Headspace

Mental toughness for handling lockdown and beyond

May 7, 2020

For many Sportspeople lockdown fatigue is beginning to hit. I am privileged to work with the most dedicated and committed national and international sportspeople and even they are beginning to struggle. Some are starting to feel as if this new reality will last forever, others are worried that their level of performance will deteriorate; some are just desperate to train as they did before.

Mental toughness

The good news is that sport is not only something we love, but it is also a massive global industry, which will return to normality, just like every other industry.

From years of getting inside the minds of legends in sport, I have formulated a step by step model of how to move from a negative mindset to a positive one, especially during this time. Try applying each step to your situation. In the model, we refer to your struggle or negative part of self as your “little me” and your strengths or positive part of self as your “GREAT ME”.

Steps to shifting from your “little me” (negative-self) to your “GREAT ME” (positive-self)

Acknowledge your struggle (“little me”)

Whole Champions know themselves well, both the negative and the positive. This self-knowledge is not only important for success but also for happiness. Negative thoughts/feelings (“little me”) are our built in alarms signaling that something needs handling. Imagine that you heard the alarm or a loud noise in your house, and you leave it to continue without dealing with what may be going wrong. By understanding that these alarm signals or negative feelings are normal and important, we can figure out how to soothe or redirect them. During a crisis situation your “little me” will emerge. This is your chance to learn how best to deal with these negative feelings.

Take note of what makes you feel good

By being aware of both negative and positive thoughts and feelings, and your actions that follow them, Champions have become aware of what serves their mental fortitude. Making mental notes or jotting down your thoughts/feelings and what you do about them, demonstrates what hinders or enhances your positive-self (“GREAT ME”). Often, just noticing the negative thoughts/feelings emerging, is enough to redirect your attention on whatever makes you feel better in that moment.

Set intentions, not expectations

This kind of radical crisis is not the time to set stringent goals for yourself. The key is to set intentions for what you want to improve and explore during this no-sport-as-usual period. Let’s think about what there is to enjoy about his time. On the international tennis scene, Nadal has shared that he has been enjoying a family holiday and mastering Playstation during Lockdown, whereas Federer has kept up his fitness playing on the wall and also enjoying plenty of family time. None of us are as successful as Nadal, yet regardless of our sporting code, we can set some intentions, whether it is as small as doing one mental and physical training activity each day or as large as creating a new routine for oneself. Your GREAT ME will enjoy setting intentions and finding a new purpose.

Use your imagination

“Your imagination is the preview of your life’s forthcoming attractions”, said Albert Einstein, one of the world’s most renowned scientists. Not only can our imagination influence our future, but countless research experiments demonstrate the value of training any one’s sport in your mind’s eye and getting results when returning to your sport in reality. Documented research shows that training a specific skill in your mind, for example scoring goals or running a PB can be as valuable, if not more valuable as doing it in reality. Experiment by using your imagination to see perfect practice, or even achieving your greatest goal – your “GREAT ME” will then feel psyched to take ownership of your mind again.

Write a flexible routine

Writing a “To-do-list” and a flexible weekly routine is a well-researched fact that can keep you on track for what you intended for yourself. Plan a balanced weekly routine with school, work, physical and mental training, relaxation and fun. Connecting with family and friends is essential; as it can give you the extra support and motivation you need to continue with your lockdown routine. On weekends ease into the day and tune in to what you need, perhaps less training and more enjoyment and rest. Allow your mind and body to rest. Your positive-self loves a balance of hard work and lots of emotional and physical nourishment in order to recover for the next week. Perhaps, in the next week your “GREAT ME” will be ready for a new or tougher challenge.

Have fun identifying and getting to know your negative-self (“little me”) and your positive-self (“GREAT ME”). Try out the steps above in your own way with the intention of experiencing this time as a journey of self-understanding, growth, and even peppered with peace and fun!

Toni Gaddie


Toni Gaddie is as a Clinical and Sports Psychologist who assists national and international sports champions and business leaders in becoming and maintaining their “whole champion” status. She is also the co-founder of the Champion’s Academy. Read more about Toni here.

More articles