NAIROBI, Kenya, May 22 – “I am stressed and depressed and can’t think straight anymore,” a sportsman, who will remain anonymous, posed to this writer in one of the many interactions over the last one week.
The mental situation of this sportsperson is just but a mirror of what the sports world is experiencing at this moment, now that competitions and events have been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the last two months they cannot do what they know best; going to the pitch to train and in the stadium to compete. For some, they have lost their income and this has more or less worsened the situation especially for those who entirely depend on their sporting talent to lay food on the table.
Two Kenyan sports psychologists have decided to step into the gap and stretch out their hands to help pull sportsmen and women who have found the going tough mentally and drag them into a safe place as the world battles to return to normalcy.
Under the Brain Frees Consultancy, Kanyali ilako, a former Kenyan top swimmer and Rowena Tirop, both holders of Masters in Sports Psychology are offering free online therapy sessions for sportspeople running from May 25 – June 5.
“There is a notion that athletes do not have mental illness or should not be scared of the dangers of getting into mental illness. They are human as well,” Tirop, who obtained her Masters in Sports and Exercise Psychology from the Brunel University in London said.
She added; “With the COVID-19 situation, it has presented a tough and challenging moment for sportspeople and there has been a conversation about mental health. We came together through the Brain Frees Consultancy and thought why not do something.”
“I have been in sports as a player and now a huge fun and I know how it feels.”
Tirop has been working closely with the Kenya Rugby Union and also has experience working with collegiate teams during her time studying in London.
Ilako, a double masters degree holder in the discipline from the University of Thessaly, Greece and University of Jyvaskyla, Finland, was part of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) inaugural online sports conference on mental health two weeks ago.
Ilako has worked with Olympic swimmers in Finland, a League One football team in Greece, ITF EA training centre in Kenya and is an intellectual impairment classifier with the International Paralympic committee (IPC).
The two believe that they can give back to the sporting world at this time and especially for Kenyan sportsmen, most of who are struggling to keep their state of mind in the best shape.
They will offer free sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday for the next 12 days.
While most of professional sport all over Africa have psychology as an integral part of their business, not many pro teams in Kenya take it seriously, if at all they do. The most they come close to working on the players’ psychology is during pre-season when a few team building sessions here and there seek to prepare them mentally for the season.
But Tirop believes that Psychology has a huge role to play in developing sports and improving results.
“Teams and Federations should take a keen interest in psychology. The mind plays a big role in everything an athlete does. It improves the performance of the players when they are strong mentally,” she states.
Adding; “They need to learn to re-focus when they fail and bounce back and they also need to learn techniques to overcome challenges. People are different; some are strong willed, while some are not. Some will make a mistake on the pitch and struggle to move on from it and these are some of the areas we are looking at.”
Her dream is to see the field of Sports Psychology grow and more teams and Federations taking it up as an integral part of their organizations.
“We need to take sports more seriously and not just as a hobby,” Tirop advises.