Former Galway hurler Tony Óg Regan, a leading performance psychology coach, has revealed how being robbed of training and games has plunged some players into a state of ‘grief’.
Two-time All-Ireland finalist Regan inspired Tipperary to MacCarthy Cup success in 2016 and worked with John Kiely’s Limerick last year.
He said that players are experiencing a range of emotions, from grief initially to ultimately an acceptance of the situation that there mightn’t be games again in 2020.
That lack of certainty is the biggest problem and Regan revealed in an interview for the LGFA’s Ladies Football TV how difficult it has been in particular for those who identify themselves first and foremost as GAA players, and people second.
“When I think of it, there’s a bit of grief to this cycle that we’re in at the moment,” said Regan. “We, as sportspeople, are very inclined to attach ourselves to our sports identity.
“There’s the minor, the underage player, then at some stage, we’re the senior player and that’ll move on to a position where you might be a coach or manager. But you’re also a brother or a sister or a wife or a partner. You’re a relative. It’s trying not to get over-attached to any of those roles in life is important.
“For sportspeople, we’re running into this cycle where there’s a bit of denial at the start about what’s happening and the confusion is coming every three or four weeks for people because it (returning to play) is being pushed out to September or October so you’re going to go through that at different points.
“Then we move into a place where it’s a bit of anger and frustration over this. It’s ‘Why can’t they tell us more? Why are certain sports going back and we’re not going back? Why can’t they just give us a date?’
“Then we might move to a sense of, ‘What’s my meaning in all of this? What do I bring to this situation?’ Then we might move to a place where there’s acceptance.”
Regan said it’s important for players to realise that ‘we are not our sport, we just play and experience sport’.
The 2005 and 2012 All-Ireland finalist with Galway recommended exploring mindfulness and meditation which helped him during his career.
“When I talk there around emotions we’re having of anger and frustration and whatever else, an eight-week mindfulness course for people with severe depression has been shown to really reduce symptoms in a massive way, along with physical activity,” he said. “It nearly reduces symptoms completely or to a very low level.
“Not all our players are going to be in that emotional state of depression but we’re finding ourselves very irritable or anxious or in a low mood at the moment, first off meditation would help us to anchor ourselves in the present moment.
“It also helps us to detach from those thoughts and become more aware of the thinking, the feeling that we’re having around the situations we’re in, or the people or the situations that trigger those emotions.”
Regan was described as a ‘key ingredient’ in Oughterard’s AIB All-Ireland club intermediate football success earlier this year and has also worked with the Galway women’s and men’s football teams.
But he admitted some remain sceptical about sports psychology and its benefits.
“Oh I think there’s sceptics, yes,” he said. “There were big sceptics to strength and conditioning 10 years ago — now there’s massive buy in. Maybe with sports psychology, we haven’t told the story of how it can benefit. Maybe we haven’t produced enough research in the right areas to show how it can benefit.”
Regan devoured Netflix’s documentary on basketball icon Michael Jordan and said he was ‘amazed at his mindset’.
“His biggest ability and greatest trait, that he was better at than any other athlete, was his ability to stay in the present moment,” said Regan. “For me, that’s where we all need to get to in daily life. If I’m thinking into the future I’m probably creating anxiety and worry around, ‘What if? What then? What can I do?’ Or if I’m thinking about something in the past I’m regretting something that I didn’t do.”