After softball’s return to the Olympic cycle was confirmed in 2016, Australia’s best female softballers again dreamt of Gold Medal glory.
When the Travelodge Aussie Spirit won the WBSC Asia/Oceania Olympic Qualifier in September 2019, their dreams became reality.
However, in a world flipped on its head by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the 12-year wait turned into 13 with confirmation from the International Olympic Committee the Tokyo 2020 Games will be contested in 2021.
In an instant, the squad of 20 athletes vying for Olympic selection were now forced away from a competitive team environment into government directed self-isolation.
“There was no beating around the bush that the Games were going to be postponed and we had three reactions, some were shocked, some were philosophical and some were more ‘what do I do now’,” said Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Manager, Dr Deidre Anderson who, together with the Travelodge Aussie Spirit High Performance team, were currently faced with the unique situation of keeping the squad not only physically strong, but mentally resilient.
“And then as reality started to kick in, they all had questions, so we needed to be ahead of that and have a whole range of answers ready so their ability to stay focused wasn’t de-railed during this period of time.”
Dr. Anderson says one of the biggest challenges the players were faced with was being suddenly taken out of a team environment and into isolation, something that has been foreign to most of them in a team-based sport.
Establishing a maintenance program and ‘normalizing the experience’ of isolation became priorities.
“It’s not that they don’t have the motivation to train, it’s that they play a team sport and they enjoy the competitive nature of training with other people so that was difficult.
“They were quite resourceful, they put up challenges on an app we share that had a time or a number associated to it to maintain that competitive edge against one another.
“They found ways to continue to engage with each other.”
Australian softballers, like a number of other Olympic sports, are often faced with the challenge of juggling their personal lives and their sporting commitments, something the global pandemic has made particularly challenging.
Navigating those challenges has also played a part in ensuring the squad remains in a healthy headspace.
“The conversations are very different with each of the playing group,” added Dr. Anderson
“There’s been a lot more regular contact with the players, really just checking in and having conversations with them, there’s also groups within the squad, we have some that are studying overseas or trying to get into college.
“Then all of a sudden they’re in lockdown and all that support network is gone so there’s a role to play in supporting that group, then there’s a role in supporting those who have lost their jobs, helping out with navigating the JobKeeper and JobSeeker options. The AIS built a very good list of resources we could tap into there.”
Above all else, Anderson says making sure the squad stays in touch where they can has been crucial in keeping a healthy and strong mindset.
“Really it’s checking in with what we all needed to do and most importantly getting them to check in with each other.
“That’s been really important to building that collaboration with each other.”
The collaboration between the playing group led to the development of mental health strategies to help in dealing with a number of scenarios the players themselves experience and has been put into a document available below and to download here.
“It was very much about listening to where their headspace was at and pretty much witnessing what might happen in different circumstances,” added Dr. Anderson.
“And it’s been a great opportunity to create some of those mental health strategies.”
Over the coming weeks, Softball Australia will release some of the Travelodge Aussie Spirit players own personal mantras when it comes to mental health, culminating in a podcast hosted by Dr. Anderson, and Softball Australia High Performance Manager Simone Wearne who will speak to two-time Olympian and current Travelodge Aussie Spirit Captain, Stacey Porter.