'If you're an elite player in any sport then your body is your business'

'If you're an elite player in any sport then your body is your business'
Former Munster scrum-half Cathal Sheridan is now working behind the scenes. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

A RECENT chat with sports psychologist Cathal Sheridan, the Sligo-born former scrum-half and now mental skills coach with Munster, proved informative when discussing the coronavirus pandemic.

Everyone is affected by it in some form or other, including professional sports people as well as elite amateurs.

All our normal rhythms of life have been disrupted and coping is a daily chore. But, it was in the context of the team environment that Sheridan struck a chord.

“The highest performing teams are the ones that have the strongest relationships,” he said.

And Sheridan was quick to emphasise the importance of people staying in touch with each other.

“The basics of human need don’t change and we all still need to be connected, regardless of how much time we put into it.

“People can feel a bit introverted, but it’s important to work on relationships and friendships. I know Munster are working hard on staying connected as best as they can.

“Routines that people are accustomed to having are now gone out the window. Old habits need to be reformed and re-created again.

“And the main question is: what are your basics like when the proverbial hits the fan? One of the important things is your relationships and what are they like?

“It’s important to be open with people to talk about your emotions and stuff like that. Another basic is what is your diet like, especially, when your normal routine has been shot in the air?

Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

“If you’re an elite player, your body is your business. A great Corkman, Paudie Roche who I know, would have given me that line when I was coming through the Munster Academy.

“He was a great strength and conditioning coach and used to say that about your body. As a professional athlete things are magnified by that aspect. Your routine around your nutrition and exercise.

“That is usually your job that you try and do to the maximum standard. The thing is to figure it out and maximise that. It’s a real challenge,” he commented.

When it came to handing out advice Sheridan said it wasn’t rocket science.

“It’s more about general behaviour and again it all comes back to the basics. And it not only applies to the sporting context, but everyday living.

“It’s trying to get back to your routine and sticking to it, like getting up at the same time in the mornings and using the time to get your exercise in.

“You can prepare yourself for the day by having a conversation with your wife or partner, taking the dog for a walk or doing some meditation.”

Also, the sudden absence of the dressing room can impact people differently.

“It’s something they are not used and is out of the ordinary. It’s like being back in school, when fellows get together in a dressing room before training or a game.

“You’ve ready-made craic and banter and on a deeper level a ready-made support system, too.

“If you’re having a bad day you go in and have a bitch and a moan.

“You talk to any retired sportsperson and they will tell you the most important thing they’ve established is the friendships built up over the years.

Tyler Bleyendaal offloads to teammate Cathal Sheridan in the tackle, back in 2015. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Tyler Bleyendaal offloads to teammate Cathal Sheridan in the tackle, back in 2015. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

“But, when that is taken away all of a sudden it provides another different challenge.

“It can be a disaster or it can lead to another way of staying connected.

“There are ways around it, using various forms of social media because that camaraderie is huge.

“Another important element is practicing a bit of perspective, try to look at the bigger picture here and the important things,” Sheridan concluded.

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