We were able to ask psychologist and mental coach Dr Annelen Collatz a few questions about rowing! Dr Annelen Collatz has been working with the athletes of the German Rowing Association for 8 years and supports them in achieving their goals. We all know that rowing is not only a physically exhausting sport but is also challenging way beyond your arms and legs. And that’s exactly where Dr Annelen Collatz supports the prestigious German Eight. In today’s post, you will find answers to questions about how to deal with crises like COVID19, how to face your fears professionally and you will also learn how cancellations and postponements (like Tokyo 2020) can affect athletes.
Do you think that competitive athletes can deal with crises like COVID 19 better than other people?
If you are competing in sports like rowing on a higher level, you need the ability to push yourself to your limits again and again – every day. You usually do that by exposing yourself to extreme situations. This strengthens you and at the same time, you are always at your own limit, making the limit more vulnerable and permeable – you’re constantly shifting your limit a bit further than before.
In order to be able to deal with a crisis, one needs emotional stability – The ability to remain stable internally even in troubled times and not to get too confused. Anyone who has managed to cope with a difficult situation and emerges stronger from it develops this emotional stability more and more. So this time is a challenge and a test for all of us.
What influence can the cancellation or postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo have on the athletes? How can you best deal with this disappointment?
From one day to the next, the planning and work of the past three years felt null and void. There have been and are psychological, physical and financial consequences. Work, studies or jobs and private life had to be rescheduled. Then there’s missing out on the desired completion of a training cycle. Dealing with this uncertainty is an issue for many athletes.
In addition, they have to find the motivation to complete the daily training under the restrictions of COVID-19 and to design a year with little variety and without seasonal highlights, a truly, great challenge for coaches and athletes alike. The focus here is on goal setting and motivation. Anyone who decides to follow a path as a competitive athlete wants to compete, some need the competition like the air to breathe.
And it is important to understand that the burden is not only borne by athletes and coaches, but also by their partners, family and friends because there is little room for other things in the Olympic year. The focus is entirely on the competition and everything else has to be in the background for a while. It’s not an easy time for relationships. Now that time will stretch over two years instead of one as planned, and it is unclear whether the harvest of years of training can be reaped in 2021.
Is there any advice you can give professional as well as amateur athletes for this time?
The first piece of advice is to ask yourself: will I be able to see the glass being half-full or will I only see the half-empty one? In other words, it is important to keep coming back to the things that are good about the situation. And at the same time to think about how I can fulfil the needs that are not being fulfilled now differently. I am very surprised at the creative solutions some people find to meet up with people.
And secondly: is there something that I’ve always wanted to do that I didn’t have time for before? Enjoying the little things and being grateful is a building block that can help. Small daily rituals that give structure can be an aspect that helps to be carried through this special time.
What are your methods to reduce anxiety in athletes?
The biggest fear I face with rowers is the fear of a test on the ergo. The struggle with yourself and the knowledge that you have to strain yourself to or almost beyond your limits without someone else sitting in the boat who you don’t want to let down (often an important drive!) is tough.
The first thing I do is to find out what the thoughts and feelings are, before and during the test on the ergo. It is important to work out the negative thoughts, as they can limit your performance. On the other hand, you can build on the positive ones. Sometimes you can also fall back on successful tests and work out what exactly went well there. What was different in the situation, the thoughts, feelings …!
Then I often use light hypnosis to transfer the reasons, thoughts and components of success from “yesterday” to “tomorrow” and to shift the negative to positive. The athlete either sits in an armchair or, alternatively, on a rowing ergometer. The latter is called active-alert-hypnosis – a special form of hypnosis.