Upton (left) was part of Gary Kirsten’s coaching team when India won the 2011 ICC World Cup and followed him to work with the South African team. (Picture courtesy: paddyupton.com)
Former India mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton has said cricketers and teams will have to change their approach towards mental health once games restart. Citing the coronavirus lockdown, a traumatic experience for many cricketers, Upton emphasised that cricket has a bad track record of mental health management of players.
"Every player might have gone through their own 'trauma cycle' after the coronavirus suddenly pulled the rug out from under their feet," Upton, who also worked with India's 2011 World Cup-winning team, told Reuters.
"It's not dissimilar to an athlete suffering an injury and being forced to sit out for months. It's about having to deal with not being able to play or train. Now there are also issues such as not being able to go outdoors."
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United Nations health experts had previously cautioned of an impending mental illness crisis with millions surrounded by death, disease, mayhem following enforced isolation, poverty and anxiety.
Upton also said that while some players might make use of the enforced lockdown, others are concerned about the financial distress and emotional anxiety of being unable to play and being cut off from their teammates.
"Attention to players' mental health in good times is not that comprehensive and we're going through an unprecedented time where a number have gone through various emotional and mental turmoil," Upton said.
"If in good times there's very little support to manage their mental struggles, I imagine at this stage it would be exacerbated. We don't really know how well players are coping behind closed doors."
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has been considering ways and means to resume the games but according to Upton, under these circumstances, the suspension could last several more months. "I don't see us playing cricket for a fair number of months," Upton said. "International travel isn't open and it doesn't look like it'll change in the immediate future."
The South African coach also said that once the game resumes, the teams that adapt the post coronavirus with regard to players and their mental health will be the ones to thrive. "I think some athletes need more support than ever before," he said. "They're not dealing with performance pressures but there are personal pressures.
"Smart teams are going to sit down and figure out the new dynamics. I guarantee whenever the World Cup comes along, you'll have teams who figure out the psychology of this post-COVID existence. They will be set up to perform better."
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