Swimmers, footballers, coaches and psychologists on adjusting to a new sporting life in lockdown
The absence of a pre-5am alarm call is one of several changes that the lack of sport has had on Kathryn Gill’s life in lockdown.
The St John’s College School teacher and member of the City of Cambridge Swimming Club was used to being in the water most mornings by 5.25am, with several sessions following post work in the evenings.
It all equated to about eight pool sessions a week, taking between 13 and 14 hours in total, and then a further three hours of land/gym sessions.
Gill is part of the elite squad at City of Cambridge, and also the Masters squad, and 2020 was set to be a landmark year as, aged 32, she was looking forward to competing at the Olympic trials in March.
Training had been ramped up to this point after Gill had qualified for her first nationals back in 2016.
“I moved to Cambridge in 2013 for my job at St John’s, and joined the swimming club,” she says.
“It has been fantastic, the training is very good, James Freezer is a very good coach and the training has been very specific and I quite quickly got better with that better training that I was receiving.
“He has been very supportive, including me in the top squad even though I’m an older athlete and pushing me along. I don’t think anybody really would have thought I would have reached that level, it’s all a bit of a surprise.
“I don’t know if being older I understand a lot better now than when I was younger in terms of how to mentally prepare for a race and understand my body a little bit more than when I was younger, and being able to train a lot smarter than when I was younger.
“It was a surprise, but being a bit more mature I’ve been able to work on my training.
“Back then I wasn’t as strong physically as I am now. It’s really hard to explain. I have worked really hard in the last four years and really committed and been consistent with my training. I’ve done the extra bits that I hadn’t previously done as well.
“I had a goal. The technology and the knowledge is a lot different to what it was when I was training before. The focus would be on lots of metres, whereas now we do a lot more race pace and maybe not quite as many metres as we used to – it suits me a lot better.”
However, now Gill is having the longest period out of the water in her life.
She has found ways to cope, such as running – having done the Cambridge Half Marathon earlier this year – and cycling indoors on a turbo trainer.
It has helped by creating a social element alongside friends online, where Gill’s competitive appetite has been sated by a programme called Zwift.
The focus has also been helped by the swimming club, hosting a fitness video every other day and live Zoom sessions for strength landwork.
But it has not completely filled the void.
“Swimming is a time when you can be so apart,” she explains. “When you’re in the water you are away from everything there is in the world, you are away from the phone, away from the computer, and there is nobody else around and you are weightless.
“It’s a really good time to be on your own. To not be in that situation and just training as well is really different.
“I’ve been doing a lot of running and indoor cycling, so I’ve just turned to that focus to keep myself fit during this time.
“I’m definitely missing the water. Initially I thought I’d coped with it well, but then I will do a run past the swimming pool and I would look and think just to be in there to swim a couple of lengths and how wonderful that would be.”
She added: “People who are active, you want to be active. When you’re not as active as you previously were, I tend to feel a bit lethargic so it’s trying to keep some of that energy going.”
As well as the Olympic trials, Gill was looking to reach the British Championships, where she made the 100m breaststroke final last year.
The programme for the foreseeable future is up in the air, but the ambition remains the same.
“At the moment, until I know where we’re at, I’m trying to do as much training as I can,” says Gill.
“If I’m making my decision that’s it, then I think I will lose any focus at all so I’m trying to keep it going as much as possible.”
The footballer: Mia Cinque
Mia Cinque has turned to skipping to maintain high-intensity fitness.
The 19-year-old footballer is on the academy books at Tottenham Hotspur Ladies and before the season was cut prematurely short, it was one of the best campaigns for the former Netherhall School pupil student, which included scoring in a cup match against Liverpool.
“I was gaining more confidence in my technical abilities and continuously learning with each match,” says Cinque.
“I felt disappointed as this has been one of my best seasons in a while, and I was hitting a peak so to have it abruptly stopped was a shock for me.”
Academy level football requires a high level of fitness to maintain the tempo of training and games, and when the campaign was curtailed, Spurs provided players with complete workouts for different parts of the body.
Footwork drills were also set, but Cinque has taken up a new hobby to stay fit, which came through the Rush Athletics YouTube channel.
“They have been my inspiration to get into skipping and use it as a tool to keep fit for life,” she explains.
“I have been skipping over a month now, nearly every day and it is going very well.
“I have adapted and developed my fitness from skipping, and use it for high-intensity interval training, which gets my heart rate up.
“I have also learnt some tricks that I put into a sequence which I practise and enjoy, this also works me hard. I get my ropes from Rush Athletics online, which have a variety of ropes for everyone.
“I have two types of ropes I use for different workouts, one being a speed rope, which is thinner and lighter, and my second being a heavy rope, which is thicker and more weighted, this rope is a challenge to skip with for longer periods of time.”
Being part of the Rush Athletics community and the skipping has helped Cinque’s fitness and wellbeing during lockdown, but she admits there is still a void where the football would have been.
“I am missing football a great deal, however also using this time to reflect on the season, and identify what went well and what can be better for next season,” she adds.
“I miss the social aspect and working as a team in football. I also miss the drills and small-sided games in training which I found competitive and good for fitness.”
The coach: Tim Williams
As a cycling and triathlon coach, Tim Williams has adapted to a new way of assisting his athletes during these times.
His business, Perfect Condition, has been built on a specialism of face-to-face coaching, in swimming, running and cycling, and also doing bike fittings which involves people visiting him.
It means the regular income stream has dried up and days are quieter as swimming pools are shut and no-one can visit Williams, who usually works from home, for appointments.
