Isolated athletes get creative in confines

Murray Wenzel

Comparing it to something even prisoners despise, a sports psychologist has warned of the impact isolation can have on the mental health of Australia's athletes.

But he says their crafty efforts so far to stay stimulated as the COVID-19 pandemic forces the world indoors are setting an example for everyone.

Steep pay cuts and potential forced retirement looms for athletes, who were hastily removed from their regular training environments in the last fortnight with club logo-embossed gym equipment in hand.

But athletes have shown their creative sides, sharing footage of their Rocky-style home gyms, answering questions, producing short films and composing dance routines on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Cricketer Matthew Renshaw turned his dusty backyard into an artificial putting green, while golfer Cameron Smith elevated his real-life lawn to spectacular levels.

The New Zealand Breakers are releasing skills and drills videos for kids, while former Perth player Greg Hire kick-started an initiative that saw the likes of Paralympian Kurt Fearnley beamed into classrooms to participate in lessons.

Clubs in all football codes have prioritised players' mental health, arranging easy ways to stay in touch with club staff, follow fitness and diet plans and ensure access to medical help.

It's a welcome sight for Michal Noetel, a sports and performance psychologist who is a senior lecturer at the Australian Catholic University.

"Any of us find isolation hard; that's why it's a punishment even in a prison," he told AAP.

"But it's particularly unique and devastating for athletes because everything that they've worked for until this point may be evaporating before their eyes.

"And their lives are usually so regimented; when that group of 50-100 people at the club they connect with on a deep level evaporates they need that gap bridged."

Multiple Australian studies have revealed how much harder it is for athletes to transition into life after sport when retirement comes unexpectedly.

"And there's going to be a whole lot of unexpected career transitions and they're the most distressing," Noetel said.

"An injury that wipes out a career is way worse than someone who voluntarily ends it.

"The main advice is to get some support, because everyone responds differently and some need a lot of help."

So far this seems to be happening and Noetel said that was encouraging given the rest of the isolated world was watching them on social media.

"The things they're doing are mental health things we should all be doing, he said.

"Habits of exercise, meditation, self care, nutrition; we can all take a leaf out of that book."

Brisbane AFL coach Chris Fagan is channelling that attitude in a week the Lions were forced to stand down 75 members of staff.

He pointed his players to some advice from former AFL player and coach Neale Daniher, who continues to inspire as he lives with and fights to find effective treatments and a cure for Motor Neurone Disease.

Fagan hopes his players will emerge more resilient and "better people" once the AFL resumes.

"He talks about how you don't worry about what has happened yesterday and you don't worry about what's going to happen tomorrow, you just focus in on the here and now," he told SEN's Whateley.

"I think if you give that little advice and if everyone develops their own little routine in this period to help them through, there will be a process in place and hopefully before we know it we'll get through it.

"If you spend all your time worrying about when things are going to get back to normal, you're going to do your head in."