As coaches, parents and teammates balance the risk-reward of keeping sports seasons during the pandemic, they also need to make sure teams rally around players who step forward if they have COVID-19 symptoms rather than blaming them for missed practices or team quarantine.
“It’s important that we all take a step-back and focus on the positives that by a child speaking up about symptoms is helping the team avoid more serious consequences of spreading the virus to teammates or canceling the whole season,” said Dr. Allyson Weldon, pediatric psychologist and sports psychologist specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It’s okay to acknowledge that pausing sports is an upsetting time for a lot of people and that, as hard as it may be, we should not take our anger and frustration out on others; we’re all in this together. It’s important that we look at COVID-19 as a way of building resiliency.”
Dr. Weldon encourages parents to help their athlete deal with quarantining or a season altered due to COVID-19 in healthy ways versus the temptation to be angry or bully the child who is sick such as:
- Reassure your child that her feeling of frustration, anger or sadness is normal but, just like the situation itself, it will pass. Even when we take all the right precautions, someone can still get sick but, remember, it’s only temporary.
- Focus on the “big picture.” Emphasize that sitting out for a short period of time will make things better in the long run because the team will come back healthy and avoid missing more playing time or an entire season.
- Provide real-life examples of moments where someone your child knows, or the child herself, was in a similar situation where emotions made you do or say things you didn’t really mean. Discuss how a different reaction could have made you feel better in the end.
- Talk about what your child can do to continue to improve her play while at home, including strength or stretching exercises, yoga or even watching her favorite sport on TV to build her sport’s IQ.
- Remind kids that one game or practice isn’t going to make or break the athlete. School and sport programs here, and across the country, are faced with the same challenges of a limited or altered season. For senior athletes, with hopes of playing in college, help them find comfort in knowing college coaches are being forced to engage and recruit players in non-traditional ways due to the pandemic, too.
Above all, Dr. Weldon says the best thing parents can do to help their kids overcome the psychological impact of COVID-19 is to trust their instincts.
“If you feel your child is not acting like her normal self, seek help. Akron Children’s has great services available to help kids navigate the emotional and mental struggles of COVID-19 such as school health services, pediatricians, mental health therapists and psychologists. So much of how an athlete performs on the field happens in their head so if an athlete is struggling, finding support will not only help the athlete’s well-being, but also her performance in the game she loves.”
As the first psychologist to practice in Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s, Dr. Weldon works with young athletes on sports performance, positive mental imagery, post-concussion care, depression/anxiety, sleep difficulties and disordered eating. Learn more about Akron Children’s Sports Medicine Center or call 330-543-8260.