He is the training coordinator at Cambridge Triathlon Club, running regular sessions and organising the whole training programme.
Normally there are three weekly swimming sessions but, with the pool closed, replacement sessions are being held over Zoom.
The technique-based session has been replaced with a pilates and core training session of low intensity, the endurance has been replaced by a simulation session using elastic bands rather than water, and the mixed seasonal session is instead varied circuit and high-intensity training.
“It’s to recreate something of the same training effect to target the same sort of muscles and energy systems,” said Williams. “We’re finding that most of the people who normally come to those sessions and dialling into Zoom and doing them at home at the same time so we’re getting the sense of the community aspect as well.”
One of Williams’ other coaching hats is running the Eastern Region Triathlon Academy with British Triathlon, which has 50 people dotted around a wide area.
They would normally meet every three to four weeks and race the national series races during the summer. The athletes get support from their own clubs, but Williams is now hosting Zoom sessions which sees everyone on their own bikes in their rooms at home.
“It is very different from what we normally do because I can’t really see what they are up to, I can’t give them feedback,” he said. “Both sets of people are people that I know and know me and we’re used to training together, so there is a good chance that what they’re doing at home is effective and not a waste of time. I’m not in the normal position to pick up on how they are doing things to make a difference and any interventions, which is my specialism.”
He added: “It took me a little while to accept it was just how it was going to have to be.”
The swimmer: Alex Bevis
Alex Bevis has taken the decision to step back from high levels of fitness training.
A swimmer from a young age, he progressed to a good standard before making the deciding to stay with hometown club Winchester City Penguins rather than join a bigger club, and competed at county and regional events.
The passion for the sport continued at university, racing in championships and becoming president of the swim club, but although Bevis carried on training, it was not until his mid-30s that he got back into competitive action. Racing on the Masters circuit, he has won medals at the national championships in individual and relay events, and consistently placing in the top 10.
Bevis was also in the top 15 at the European Masters a couple of years ago, and has recently got into some open water swimming, particularly the more experiential events.
At this time of year he would normally be doing four to five hours a week in the pool and entering a few open water events and gearing up towards the national finals in October. But all that has stopped.
“I know I should do land training too – strength work, core, flexibility, etc – but I have just never got motivated enough to bother,” said Bevis.
“I’m afraid the Covid-19 situation has brought out my lazy side. I enjoy the feeling of swimming through the water, and splashing around in a paddling pool just doesn’t do it for me.
“I also can’t bring myself to join a Zoom call and do a load of squats, burpies, etc with other people on screen. I am doing a few 5k jogs here and there to keep some level of fitness.
“My daughter likes to do yoga and has roped me into a few sessions, although mainly as a source of amusement I think.
“My expectation is that I will not lose the ability to catch the water during this lockdown. So with a month or so of training I reckon I should be back to ‘normal’ fitness and swim speed reasonably quickly.
“There is some danger I guess it will take longer to get back, but to be honest that risk is just not worth me making any more effort right now. I am enjoying spending time with my family – my son is back at home after leaving for university last October so that is really nice to have him around.”
He added: “The good news is that with such a lot of time spent together we have found that we all like each other most of the time, which certainly helps during this lockdown.”
How the three Cs have become the focus in the absence of competition
Helen Davis has been helping sportsmen and women adjust their focus following the cancellation of leagues, tournaments and events because of the pandemic.
With the calendar either removed or postponed for the long term, it has meant that the focus and motivation involved in training has also been impacted.
Chartered sports psychologist Davis, of think.believe.perform, has talked of three phases which centre on the principle of the Cs – competence, connectedness and control.
Rather than talk of being motivated or not, Davis explains that attention turns more to commitment.
“Maintaining high levels of motivation for such a long period of time is probably unrealistic – it would be unrealistic anyway, whether this was going on or not,” she said.
“If you look at it in terms of commitment, it may be that I’m not doing any physical training today but I could still be committed to my sport in other ways.”
That may come through watching experts on YouTube or even reading autobiographies of sporting heroes.
With event goals currently removed, it means a new agenda has to be created.
“It might be a goal within a new sport that someone has taken up,” she said.
“But very much with goals, the sports I work on are process goals not just outcome goals – the small steps to success.
“At this time in building a new sport or if you’re still able to do the sport you’re doing, you try to keep a sense of satisfaction and the goals are giving you success.
“If you feel like you have success at something, that feeds into your competence and if you feel competent at something that feeds into your motivation.
“Competence is a big thing for motivation, as is being connected.
“I’m encouraging as much as I can athletes to remain connected to their sporting community and their friends within that.
“The third key ingredient of motivation is control. It’s the Cs – competence, connectedness and control.
“Control is where you feel you have a sense of control over what you’re doing, you’re active in your decisions to make choices to do something.
“We’ve had so much control, as it were, taken away from us by the situation that we’re in. Trying to maintain a sense of control over thoughts and feelings around sport is an important factor as well and when those three ingredients are working you tend to have a more motivated person.
“It’s hard at the moment because those outcome goals have gone. I’ve been using the word being committed a bit more than being motivated, and people find that helpful.”
Each person reacts to the absence of sport in different ways, creating many ups and downs.
Some find new sports to get their fitness and others take a step back all together.
“I t￼hink there are some athletes who are finding it much harder and particularly athletes who really like to have goals to give them a sense of purpose,” adds Davis.
“For some that sense of purpose has been a big loss and they have found it difficult to find other ways to give them satisfaction from a physical sporting perspective.”
More by this authorMark Taylor