Athletes and Resiliency During COVID: An Interview with a Sports Physiotherapist and a Sports Counsellor
The start of school and sports seasons this year look much different than ever before. Now more than ever it is important to care for the mental health and mental game of athletes during this unprecedented time.
Just as we care for our physical health, we have to care for our mental health.
The Mind Body Connection is very real. That is why I love working alongside other healthcare practitioners to give you a “team approach”
In order to support athletes and teams during this time, I teamed up with physiotherapist Curtis Bouliane from Pro Motion Clinic in Kelowna, British Columbia to discuss this important time and how athletes can develop resiliency.
If you are a healthcare practitioner, coach, or athlete looking to care for your mental health or mental game, please reach out to me; I’d love to be a resource.
Check out the article below:
Hello everyone! My name is Curtis Bouliane and I am Pro Motion Clinic’s resident Physiotherapist. I hope you enjoy my first blog post for the clinic, and appreciate any feedback you may have on the topic. I can be reached at [email protected].
This topic hits close to home, as I personally faced loss of athletic identity, and community in 2008, when I experienced a football career-ending shoulder injury. This injury, however traumatic at the time, served as one of my motivators to become a physiotherapist and reconnect with my former sporting community. With this article I hope to install in our current athletes resiliency in the face of adversity.
2020 has been a challenging year for everyone.
One population that we work closely with at Pro Motion Clinic is athletes. The world of sport has not seen such a global disruption of this caliber since the Second World War. Due to the cyclical and cumulative natures of competitive athletes’ careers, any disruption in this path could potentially affect their prospects of reaching the elite level. One often underestimated challenge that has risen to the surface in relation to athletic performance and achievement (especially in 2020) is mental health.
As a physiotherapist, it is my role to help my patients heal from injury, as well as to work with them in creating a realistic plan to return to their sport. During the healing process, there can be great leaps forward, and there can be difficult setbacks. Sometimes we have to adjust our goals and manage our expectations – and as each delay takes a toll on an athlete’s career, it in turn takes a toll on their mental health. We are now in an unprecedented time of indeterminate delay, and as athletes’ bodies may heal we must take care to pay attention to signs of mental distress as they watch their careers be put on hold.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a Q&A session with Barb Egan, a counsellor, speaker, and former NCAA Division 1 hockey player and coach specializing in working with athletes. She is a Kelowna resident and owner/founder of Alive Counselling. Our conversation was enlightening to the ways anxiety and depression can permeate during times of isolation and uncertainty, and informative as to ways we can address our anxieties and maintain a sense of community.
Why is mental health in sport an important issue to address?
In some way, every level and type of sport has been affected by the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Kelowna we have youth, junior, university, recreational and professional athletes all navigating the ins and outs of sport in 2020. NCAA, one of the most all-encompassing sport organizations in the world, has halted all on or off campus recruiting from April until December 31st this year. For those athletes whose seasons have restarted this fall, there is an awareness that university scouts, who would normally be present at games, are not going to see their performance which traditionally would have helped these athletes earn scholarships to university teams. One of the biggest names in university hockey in Western Canada, The University of Alberta Golden Bears, have had their 2020-2021 season cancelled altogether. To summarize, athletes are facing a lot of pressure and anxiety regarding what’s to come for their sporting careers. Despite all of the global unrest, athletes must remain resilient, and one way that can be done is through managing their mindset.
What signs/symptoms would suggest an athlete is struggling with mental health in relation to the state of sport in 2020?
The first thing athletes should know is that if they are currently upset and anxious, that is a totally normal response. Athletes inhabit a sport identity that dictates their daily/yearly routines, how they deal with stress, and can often be their avenue to education. For athletes that are dealing with real grief regarding their sporting year and prospects, this is an indication that their internal systems are working well. Grief is a normal human response to loss and uncertainty. What athletes and their family should be on the look-out for is when this human emotion begins to spill over and interfere with functioning relationships. If an athlete experiences a change in sleeping or eating habits, feels a heavy pit in the stomach, physical pain, butterflies in the stomach, a racing mind, these are all signs of anxiety. By understanding these physical signs of anxiety, one can bring a better awareness and understanding of why they’re feeling that way, and enable them to overcome it, by reaching out for help.
Athletes form from a very motivated subgroup of society, and in turn can use this attribute to help them overcome not only physical hurdles, but emotional hurdles as well.
What are your top suggestions for athletes dealing with an uncertain future for their sport?
Use this time to write out a list of factors you can and cannot control in relation to sport or otherwise. Mindset and body are two immediate things you can control, and improve upon. By also listing the things you cannot control, you can free up mental real estate to focus on the things you want to be working on.
Athletes should also remain connected (even if not in the physical/in-person sense) to their teammates, coaches, and support network. By going so far as to feel as if athletes are overcommunicating they will reduce the sense of feeling isolated or alone.
What resources are out there to facilitate resiliency and remain connected to their support networks?
There are two helpful apps, Mindshift and Sanvello, both of which help users to recognize and change negative thoughts. Low-tech options like old fashioned journaling can also help achieve a similar goal. Regular exercise has been shown to be highly beneficial in combating depression. Working on a healthy diet, sleep, and reaching out for help when you need it are also important habits to adopt.
If an athlete wanted to access a sports counsellor, how would they do so and how are the sessions structured?
