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EIS supporting athletes to manage psychological transition of return to training

James Platt | 01 June 2020

As high performance sport begins a phased return to training, the English Institute of Sport (EIS) is supporting sports to help athletes manage a unique psychological transition.

Three EIS teams – Psychology, Performance Lifestyle and Mental Health – have combined 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.

Kate Hays, EIS Head of Psychology,  says:

“The government guidelines on phased return to training are clear around what needs to happen operationally. Return to training is also a psychological process, and people are moving through a context they, and no-one else, have experienced before.

“Everyone’s responses to lockdown have been unique and you might have people returning to training on the back of ten positive weeks, or ten difficult weeks.

“How successfully they’re able to transition back into those circumstances depends on how they’ve processed things and the support they get on their return.

“The document we’ve produced is based on hundreds of check-ins we’ve had with athletes across the high performance system and other people we support.”

The document highlights ‘accessing, affirming and reconnecting’ as the high performance system’s key needs at this stage – with ‘restoration’ the overall goal of all activity.

The process of athletes ‘opting in’ to return to training is also qualified as an ongoing process with changing environmental and personal circumstances requiring constant re-evaluation. The NHS model of response to crisis was introduced to the group by clinical psychologist Dr Amanda Gatherer, a member of the EIS Mental Health Expert Panel.

Kate has been joined by Mental Health Manager Sam Cumming and Head of Performance Lifestyle Jo Harrison in leading their respective teams on the project, and a genuinely collaborative approach to meeting the needs of the high performance system posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the foundation.

“When lockdown was first called, all of us felt it was an unprecedented situation that nobody had any experience of,” Kate adds.

“The really great thing is that everybody came together. Initially, the Psychology, Mental Health and Performance Lifestyle teams combined to offer all athletes from every single Olympic and Paralympic programme a one-to-one check-in on how they were experiencing lockdown.

“Once conversations turned to phased return, we were already in close contact, so we had a good sense of what was going on in the system and we could move forward.

“The three teams came together naturally.”

Click on the link below to access the document:

CV19 Psycho-Social Considerations of Phased Return