Irish Olympic hopefuls should enjoy the downtime before loss sinks in - Kirby

Kate Kirby will be still fielding calls across the summer from athletes coming to terms with the fact their four-year Olympic cycle has become a five-year one.
Irish Olympic hopefuls should enjoy the downtime before loss sinks in - Kirby

Dr. Kate Kirby, head of psychology at the Institute of Sport, pictured at the National Rowing Centre. Picture Denis Minihane
Dr. Kate Kirby, head of psychology at the Institute of Sport, pictured at the National Rowing Centre. Picture Denis Minihane

Kate Kirby will be still fielding calls across the summer from athletes coming to terms with the fact their four-year Olympic cycle has become a five-year one.

As head of psychology at the Institute of Sport, she’s been telling competitors to enjoy the break, guilt-free, while remaining aware the loss may hit them harder when July rolls around.

“People are much better with the announcement than they were before it,” she said. “When the IOC said they were going to take four more weeks to make a decision, that created anxiety because people felt under pressure to peak in July when it was clear they wouldn’t be able to train as normal.

“Since they’ve announced it, the majority of athletes I’ve spoken to are taking the news really well. They’re happy with the certainty. It’s not like it came as a massive overnight shock. The drip-drip of news had people come to that realisation quite slowly so they’d accepted it by the time it was confirmed.

The adjustment and the loss will probably sink in later when the ramifications and the knock-on effects of the postponement become clearer. At the moment, there are so many unknowns it’s almost too hard to process them.

“It was such an intense period of qualification, athletes are quite happy with the pressure-valve, a bit of time away from the programme, and an opportunity to see their families. But as time goes on, the relief and acceptance of the fact their Games won’t be happening will fade and they’ll start to become more disappointed and potentially more anxious about what the future holds.

“The message I’m giving people is to enjoy this time off. You only get time off as an athlete if you’re injured or it’s your post-season, and you’re still always tuned in and looking ahead, looking ahead.

“Mentally, this is easier than being injured. When you’re injured, you’re in it on your own. You feel like you’re stagnant or even going backwards, and everyone else is progressing. That creates a massive amount of anxiety.

“Everyone’s on a level playing field here. None of your competitors are getting a relative advantage on you so athletes are more relaxed. It’s a shared experience with everyone in their programme and with everyone in every other Olympic programme so there’s a bit more solidarity in it.

“This is a freebie time off so take it and enjoy it, guilt-free. Obviously, don’t lose the run of yourself and sit on the couch eating crisps and doughnuts day in, day out, but just do what you can do and try to remove yourself from your sport for a while.

We don’t even know when the Olympics are for sure. A goal is the building block of motivation and training with purpose and intensity. That goal is absent at the moment so there’s no point in people pushing themselves to train in a vacuum when they don’t know what, or when, they’re pushing themselves for.

“You may as well wait until there’s a plan and a clear pathway that drives your training. Most athletes will want to train anyway but maybe not in such a structured and supervised way. They’d be doing it more for enjoyment than for a specific outcome.

“Different sports have been in very different scenarios and now sports are responding differently. Some are maintaining a programme, people are dialling in, and they’re having online spin sessions together. Then, some sports have told their athletes to just take two, three, four weeks off and don’t feel the necessity to adhere to a really strict training programme or check-in or do your monitoring.

“Just take some downtime.”

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