UKAD's Athlete Commission Member Laura Deas: Staying positive in a time of uncertainty

A message from Laura Deas, Olympic skeleton Bronze Medallist at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games and a member of UKAD's Athlete Commission.

Without doubt, this is an unprecedented time for everyone around the globe working to contain the spread of coronavirus. Not in many people’s lifetime has there been so much uncertainty about what the near future holds, and how best to respond to it.

I’m thankful that the impact on me and my training has thus far been minimal, with the closures coming at the natural end of my competitive season. Although, I’m aware that I’m in a small minority and that many people now find themselves in very challenging circumstances. I was on a training camp in Latvia when European countries began to close their borders. Luckily, I was able to get an earlier flight the day that the Latvian borders shut indefinitely.

Athletes are a group of people who generally thrive on routine, planning and goal setting. So, suddenly being thrown into a situation where you can’t follow these routines and may have goals change unexpectedly can be immensely stressful. I have a huge amount of sympathy for those athletes currently preparing for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. While sport is rightly not at the top of the priority list for countries responding to the pandemic, to potentially have the event you have spent, what feels like your entire life preparing for, postponed or cancelled must be incredibly difficult to process.

Organisations across the sporting industry are issuing regular updates and guidance to help athletes stay as well informed as possible, so it’s worth checking these frequently. I commend the UKAD team for their hard work, for monitoring and keeping up to date with the rapidly changing situation, all-the-while bearing the wellbeing of athletes in mind.   

How each athlete responds to these difficult circumstances will be different. Across social media, I’ve seen a range of responses from ‘I’ll carry on as normal until someone tells me otherwise’, to some attempting to find innovative ways to train in isolation. I’m in the latter category, as luckily, I have some gym equipment at home, but this isn’t going to be the case for a lot of athletes. I’m sure that for many, the practicalities of getting training done is nothing in comparison to the mental challenge of staying motivated and psychologically resilient during the period of uncertainty.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but in times of stress or difficulty a favourite saying of my first skeleton coach always comes to mind: “control the controllable”. It’s a useful way of reminding yourself that, as difficult as it seems, there is little point in wasting energy, physical or mental, on things outside of your control. Equally, it acts as a reminder to put your positive energy into things you can impact, such as proactive strategies to support your mental health and communicate regularly with your support network. As I started by saying, these are unprecedented times, we don’t know what the situation will be even a week from now, but I hope the British athlete community can take some comfort from knowing that we are all in this together.