The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the world of elite sport, but it has been particularly challenging for athletes who compete in Olympic and Paralympic sports. Whilst events such as Wimbledon, the Tour de France and Champions League give competitors the opportunity to battle for victory every year, the Olympic and Paralympic Games sit in a quadrennial cycle. There are of course, other opportunities to participate at an international level—World, European and Commonwealth meets, but the Olympics is seen as the pinnacle for most qualifying sports. In essence, many of the athletes preparing for Tokyo 2020 had been training for four years to compete this summer.

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Last night, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, announced unprecedented measures to stem the spread of Coronavirus. All non-essential workers must work remotely and we must only leave our homes for essential items such as food and medicine. Exercise outside is limited to once per day, and must be alone or with the people we live with. Over the past few days, many have been flouting the recommendations to keep distance between themselves and others, so now the lingering threat of official enforcement hangs over us. The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are almost definitely not going ahead this summer, and athletes across the globe are resigning themselves to the fact that this is far bigger than sport and, right now, their focus must shift from honing their six pack to isolating with the rest of us.

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We’re taught that striving for excellence and growth is admirable, yet we must also learn to be content with the present moment. That we need to aspire towards an improved future version of ourselves, whilst recognising the importance of being compassionate towards our present-day self. Do we have to choose, or is it possible to find a balance of both?

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New Year, New You?

“New Year, New Me”. If I had a pound for every time I’d seen that phrase on social media, I’d have a very full piggy bank! It’s January, the start of a new year, and a time when most are setting New Year’s Resolutions, determined that this year will be the year that they lose that weight, run that marathon, apply for that dream job, or emigrate to New Zealand. Yet, come late-Jan, the new year’s enthusiasm is often as weary as the weather, and many will have slipped back into old routines, deciding that, a second thought, maybe next year will be their year of transformation.

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Motivation. We all need it, but some people seem to have it in shedloads, whilst others are found wanting. We all know people who seem consumed by a fierce passion to succeed, remaining stoically determined throughout the ebbs and flows of life’s challenges. Others end up off course after just the slightest change in wind speed or direction, disillusioned and demotivated, unable to get back on track. So, what separates these two sets of people? Why does the fire burn so strongly in some of us, that even the darkest days are somehow productive, whilst others lack the spark to do anything other than perform the most essential daily tasks? Is motivation something we are born with; part of our genetic make-up, as inherent as freckles or big ears? Or is it a product of our environment, influenced by the role we’re trying to adopt and the task we’re trying to achieve?

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When an athlete stops training full-time, their relationship with food is likely to change significantly. Depending on how much exercise they still fit in to their daily routine, they may even need to start eating like a normal person! Instead of food being crucial ‘fuel’—energising performance and aiding recovery—it will now take a more unassuming role. Yes, fuelling is important for everyone, but daily choices won’t have quite such a significant impact on their livelihood as it did when they were competing. But just how complex is an athlete’s relationship with food, and how does it change once they leave sport behind?

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When I was considering retirement from elite sport, one of the things I looked forward to the most was not having to push my body continually, given that over the last decade I’d done more exercise than most people do in a lifetime! But, free from the constraints of official training, it can actually be really challenging to forge a new, healthy relationship with exercise and activity.

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One of the strangest things to adjust to in life outside the bubble is a lack of routine. Training for elite sport is incredibly structured, and athletes will often go weeks and months without significant change to their schedule. When I retired last year, I was quite looking forward to not living such a regimented existence but, in reality, it is actually quite daunting and can be hard to manage. The thought of weeks without being told what to do and where to be sound liberating, but it’s easy to fall into a bit of an aimless lifestyle, without much plan or purpose.

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This is a lesson about social media and the power of the internet. It’s a tale of hilarity and humanity. It’s a story in which Piers Morgan has a lot to answer for…

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Process vs Outcome

Goal-setting is one of the most common exercises for athletes, at both junior and senior level. Whether it’s qualifying for the county championships or winning an Olympic medal, the majority of athletes will have aspirations and objectives for the season ahead. Goals are important because they give us long-term vision and short-term motivation but goal-setting can be one of the most misunderstand practises in sport.

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