Sports counsellors do not usually require a doctor’s referral, but it is best to check with your extended healthcare provider first to clarify.
Visits with a sports counsellor could be in person or online. Treatment is typically through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is the most widely used approach to treat anxiety, stress, or depression. Initially the counsellor will need to get to know you and your story, including focusing on recent sports performances, and identifying your areas of improvement/weakness/strengths/goals.
The best place to find a counsellor that suits you is via the directory at Psychology Today.
If you’d like to get connected with Barb Egan, you can visit her website,
As a physiotherapist, I am committed to getting my patients moving and active again. I strongly echo Barb Egan’s recommendations for continued activity and movement to help counter anxiety you may feel about not being able to participate in your sport. I also encourage you to reach out to parents, teachers, coaches, and teammates for encouragement and community – we are all in this together.Pro Motion Clinic Pro Motion ClinicAthlete, Resiliency, Physiotherapy, Sports Councellor0 Likes Share
Tell us about where you are from, what you have accomplished and what it means to you.
I am from a small town called Hanley in Saskatchewan. It is 60km south of Saskatoon with a population of about 500 people. I started throwing shot put in Phys-Ed class with my classmates in Grade 7. I trained in Saskatoon throughout middle school and moved to Kamloops to train full-time with a world renowned coach and training group. I was there for 3 years before relocating and working with my final coach, Justin Rodhe in Ohio. I represented Canada on the International stage 7 times, most recently at: 2016 Olympic Games, 2017 World Championships and 2018 Commonwealth Games. I am proud of myself for chasing after my (10+ year) dream-turned-goal of becoming an Olympian. I nearly hung up my throwing shoes a few times in my career but I am glad I stuck out the rough years and fought through my lows. My experiences through sport have shaped who I am today. Looking back on my career, I’m proud of myself and what I have accomplished.
Describe yourself in three words.
I am easy-going, fun, and determined.
What is your most memorable moment as an Olympic athlete?
I have a pretty amazing list of memorable moments through my career, but the one that takes the cake is the moment that I threw qualifying standard for the Olympics. It was round 6 (the final round) at an evening competition under the lights in Tempe, Arizona. After I heard my distance I experienced the highest high of my life! It was so exciting. My years of hard work and determination all came out in that throw and I can’t even describe the happiness (and relief) I felt! It was such a special memory for me.
How did you physically and mentally prepare for the Olympics? What obstacles did you have to go through?
Preparation for the Olympics starts, of course, years in advance. My normal training schedule was 2 times a day, 5 times a week. Olympic year that was increased to 5-6 days per week at the end of 2015 and into 2016. The technical aspect of the throw was monitored closely and my strength and speed continued to improve. On the mental side, I tried to treat everything like normal. Although it was the Olympics, it ultimately was another track meet. I’d been to many of those!
Many obstacles presented themselves. Being in peak condition is walking a fine line with an injury. I had a slight rib subluxation on the morning of my Olympic trials and strained my groin about 8 days before my flight left Rio. Everything calmed down in time thankfully and I felt really healthy at the Olympics!
What advice would you give yourself if you could time travel and talk with your younger self at the start of your athletic career?
The advice I would give to my younger self would be to find more life balance. I was pretty obsessed with training. I think if I would have had more balance, I would have enjoyed myself more and had a longer career.
With the high level of training and amount of traveling you did, how did you like to spend your free time?
When I had free time through the year, it was mostly spent sleeping, meal prepping and watching Netflix. Most of what I did revolved around my training. During my one month off season I did enjoy being at the lake though.
Is there anything else you want to tell us?
I retired from throwing in April, 2018, after my 8th place finish at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast Australia. My parents made the trip out to watch me, and I had my championship best throw and placing. The time was right for me, I walked away with a smile. I am proud to have retired as the #3 shot putter in Canadian History.
What do you enjoy most about football?
I enjoy the family aspect the most. The amount of adversity and hardships you face as a group; whether it be hard off seasons, losses, or being hurt during the season. This adversity always brings the team together.
What are your main motivators in football?
The main motivators I get would be winning another national championship. There is no better feeling then looking your best friends in the eye, knowing you guys accomplished something many never will.
What do you feel are your main strengths?
I believe my main strength would be my decision making. As a Quarterback, you are constantly making decisions on the field. Through great coaches and film study, I have been able to progress as a Quarterback with my decision making.
Using your experience and knowledge how do you like to give back to the community?
I think the best way to give back is by volunteering and coaching. Back home in the Okanagan, coaching has been a good way for me to give back to the community. It allows me to speak to the aspiring athletes about the process of making it to the next level. While in Calgary, I have spent a lot of time volunteering with the Children’s Hospital and with the Autism and Aspergers Society of Calgary. I put on clinics and have a ton of fun, they always make my week much better.
What have been your biggest achievements/highlights in football so far?
My biggest achievement was definitely winning the national championship in 2019 with the Calgary Dino’s. Heading into my final season which was postponed to next year, I’ll look forward to bringing us back in 2021!
What is your favourite meal to eat before training or a game.
We have a “Quarterback night” that is put on by one of the Quarterbacks fathers and proud alumni. He spoils us and cooks us a 3 course steak dinner.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to participate at this level of sport?
You have to truly be passionate about playing in order to get through the gruelling process of University Football. That being said, hard work and perseverance pays off; if you can get through it, there is no better feeling than walking down the tunnel to the field before games with your extended football family.