Dr Karen Cogan is a sports psychologist who supports Team USA athletes in dealing with mental health issues.
She has some expert advice for entourage members trying to support athletes in dealing with uncertainty.
These include helping to set small goals, pointing athletes towards a carefully selected number of useful resources, and staying socially connected with them.
At the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, we’ve got several coping strategies that we put forward to our athletes as well as our coaches and support staff, and one of those is to look at what you can do in your life right now. Any time there’s a challenge, there’s also an opportunity.
So what’s the opportunity that a particular challenge might bring, and what creative things can you be doing? We really want to connect socially and be engaged, and so that’s what I’m encouraging our athletes and our staff to do with each other.
Help navigate the way
These days, there is a lot out there. Athletes are being inundated with all of this information and all these resources, and it is hard to know which ones are best or how to choose. So I think the first question to ask your athlete is: what do you want? What do you need? And what is going to be the most effective for you?
As an entourage member, you can help athletes talk through that, look at what’s out there and what is really going to be the best for them. You can’t take advantage of all of it; you really want to narrow it down a little bit so it’s not so overwhelming.
Don’t try to fix the unfixable
As coaches or medical support staff, typically we want to fix things. We want to tell athletes how to feel better, we want to get them out of their pain. But when it’s a huge loss, sometimes that just isn’t possible, nor is it even recommended. Because when someone has strong emotions, if they run away from them too quickly, they’re just going to stay there and at some point they’re going to come back even stronger.
And that’s one of the key things for an entourage member or someone in a support position to remember: you don’t have to fix the problem, and you don’t have to take it away. It is something that the athlete needs to work through in some form, and you can be there to support them.
Do the small things
Often it is helpful to check in with people, even if you haven’t heard from them and you’re kind of waiting. It’s good to be the one to initiate sending that message and checking in to say: “How are you doing, I was just thinking about you, what’s going on?”
It’s going to be the little things that people aren’t expecting, to let someone know that you’re thinking about them and that you’re caring.
You don’t have to fix the problem at this point, and you don’t have to take it away. This is something that the athlete needs to work through in some form, and you can be there to support them.
Dr Karen Cogan