ways athletes and staff can manage adjustment to unprecedented circumstances.

“We had to help sports communicate with their athletes, particularly around mental health and learning,” Nigel said.

“This period has provided opportunities too, in the first four to eight weeks in particular when the athletes were either on reduced training or not able to train at all, so we discussed with them how we could prepare them for life after sport.

“And the organisation has come together to work differently to provide the services it does and to support each other which is really important.”