From the Office of the President
Members Need Mental and Emotional Wellness
Planning Ahead for Return to Running Activities
It’s decision time in our Club’s. Will the members be able to return to training and competing for the first time since March or continue with Virtual Running Challenges from home? If only there were clear-cut answers to these questions.
Education and government leaders are having a difficult time answering these questions as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. During the past four months, we have seen different parts of the country affected more than others at any given time, so one Province’s plan may look different than another based on the current spread of the virus.
Whereas all sectors of South African society have been deeply influenced by these processes, we try to focus here specifically on how we as a Federation are dealing with our member’s challenges and to support, guide and uphold these structures.
This is simultaneously a dual challenge and a complex balancing act.
We are speaking here of a journey of learning and development, as we have to lead this federation and build the requisite human capabilities, systems efficiencies, financial sustainability, and social legitimacy. Keeping abreast of change, while staying adaptable, flexible and responsive while developing tolerance for failure as a learning opportunity.
Although there will be areas of the country where a return to sport and to activity programs may be delayed due to spiking COVID-19 cases, we believe the resumption of in-person coaching, sports and other activities is crucial to the growth, development, and mental and emotional wellness of our nation’s youth.
In March, as difficult as it was, a complete shutdown of activities was necessary to slow the spread of the virus while mitigation efforts were put in place. However, the cessation of in-person coaching and education-based sports – a cocurricular endeavour – has come at a cost.
In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine after the March shutdown of schools, 68 percent of the state’s student-athletes reported symptoms of depression by May. Dr. Tim McGuine, University of Wisconsin researcher who serves on the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said about 65 percent of Wisconsin student-athletes reported anxiety symptoms due to COVID-19 closures.
This study confirms that involvement in school sports and activities is absolutely vital to the social, emotional and mental health of school students. So, with the realization that another shutdown would bring much pain and grief to our nation, how do schools continue to provide in-person learning opportunities amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
First, there must be a realization that the pandemic is far from over. As a result, in order to conduct sports and other activity programs in a safe manner, it will take a resolve on the part of everyone to keep going and keep trying. Things will not look the same as in the past. And there should be an abundance of care for coaches, administrators, officials and athletes who are more susceptible to the virus than the public. But a return to training and competing must be done with a positive and informed perspective to keep these athletic programs going in Athletics Griqualand West. We need to be in the moment and working together in a proactive role in building and cultivating sustainable and trustful relationships with different stakeholders inside and outside the federation.
But if we work TOGETHER and UNITED, leaders become guardians of values, caring citizens, visionaries among stakeholders, servants that seek the best for others, coaches of teams, architects of inclusive cultures, storytellers and meaning enablers for the common good, and change agents for that which is value-adding and sustainable.
Given the unprecedented and frequently changing events of the past several weeks, there is some hesitancy in writing about the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are some important issues that Club Administrators and coaches should be considering.
Back to “normal”
Clearly, there is no timeline for a return to “normal” life. It is highly likely that when we do “open up,” it will be slow and vary by Province and city declarations. While the South African official Coronavirus (COVID-19) online news and information portal will continue to be an important source of information, it is vital for Club Management to stay current with their District and local Health Department recommendations.
Current Club Activity and Exercise
All Club members should be encouraged to stay physically active during this time. As long as members are adhering to local guidelines on social distancing and restrictions on leaving the home, then running should continue. In addition, in-home workouts (which require no special equipment) such as push-ups, abdominal crunches, air squats and “core work” can be done.
Even though many such workout programs are widely available through the internet and social media, Club Administrators and Coaches should be encouraged to stay connected with their athletes by providing guidance. Athletes should be encouraged to participate in such workouts, but not required or mandated.
Return to Sports
When social distancing parameters are relaxed and organized sports resume, athletes and coaches will need guidelines on how to safely return to high-level physical activity. ASA Circular 37 of 2020 has bearing: With reference to the latest update of the COVID-19 (Level 3) Regulations, ASA Athletes in the Olympic squad received permission to commence with their training. They will do so on their own accord, and take full responsibility in doing so.
The first safety concern for our athletes with the return to sports conditioning and practices is for overuse injuries, resulting from going “too hard, too fast.” These include muscle strains, overuse tendon injuries and stress fractures.
It is paramount that coaches carefully review practice and competition schedules prior to the beginning of the season and decide upon realistic goals for pre-season conditioning. The conditioning process generally takes at least three to four weeks for athletes to begin to realize measurable improvements in fitness. Increasing the pre-season workload in an attempt to accelerate “getting into shape” often leads to undue fatigue and greater injury risk
Injuries may also be minimized through a limited progression of activity at the beginning of a sport season (e.g., no more than a 10 percent increase in activity per week). It is also vital, when applicable, to consider and implement effective heat acclimatization progressions and accommodations in this process.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented myriad challenges to Clubs, one area of increasing concern is the ability of athletes to access primary care providers and obtain the required preparticipation physical evaluation to participate in sports during the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. Currently, most primary care clinics are seeing patients for only acute illness and other urgent or emerging health issues. Preparticipation physical evaluation have come to a halt in most of the country due to social distancing and “stay-at-home” policies.
The duration of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions is obviously unknown at this time. When primary care providers do start seeing patients for non-urgent conditions there is likely to be a significant delay in routine care appointments as those providers prioritize patients with chronic or subacute medical problems. Thus, there will likely be significant delays in athletes being able to obtain preparticipation physical evaluations in their medical home. Therefore, Clubs should confer with their local Health Departments and Primary Health Care Providers, and of course, with their sports medicine advisory committees regarding various options, e.g. screening for existing Provincial Athletes.
Budget Concerns and Effects Upon Athletics
The economic devastation seen across the nation will undoubtedly impact Clubs budgets and lead to loss of funding for hosting events and to participate in education-based athletic programs. This loss of opportunity is especially troubling after athletes have been through a traumatic event and can greatly benefit from the camaraderie, teamwork, discipline and self-confidence gained through athletics and other activities.
There is also a concern about the potential loss of athletic Coaches in the Clubs and Federation.
If employed by the NCDOE and NCDSAC and/or schools, an athletic Coach may be viewed by some as a “luxury” and their position may be at risk. Clubs and School Sport Organisers must emphasize the vital role the athletic Coach plays in minimizing athletic injury risk and providing care when athletics-related illnesses and injuries occur. Risk management specialists within the school district can also play a role in that discussion, emphasizing the importance of having an athletic Coach at the school.
Opportunity for Research
When competitions resume, there will be an opportunity to study injuries with athletes returning to competition after months of relative physical inactivity. Will we see more injuries because they are “out of shape” or fewer injuries because their bodies are rested? How can we assess the effects of stress and social isolation?
Plan to Adapt
We have all been reminded over the past several weeks of our inability to predict the future. While we cannot plan on what is going to happen, we can plan to be ready to adapt to new situations and challenges. Now more than ever, the importance of having up-to- date emergency action plans and an adequate number of trained First Aid Responders at our events cannot be over-emphasized. No one can be certain that come late season, sports will happen in a “normal” fashion. We should, however, prepare Sport Organisers, Coaches and athletes that if our sports do begin, they may include things like temperature checks before practice, wearing masks, no fans in the stands during events, a shortened season, or the risk of having to suspend running for a week or two if one or more team members become infected.
But better than not running at all.
Stay Safe and keep warm!
Mr. Theo Senekal Sr.
President: Athletics Griqualand West
ASA National Coach
ASA Excellence Advisor
Sport Psychology Consultant