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Forum underscores need for counselling in sports as virus bites

Saturday May 9 2020

From left to right: National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Paul Tergat, Sports Permanent Secretary Joe Okudo, Fukuoka Prefecture Deputy Governor Akie Oomaga and Kurume City Deputy Mayor Toshikata Nakasima display the MoU after pre-Olympic camp signing ceremony at Radisson Blu hotel in Nairobi on February 13, 2020. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

From left to right: National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Paul Tergat, Sports Permanent Secretary Joe Okudo, Fukuoka Prefecture Deputy Governor Akie Oomaga and Kurume City Deputy Mayor Toshikata Nakasima display the MoU after pre-Olympic camp signing ceremony at Radisson Blu hotel in Nairobi on February 13, 2020. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

AYUMBA AYODI
By AYUMBA AYODI
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The inaugural National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Noc-K) conference held via video link on Thursday afternoon has brought to the fore problems Kenyan sportsmen and women face as coronavirus pandemic continues to bite.

Participants, among them sports psychologists, coaches and athletes, underscored the need for local athletes to make good use of the postponement of all sporting activities to stay healthy mentally and physically.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed (centre,
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed (centre, standing) witnesses the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K), the Kenyan government and the Japanese city of Kurume in Nairobi on February 13, 2020. Signing the MoU are (seated from left to right): NOC-K President Paul Tergat, Sports Principal Secretary Joe Okudo, Fukuoka Prefective Deputy Governor Akie Oomaga and Kurume City Deputy Mayor Toshikata Nakasima. PHOTO | POOL |

The forum explored challenges athletes are currently facing as the world battles to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Sports personalities who spoke at the inaugural National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) Sports Conference include sports psychologist Kanyali Ilako, award-winning tennis coach Rosemary Owino and former world champion in javelin Julius Yego, NOC-K President Paul Tergat and Secretary General Francis Mutuku.

The conference that took one hour and 20 minutes and was moderated by Capital FM journalist Alex Isaboke, saw the panellists also field questions from listeners via video link.

Yego, the 2015 World javelin champion talked about how the covid-19 pandemic had interrupted athletes’ training programme, forcing them to be innovative.

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Sports and Culture Principal Secretary Peter
Sports and Culture Principal Secretary Peter Kaberia (left) hands over air tickets to Team Kenya captain Julius Yego (centre) with team manager Erastus Kabugi (right) looking on September 23, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. The team will represent the country at the World Championships in Doha that start on September 27, 2019. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Yego, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics javelin silver medallist, noted that while elite athletes were capable of training individually, upcoming athletes were finding it difficult to keep up.

“Most still live with their parents and come from humble backgrounds where training or finding something to eat is a problem,” said Yego. “Its tough training without a coach or something you have been accustomed to.”

Kanyali, a former Kenyan international who has competed at the Commonwealth Games, African Games, World University Games and CANA Zone Three and Four Games, came up with a concept dubbed “Mental Toolbox” which helps athletes understand and deal with the effects of Covid-19.

Kanyali noted that just like any other sector, sports industry had been hit hard, causing anxiety and confusion among athletes.

“We are experiencing the second wave of coronavirus now where depression and change of mood have come in as reality starts to sink in. Athletes are unable to train together with their colleagues and coaches, yet online training has proven ineffective,” Kanyali observed.

MENTAL TOOLBOX

Kanyali said “Mental Toolbox” is geared towards helping athletes with different tactics, improve their thoughts and easing their emotions.

She said that athletes must find creative ways to express themselves to release pent-up emotions through different activities like dancing, singing or any other positive distraction.

“When things get tough, they must remind themselves why they picked a certain discipline. They need to rediscover international motivation drawn from the medals or great performances they have posted before,” explained Kanyali, adding that visualisation of past training sessions can help combat negativity.

Kanyali explained that “Mental Box” emphasises the need for athletes to perform diaphragmatic breathing and to stick to daily routine as well as engaging in self-talk and seeking professional help.

Owino, winner of Coach of The Year Award during 2018 Safaricom Sports Personality Awards, said that athletes must acknowledge if they are facing problems, adding that for athletes to survive coronavirus pandemic, they need high discipline levels in training.

“They now must learn to exist without a coach and elite athletes must now guide the young ones,” said Owino, the Kenya Davis Cup Team captain.
“We are now a collective society and this calls for resilience.”

Yego said athletes must follow health regulations geared towards combating the spread of the deadly virus.

“It’s scary and the best thing for us athletes to do is to remain healthy and fit,” said Yego.

Tergat noted that the current generation has never experienced a pandemic like the Covid-19 and called for solidarity, creativity, determination and flexibility.

“The biggest casualty possibly is the Olympics but we hope things will improve,” said Tergat adding that NOC-K had engaged the government, its affiliates and other stakeholder with a view to finding possible ways to help cushion vulnerable athletes.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed (centre) with Sports Principal Secretary Joe Okudo (third left), National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Paul Tergat (third right), Team Kenya Tokyo 2020 Chef de Mission Waithaka Kioni (second right) and other officials after a consultative meeting on preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Vipingo, Kilifi County on January 26, 2020. PHOTO | COURTESY

Tergat said the Covid-19 disease had forced NOC-K to review all its processes and to change in response to the needs of the athletes.

Mutuku explained that NOC-K could not effect firm decisions at the moment since most people were waiting to see how the situation will evolve.
“It (coronavirus pandemic) has opened our eyes to look at our facilities and infrastructure. We really need to take them closer to the people,” said Mutuku.

“The crisis has helped us learn, react, engage and think deeper,” said Mutuku.

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