How Athletes Can Stay Mentally Sharp During Quarantine


Special to JohnFMurray.com – April 5, 2020 – By John F Murray – The world is going to eventually recover from Covid-19 and sports are going to be a huge and welcome benefit of that recovery for the teams and athletes involved.  If you are a top athlete it’s important to realize that this is no time to take a break and lose all the advantages you have been working so hard and long for.  Those who cope well with this period of time will have a tremendous competitive advantage over those who let their skills and fitness slip. We’ll most certainly hear stories about athletes who used this time well and took an average game to an all-star level, and others who were poised to become all pros but wasted the time and lost their careers as a result.

With this reality in mind, I decided to offer you some tips from a sports psychologist’s perspective about how you can best take advantage of this odd time in our history. Social distancing and no-sports does not equate to no training! In fact, now is the time to really get focused and train harder and smarter than ever!

Here are 5 things that all athlete need to do to remain strong for when the game finally resumes:  

  • Keep Yourself in the Game Passionately
    No matter what sport you’re involved in, there are so many things to know and stay excited about. Since athletes often struggle with a new coach or a new playbook, or just defining tasks precisely, this extra time should give you the chance to really dig deep and score an A+ on the knowledge aspects and goal setting. Not only should you really study your own roles, techniques and strategies, but this downtime gives you a great time to stay excited by watching the best on past game tapes, YouTube, and other means. Try to learn more than ever before about your unique needs as an athlete and then set out to master your behavior with goals for this period of time.

  • Stick to a Daily Routine
    Athletes are creatures of habit and routine. If you deny this fact and fall back on lazy couch sitting or haphazard training schedules, you will most certainly pay the piper later. You might not have the same team meetings, or meetings with your coach as before, so you will need to substitute some other meaningful activity in its place. Set a weekly schedule the way you normally do when sports are being played or trained, and then substitute in aspects of training such as increased tactical study, video watching, imagery/visualization, fitness or problem solving. The bottom line is that each person’s needs are different, but stay smart and consistent with a daily regular routine in whatever you are doing as if you were competing.

  • Adapt to Meet Your Physical Training Needs
    Just because you are not going into the gym each day or receiving the expert strength and conditioning training you are used to is no excuse for throwing away this crucial component of being a top competitor. There are so many things you can do to stay fit on your own. Talk with your strength trainer about a plan. You might change your regular weight lifting to a series of push-ups and sit-ups, and do your running and jogging on your own.  You might even find that by doing this on your own, and owning your need to stay strong, you depend less on others and build future skills for self-reliance. It may not be optimal, but you do not have to forfeit your strength, power, speed or endurance and find yourself 2 or 3 months behind when the season starts. Get moving and stay moving!

  • Eat Like A Pro
    I know it’s not going to be easy, but every top athlete is a fine-tuned instrument who requires the best possible fuel to run at optimal efficiency. Consult with your nutritionist if you have one to make sure that you are not cheating in your daily food and drink consumption and make sure that you do not let this critical aspect of your life slip. It will probably take a little more time to purchase and cook your own food or find take-out that is not going to take you down, but this advice is an absolute must if you want to hit the ground running when you return.

  • Begin a Mental Coaching Program or Increase a Current One
    This is my area of expertise. When I talk with athletes, they always tell me that the mental game accounts for anywhere between 50 to 95% of their success at a high level, but that they only train their minds 10% of the time or less. Some don’t do it at all. This down time is a great time to fix this deficiency in training.  Similar to when an athlete gets injured and cannot compete for two months, this allows the athlete to really get into a new evaluation to assess where they are strong and weak mentally, and then to follow up with daily to weekly phone sessions to work on the areas most needed. In doing this work for over 20 years, I will say that there was never a time when there was not something to work on with a client to help them get better mentally. Make the mental game a huge priority and you will emerge from Covid-19 realizing that this was actually the silver lining that helped the most.  

If you treat this strange time of quarantine as a huge opportunity to stay sharp, you will definitely pass up some of your less ambitious opponents. You’ll peer back when this is all over and realize that sometimes the greatest opportunities in life present themselves in the ugliest ways. The lemons we are presented somehow become great lemonade! Cope with this the best way possible by staying in the game passionately, sticking to a daily routine, keeping the physical training going, watching your nutrition, and mastering the mental game like never before.

John F. Murray, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical and sports performance psychologist in North Palm Beach, Florida. Dr. Murray works with high achieving individuals and teams in sports, business, and life also with those with more general issues and needs as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Murray has been called “the most quoted sports psychologist worldwide,” “the king of sports brains,” (Sports Illustrated) and, “one of the major psychologists in sports,” (Fox Sports). He can be reached for questions at: 561-596-9898 and his websites are at: https://www.JohnFMurray.com and https://www.SportsPsychology.com