The impact of COVID-19 on athletes’ training, mental health and performance preparedness – perspective of a national shooter and orthopaedic resident

By Siti Mastura Rahim and Denny T T Lie
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital, Singapore

Corresponding author e-mail: sitimastura.rahim@mohh.com.sg

Published 23 June 2020

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic came unannounced and affected many countries, infecting millions and resulting in thousands of lives lost. Unprecedented efforts have been taken globally to control the spread of this virus. Most sectors in the economy have been disrupted with most effort and resources directed to the healthcare industry. Workers who are in ‘non-essential’ industries are required to work from home. Singapore was hit early and was in the centre of global media attention in February.

Athletes in the national sports training program have been affected as all centralised trainings were ceased and group gatherings were prohibited. Local, regional and international meets that were planned throughout the year in preparation of the largest event of the year, the Olympics, were affected. With travel restrictions being implemented by many countries and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, this gives us an insight to the extent of this pandemic. It would take time to allow safe competition to take place.

Revenues were impacted in many ways – facilities rental, coaches’ fees, maintenance and security to name a few. Many of these are recurring costs and losing a large income from participants of facilities have adversely affected the economy and maintenance of these facilities.

This paper will share how the pandemic has affected the individual athlete and the shooting team, the coping strategies they have adopted to maintain physical and mental health, and how the team is maintaining performance to prepare for future games.

The physical demands

Shooting requires a high level of precision, constancy and stability1. Fitness training and psychological training are important in shooting to improve performance and obtain the highest level2. There are books published with guidelines on the importance of fitness training in shooting3. A fitness trainer can help aid the shooter achieve their goals by controlling the intensity of trainings to maximize performance. The main objective would be to support technical training to overcome competitive stress including 20-minute sessions of aerobic workouts or strength workouts4.

A shooter will need a good sense of balance while lifting a 1-4kg object (depending on type of event). Average all-round flexibility will be an added advantage and it is important to understand hinged movements and posture for shotgun events (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Photo of the author (SMR) in full training gear at the shooting range ready for a shot (pre-COVID-19).

A combination of factors including duration, intensity, type of exercise, frequency and nutrition are important for adaptive response to exercise5. Integrated periodization which is the systematic planning of long- and short-term training programs in addition to integrating other elements such as nutrition and psychology can impact athlete’s readiness for peak performance6. It requires a training program that is designed according to the main goal of the season. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this program is disrupted and there is still no indication when activities can resume.

In clay target shooting, being a relatively ‘individual’ sport, shooters are very much at home whether they train with the squad or alone. This include maintenance of physical training and fitness. Endurance, flexibility, reflexes and core strength remain and important aspect of shooting fitness. Simple exercise programs were shared. These include hinge movements with a weighted object, walking/jogging, McGill’s big 3, resistance bands7. These programs can be done alone at the gym or at home.

During the Covid lock-down period athletes were left to their own creativity to train and keep fit during this period (Figure 2). Only cyclist and distance runners were less affected as they were allowed to continue their training, but individually. Fitness conditioning and maintenance can be replicated at home as most of these activities are self-directed. However, training time using the weapon and at the shooting range cannot be replicated.

Figure 2: Photo of our national rifle shooter using a detergent bottle as a replacement for weights at home training during COVID-19.

Shooting is a sport that requires hands-on practice to keep reflexes and movements sharp. Some mental skill trainers advocate imagery training with the shooter going through the processes in the mind or using 3D goggles while mimicking physical movements (Figure 3). Some athletes are funded with installation of simulators at home however, it cannot replace the actual feel of holding the gun, feeling its weight, experiencing the recoil and pulling the trigger. 

Figure 3: Online video of pistol shooters at home training during COVID with their coach in the bottom right.

Fitness in shooting should not have changed during this period if the athlete has been diligent and disciplined. Conditioning however may be affected as the athlete has not practice the sport at the range for some time. It is likely they will feel sore or even bruised after a lengthy absence. However, in other sports where teamwork and coordination are required, these may impair their ability to run ‘plays’ or tactics.

The mental state, it’s all in the mind!

Mental strength training is a key element in ensuring both physical and mental well-being. It can reduce distress when athletes return to play after injury8. Regular sessions with the sports trainers and occasionally with the sports psychologists helps calm the mind and reduces frustration. Visualisation and mental trainings help to constantly remind them of the process and aid to reduce fear or worry regarding lack of consistency.

Technology has proven to be an asset. It allows athletes to remain socially connected via online platforms. Humour is particularly important, which is a trait our coach upholds in order to keep morale high despite the gloomy situation. Family and friends remain a key factor by providing a strong emotional support system.

Performance and winning

Table 1 reflects the number of hours a part-time shooter trains compared to a full-time shooter. In rifle and pistol events, there is a SCATT software, which is a laser sensor program that can be attached to the rifle/pistol and it will detect the trace of the weapon even during dry-firing. This can only be done at the range when the device is attached to the weapon. For countries with gun laws that are less stringent, athletes can continue to do dry-mounting at home.

Table 1: Comparison between number of hours of training between a full-time and part-time athlete

 

National Full-Time Shooter

National Part-Time Shooter

Pre-COVID

During COVID

Pre-COVID

During COVID

Number of hours at the range

30

0

10

0

Number of days at the range

6

0

2

0

Number of hours of physical training (with instructor)

3

3

0

0

Number of hours of self-directed physical training

3

6

6

6

Fortunately, or unfortunately, technology cannot replace shooting practice. And that is the beauty of the sport. Firearms technology like gun materials, design and so forth may have evolved over time but what remains is the feel it gives to the shooter. For dynamic events such as trap and skeet, it would be difficult to quantify accuracy. For static events such as rifle and pistol shooting, technology may provide some form of accuracy training without the range. Technology serves as a feedback tool, but it is unlikely to replace shooting practice.

The collective National effort

SportSG has been engaging current coaches and athletes to lead in sport-specific exercises pegged to the general public. Initiatives such as ActiveHealthSG which featured one of our national shooters and weekly takeover by our national athletes on the TeamSingapore website serves as platform for athletes to share their experiences and lead an online workout. These segments also serve to increase exposure of the different sports with their basic rules and regulations. The high-performance team within the shooting association has also been actively keeping track of shooters by implementing home-based learning for the youth athletes and regular physical training sessions online for all shooters.

Conclusion

Despite the lack of facilities and range, the shooting team have remained connected by ‘training together’ via online platform despite being apart. Being innovative and finding ways to adapt has allowed fellow athletes to maintain fitness, mental health and morale despite the inability to physically train at our centralised training centre.

Acknowledgement

The authors would like to thank the TeamSingapore shooters – rifle, pistol and shotgun team for their contribution to this article.

References

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