Dr Koketjo Tsebe Shares Vital Sport Advice

Leading sport psychologist and #gsport16 finalist, Dr Koketjo Tsebe, gives women in sport advice to lift them up and give them hope this festive season. Photo: Supplied

Leading sport psychologist and #gsport16 finalist, Dr Koketjo Tsebe, gives women in sport advice to lift them up and give them hope this festive season.

As 2021 draws to a close with exciting highlights, some athletes have endured a tough year with the on-going Covid-19 pandemic sweeping through communities.

Currently South Africa is in the midst of the fourth wave and various tournaments have been negatively impacted, resulting in athletes battling with mental, physical and emotional challenges.

According to Tsebe, athletes need to go the extra mile to deal with the various challenges to ensure that they achieve their goals.

Speaking with Tlamelo Kganakga, Tsebe shares insights on how athletes can approach the new year and how to utilise some of the coping techniques.


Covid-19 has impacted negatively on the athletes. In your opinion, what do you think of this impact?

Of course, athletes experience mental health problems just like anyone. For instance, quarantined athletes who are isolated from their loved ones including teammates can be hypothesised to be associated with feelings of high levels of stress, loneliness, anxiety, frustration, depression, etc.

Empirical evidence indicates that mental health problems have been suggested to be more predominant amongst individual sports athletes as compared to athletes participating in team sport. Individual sports athletes must deal with their experiences of victories and losses on their own. On the other hand, athletes participating in team sports can share their experiences amongst themselves and support each other.


What can athletes do to cope with the effects of Covid-19?

Express your emotions: confide with a person you trust. This person can be source of support and guidance during the uncertainty of the pandemic.  Also seek professional help when necessary/indicated.

Training the mind and body: Exercise regularly to ensure that you are physically fit. In addition, take care of your mental health by practising mindfulness, reading a book, do relaxation techniques. Remember a healthy mind can lead you to a healthy body.

Focus on what matters: Avoid focusing on things that are beyond your control such as postponement of the games. This is because it can have a negative effect on your mental state. It can impact on levels of motivation and ability to exercise.  While it is important to acknowledge the impact of external events, it’s extremely important to refocus yourself on the things that are within your such as physical and mental skills training.

Set short-term goals: It is important to set realistic short-term goals during this time of uncertainty. The personal goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific (SMART). Identify goals you would like to achieve and how you are planning to achieve them. Think about what you’d like to achieve over the next week and how you’re going to achieve that.

Stay connected: Ensure that you connect with family, friends and teammates. Reach out for meaningful conversations.

Create an adapted routine: Create a routine that guide you daily. Remember to become flexible and take one day at a time.

Remember the journey: If you’ve lost a match, you don’t have to let the way it ended define the whole experience. Consider some of your good memories and the big picture. Identify an area to improve, implement it and move on.


How can athletes recognize additional stressors during the pandemic?

Tlamelo, it is significant to mention that stress can affect all aspects of athletes’ life such as thinking ability, behaviour, psychological and physical health. Individuals react to stressful events differently, therefore symptoms of stress can vary. Some of the symptoms include:

Emotional symptoms of stress:
Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and temperamental.

Physical symptoms of stress:
Experiences of constant headaches, low energy levels, tense muscles, constipation and aches.

Cognitive symptoms of stress:
Poor judgment and decision-making, inability to concentrate, being forgetful and having racing thoughts.

Behavioural symptoms of stress:
Changes in appetite either not eating or eating too much, changes in sleeping pattern either sleeping less or too much and resorting to unhealthy coping techniques such as increased use of alcohol or drugs.


What are some the techniques athletes can use during the pandemic?

The understanding is that Mental preparation relates to how the athlete gets in the right frame of mind for optimum performance.

Firstly, there is no specific formula or rules around this. Though, there are different forms of mental training and various psychological techniques that can be used prior the competition. Please note that different things work for different people.

  • Recognize that pre-race jitters are normal.
  • Accept, rather than fight, the nervous energy you feel.
  • The adrenaline rush you feel is normal and it is part of the bodily natural preparation for the competition.


Prepare both mentally and physically:
Arrive at the stadium with plenty of time so you aren’t rushed. Remember poor time management can increases your stress levels.
Get a thorough warm-up.
Do some easy stretching.

Focus on the task at hand rather than the outcome:
Stay present in the moment, be mindful.
Avoid thinking too far into the event or thinking about the finish line. ​
If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts or negative self-talk, challenge your thoughts with positive ones.


Avoid introducing a new style of play due to pressure. Act natural and be yourself and enjoy the game.

Set goals for yourself:
Goal setting is a simple and practical mental tool you can use to maintain a high level of motivation in your sports participation. Set specific, measurable, and objective and realistic goals.

Self-talk is the conscious and subconscious dialogue that occurs in your mind before, during and after competition.
The nature of self-talk can reflect positive (e.g., I can do this) or negative (e.g., I am going to fail) verbalizations.
It affects your confidence and emotions which impact your performance.
Challenge or replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.

Visualization is the process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen or feel.
While imagining these scenarios, one should try to imagine the detail and the way it feels to perform in the desired way.
These scenarios can include any of the senses:
They can be visual (images and pictures), kinesthetic (how the body feels), or auditory (the roar of the crowd).
Remember to close your eyes and use technique to virtualize yourself performing well.

Practice relaxation techniques:
Relaxation is of great importance to any athlete striving for peak performance.
Relaxation skills can help athletes reduce mental components such as self-doubts, worry and physical anxiety.


What is the best way to approach a new year?

The beginning of a new year is always a perfect time to start a new chapter without any pressure. It is an excellent opportunity to make necessary changes such as diet, routines, personal and professional growth. Reflect, make necessary changes and focus on the task at hand.


Photo 1 Caption: Leading sport psychologist and #gsport16 finalist, Dr Koketjo Tsebe, gives women in sport advice to lift them up and give them hope this festive season. Photo: Supplied


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