Player Performance

Staying connected is vital right now, says Oxford United psychotherapist Gary Bloom

CLUBS need to do all they can to guard against social isolation of their players – because the odds are the coronavirus crisis will get worse before it gets better.

That’s the view of sports psychotherapist Gary Bloom, who has seen a wide range of responses since the sporting world was brought to a halt.

Fortunately, Oxford United’s approach has been comprehensive and consistent.

But Bloom, who has worked with Karl Robinson’s side for 18 months, also sees individuals from other clubs and some of the reports are a concern.

“I would say Oxford are better than most,” he said.

“I know one Premier League player hasn’t heard from his manager in four weeks.

“They just get occasional emails from the strength and conditioning guys and are left to get on with it.

“I think Karl is exceptional in this.

“Without blowing our trumpet too much, I think we go above and beyond most clubs in terms of keeping in touch, not only with the first team but the support staff and all the way down.

“I’m very proud of that.”

Robinson quickly brought in Zoom meetings once the training ground was closed as a way to keep players connected in the lockdown.

Bloom also puts daily calls into players and staff on a one-on-one basis to check in.

He said: “Nine times out of ten people are saying ‘actually, it’s OK’.

“My feeling is this is still a relatively novel thing that’s going on, where people are enjoying spending time with their families.

“But as this goes on, and we are now talking about something several weeks down the line, I think the social isolation will be increasingly hard for players.

“I think we are only just on the starter, we haven’t got to the main course yet.”

Having embraced sports psychotherapy well before the lockdown, United are better-placed than most to limit the negatives.

But starting from scratch now is difficult.

What happens psychologically when we’re on the back foot is we tend to go into ourselves and go hiding rather than reach out to people. The hardest thing to say to anybody is ‘help’.

“I would call on clubs and agents to keep checking in with their players.”

Gary Bloom

Anxieties for players who are out of contract in June may have been eased slightly by FIFA’s announcement that they should be extended for as long as the season goes on.

But the issue – for everyone, not just players – is the unknown.

Bloom said: “The brain is designed when you are in a threat situation to look back and think ‘how did I deal with this last time?’

“We don’t have a template for this, that’s why there’s a lot of anxiety going round.

“The panic buying was a classic example of that. We need to feel safe and take control, so we try to grip on to something.”

He added: “We need an opportunity to be able to talk to our players and make it clear we know what they’re going through isn’t easy and we’re there for them.”