Sport in a Pandemic: Crisis or Opportunity? (Chapter One)

Ashley Clark, Pre-Season

Introduction

With COVID turning the sports world on its head these past few months, I am compiling a series detailing how we would help turn this crisis into an opportunity.  This first installment focuses on Ashley Clark, who plays professional women’s soccer for Le Havre in France.  In her 3-year career with Le Havre, Ashley has scored 70 goals and produced 57 assists.  Additionally, this past spring, she was selected to the Big South All-Decade team (having played at Campbell University as a college player). Ashley is a very accomplished pro-player in one of the top women’s leagues in the world.  However, this season requires a change in thinking to maximize her continued growth as a player.  The old ways of getting ready for the season weren’t going to be either available, or optimal, so we decided to embark on a path where we worked to tie structured mental training into the physical, technical, and limited tactical training opportunities she would have with her team. 

Ashley Clark

Hello, my name is Ashley Clark, and I’m currently playing professional soccer in France for Le Havre in the D1 Arkema league.  We’ve been back now for six weeks since the pandemic/lockdown, and it’s a very different preseason than ever before. During these crazy times with so many unknowns in sport due to COVID, and the numerous ways the virus has caused changes to training, it is very hard to make progress in one’s game.  Not impossible like I first thought, but hard.  Very, very tough.  Creating routines, establishing typical training sessions, plans having to be fluid, let alone focus on getting better, is kind of crazy!  The anxiety of how to improve my game has been palpable in everything I do.  This is my journey of adding mental training into my game and how to handle the challenge of COVID best.

Our coach broke it down into different progressing blocks of time. For the first ten days, all we did every day for training was run. We ran through the city; we ran on streets; we ran around the field.  We didn’t touch a soccer ball, crazy huh! During that time, I tried to figure out how to enjoy every day and relate the running to my game. Yes, in theory, I could just run like Forrest Gump, or I could use the running to get better as a player.  While I like to run, I felt I needed to find a way to make the running feel more connected to my game.  Speaking with Derrek, we figured out that I could use mental rehearsal to enhance my running and imagine times in the game where the running directly related to the needs of the game.  For example, when we would change the pace in our fartlek runs, I would imagine sprinting past a defender to get in on goal.  Just thinking like this produced massive energy surges for me.  Wow, how much faster I was able to run and change my pace!  With this change in thinking, my running now felt purposeful on two levels; building fitness, and functional. My teammates thought I was a little crazy, but I felt way more attached to making improvements in my game this way.

After those very long first ten days of running were finally over, we finally got to touch a ball, the fun part!  With COVID impacting everything we did as a team for these next ten days, we each needed to have our own ball with our number on it.  No passing to teammates and cleaning the ball after every session was undoubtedly new.  But, how magical and exciting to have a ball after only running for weeks on end!  I felt like I was a little kicker again, just dribbling and juggling for the first time. I focused during this block in getting used to the ball at my feet the whole time like it was glued to them.  Again, I used my mental rehearsal to imagine the moves I would need to beat defenders in the final third and used that focus ignite the hundreds of touches I now had the opportunity to do.  It was terrific to have that freedom and time to just be me and the ball.

We slowly have been playing more with small-sided games, where I found myself looking for those moments to take on players with the moves I had been sharpening during our solo training time blocks.  Then this past week, our game began to get a little bigger. Even though times are different, and our trainings look different, I’m working hard to use this time to get even better and find the joy in playing!  Finding ways to relate running and fitness to specific parts of the game have been very successful for my fitness and motivation.  It’s been empowering to think about how this increased level of fitness will allow me to break apart back lines in the future. Using mental rehearsal to plan how I will beat uncovered defenders and then doing those moves hundreds of times during solo training have added confidence to my game I love. 

So COVID training:  Crisis or opportunity?  I think now that I’m looking at adding the mental training into my work, I am 100% on the side of saying this is an opportunity for me.  It takes a little more work on my part to incorporate these mental training steps, but I see the benefits in my game.  While training isn’t exactly what I would ordinarily have by going to the stadium, I’m just glad I’m not locked up in my apartment anymore, that I get to run around, play soccer, and keep finding ways to improve as a professional!  Keep following along to hear how the rest of my preseason and pre-season scrimmages go during COVID-19!

Mental Training Tips from Derrek and Ash:

1).  Find a way to make your fitness work purposeful.  Imagine game-like situations that match the type of running you can do.  Mentally rehearse why/how this type of running will benefit your game.  Put your mind in this situation-specific space during your runs.

2). Mentally rehearse how the moves/technical ball skills you can do will directly apply to game situations you will face.

3).  Always find a way to make whatever fitness or skill-based work you will do that day relate to your positional needs.

Stay positive and enjoy the little things! 

1 Comment

Lee Moser
  • Aug 26 2020
THIS is genius! Sports are comprised so much on strategy and incorporating a mental rehearsal into your practice is the icing on the cake to a skilled player like Ashley Clark!