‘Our sports people need psycho-social support now more than ever’

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A concerned resident blew the lid off an ill-advised house party organised by a group of youngsters in Nairobi’s Jamhuri Estate, this past Sunday.

The 18 young Kenyans, some barely in their teens, were busted by police allegedly stark naked, shooting nudes and imbibing copious amounts of liquor.

This incident came just days after another group of about 20 was uncovered, hidden in a Kilimani restaurant and gulping alcohol by the bottle, in flagrant contravention of public health laws against such assembly owing to fears over the indiscriminate spread of coronavirus. Sunday’s incident came barely a week after a carbon-copy gathering in which a group of 21 youth, disguised as a “talent bank” was unmasked in Nakuru’s Milimani Estate, allegedly high on a cocktail of nocturnal, pornographic orgy.

These are just three incidents.

I’m sure occurrence books across our police lines have further similar entries, while many others may have escaped the long arm of the law, countrywide. While the randy Jamhuri Estate group faced charges on Monday, Rift Valley authorities confirmed the 21 truants arrested in Nakuru were all quarantined for a 14-day period as medics lookout for any Covid-19 symptoms.

Herein lies the problem.

The Rift Valley security officials claim they are “only concerned with their (youth’s) health status,” and that the issue of counselling “belongs to different people.”

HUGE CRISIS

Although these security chiefs, thankfully, say the incident is “a parenting guidance problem and not a security concern,” it highlights a huge crisis that’s been triggered by Covid-19, and which will most certainly explode post-virus, if urgent pre-emptive measures aren’t employed.

With the dusk-to-dawn curfew extended for another three weeks, schools remaining closed, pubs still a no-go zone, social distancing emphasized, open group sports training sessions outlawed and the stay-at-home mantra sustained, our young population is desperately searching for apertures to ventilate.

Traditionally, our sports coaches and officials of sports federations focus squarely on the one-dimensional approach of physical performance, with little or no attention at all directed at psychological aspects of the athlete, yet it’s essential to strike the right balance between mind and body.

The current coronavirus lockdown is the biggest test of character yet for us all – and especially for amateur and elite athletes – since the guns fell silent, ending the Second World War on September 2, 1945.

Like was the case post-war, after the coronavirus is dead and buried, some sportspeople will emerge battered and bruised, while others will surface unscathed, physically and mentally.

Just as Olympic champion, world record holder and “sub-two man” Eliud Kipchoge has always emphasized, success in sport depends on one’s physical and mental shape, a fact which Kenyan psychologist Lambert Oigara endorses.

POSITIVE MINDSET

Drawing from the book The Mindset – The New Psychology of Success (by Carole Dweck, an American psychologist, author and professor at Stanford University) that seeks to distinguish between fixed mindset and growth mindset, Oigara stresses the need for our sportspeople to develop a positive state of mind that will hold them in good stead, post-virus.

It really calls for resilience and a resilient mind,” Oigara, who practices in Nairobi, kindly obliged after I ambushed him with an unscheduled telephone call on Monday.

Only resilient people will successfully go through this pandemic,” he added.

Coaches and sports leaders must support people within their groups with positive talk, and offer the hope for a better tomorrow.”

Indeed, investment in emotional intelligence is one area over-looked by coaches and federations which needs to come into play now more than ever.

Sportspeople need to regroup and engage professionals to talk to them consistently so as to help them build emotional intelligence so that their IQ (human intelligence) can be sustainable,” Oigara prescribes.

Lack of emotional intelligence leads to anxiety that in turn propels people into substance abuse, which was the case with the Jamhuri, Kilimani and Milimani groups busted over the last seven days.

A further prescription from Oigara is that close community connection makes for good therapy and that sportspeople must be allowed to express their thoughts and feelings over and over again so as to avoid being traumatized by the Covid-19 ghost and melt away into depression.

Indeed, our sportspeople must be helped to chart their destiny out by being in control of their thoughts and behaviour, in order to build resilience.

MENTAL HEALTH

Internally, at Nation Media Group, our good management has organised staff counselling services with the company’s health insurance brokers in appreciation of the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic will certainly take its toll on staff, especially frontline journalists on the virus beat.

Equally, sports associations must adjust and invest in professional support for sportspeople’s mental health.

Technical benches should – in addition to coaches, trainers, doctors and their assistants –enlist psychologists, nutritionists and even chaplains.

Sportspeople must develop a growth mindset.

“The growth mindset helps people keep going despite the inevitable difficulties they will face on their journey,” Dweck explains in her book originally published in 2006.

“Those with the growth mindset will more likely love what they do as obstacles appear as opportunities to learn something new.

“By believing their talents can be developed, it allows them to fulfil their true potential.”

Pandemics come and go, and, indeed, Covid-19 will soon be history.

We must be prepared to reinvent ourselves and get back to the grind stronger physically, mentally and spiritually.

Speaking of spiritually, let me conclude by wishing our Muslim brothers and sisters in sport, and generally, Ramadhan Mubarak. Saum Maqbul.

We shall emerge from this pandemic stronger, Inshallah

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By ELIAS MAKORI