(WFLA) – With the 2020 Olympics now postponed until 2021, athletes are adjusting to a new normal.
For many athletes, this means an extra year to train. But for some, it could mean putting life on hold, or even worse, an Olympic dream cut short.
To help cope with the postponement, Team USA athletes, coaches and support staff have access to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee Mental Health Task Force.
The 13-member task force consists of U.S. Olympians, Paralympians, coaches, medical and mental health professionals.
Although it was formed in February 2020 to help athletes ahead of the games, the need for the committee really ramped up with the postponement of the 2020 games, according to Senior Sports Psychologist Dr. Karen Cogan.
“I already had a lot of athletes on my schedule and we were working on performance issues primarily, but then when – I would say five to six weeks ago when the coronavirus really started to take hold – then that was the focus almost exclusively in all of our conversations,” Dr. Cogan said.
Dr. Cogan also serves on a subcommittee currently working on making telemedicine accessibility.
“We want athletes to know that there are many many options and if they don’t like the one in front of them there are many others for them so that they are not dealing with this on their own,” Dr. Cogan said.
“Right now it’s quite tumultuous, I can imagine it’s a complete roller coaster of emotions,” said Rachael Flatt, former Olympian and National Championship figure skater.
Flatt is in the process of earning her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is also a member of the task force.
She knows all too well the stress and uncertainty the athletes are feeling. In 2011, the World Championship in Tokyo was postponed due to a tsunami and other events.
“That alone was just incredibly challenging to work with so I think of that magnified times 10 and that’s probably what they’re going through,” said Flatt. “You’re doing everything that you can to get every inch closer to the podium and to medal. The training, mentally and physically, it’s quite intense up until that point, so making sure that they feel really supported during that enormous transition where you’re putting everything on hold is super important.”
The task force puts athletes in touch with mental health resources and counseling as well as 24/7 access to phone counseling. The USOPC is also providing “mental health officers” who will facilitate conversations around mental health for athletes and staff, according to a release.
To help athletes and their immediate families cope with the impact of COVID-19, the USOPC extended its ComPsych benefits program to all Team USA athletes, which provides unlimited 24/7 access to phone counseling with certified professionals and other resources such as emotional and wellness support, financial and legal guidance, and more.
“I think looking forward to a year from now, hopefully, the athletes will have qualified and will be emotionally, mentally and physically prepared and in a place they want to be,” said Flatt.
For more information on the task force click here.