By: Stephanie Potter
Sport has played such a significant role in my life, and I am beyond thrilled to have joined the SLSG so that I can support sport leaders through my Integral Coaching work. As a young person growing up, sport offered me community, safety (in the form of predictable rules!), and shared purpose with others. As a varsity athlete, sport was there to help me transition to university; and, as I transitioned into parenthood, sport was once again my go-to as I looked for ways to connect and give back in my community.
Knowing in my bones the stabilizing force that sport has played in my life, I have been humbled and deeply saddened by the ways in which the pandemic has separated athletes of all ages from our passions. As one of the new members of the SLSG, I have been in conversation with many leaders, at many levels, in and outside of sport over the past few months. We have been exploring how the pandemic has shifted their landscape and called forth new ways of being and doing that they never even knew they had in them.
In the beginning, the pace and energy in these conversations were sharp, tinged with anxiety about the unknown, and also ‘hot’ with the need to take bold decisions and lead with actions to support their teams and organizations. Lately, I have noticed a palpable shift in how we are all showing up in conversations. The energy is heavier, the pace a little bit slower, even as the number of unknowns continues to rise. It’s as if we have each become dulled to the immediate existential anxiety caused by the stress of becoming ill or bringing illness to others. This stress and strain is simply running in the background now, whereas before it was front and centre. Where once there was an energy associated with the anticipation/hope that ‘soon’ we would have clarity, we are all coming to the realization that THIS is going to go on for some time.
What has struck me most about the last few months is the number of people who have dissolved into tears in one-on-ones and in groups – some out of sadness to be sure, but many in response to the sheer weight that they have been carrying for the past several months. And while recent announcements about vaccines suggest an end is in sight, there is quite a ways to go yet.
We are tired.
I am tired.
Maybe some of my experience in the pandemic sounds familiar to you. For instance, when things first started to shut down in March, my hypervigilance kicked in … I didn’t know this enemy, I couldn’t see it, and my family and I ‘went to ground’. As early adopters, we washed everything that came into the house, and anyone who left and circulated ‘in society’ was asked to strip and shower as soon as they got home.
A couple of weeks in, we realized that this thing we were living through was different. It wasn’t like a tornado that left a trail of destruction in its path and then was over and done. COVID is different … more like a phantom enemy whose effects most of us early on would not even see. This requires constant vigilance and a sustained response. I realized that this intense draw on my energy reserves couldn’t last forever so I began to shift … slowly at first but shift I did.
While still staying home as instructed, I turned my energy outward: I posted on Instagram about staying home for others, taking the wider picture, being a good neighbour, helping others. I joined online groups and donated food and money to those doing the heavy lifting of direct service delivery, took on more pro bono coaching clients who themselves were supporting the most vulnerable members of our communities, and joined with others to bring about positive social change. As the BLM crisis escalated, I read and listened and took grief and loss training and ‘woke up again’ to my white privilege, and what that means for the kind of work I do, and my role in creating a just society for all.
And there is more yet. On the home front, my husband and I have found ourselves truly sandwiched between caring for aging parents and our four children, three of whom moved home from university in the Spring. And so, in the midst of all of this change and ‘being in new’, we ‘renovated’ the family unit and re-learned how to function as a unit of six. An unexpected gift for our family in so many ways – so many meals eaten together, more than we had experienced in the previous decade – but not without pain points and challenges.
A word that I continue to associate with the disruption of the pandemic is paradox … the paradox of disconnecting from routines of ‘busy-ness’ in my family life, and reconnecting to a different and more intimate way of being together; the paradox of losing my sense of security in a known future, while simultaneously rejoicing in the opportunities for reimagining work, social justice, and my relationship to our planet; the paradox of losing contact with daily physical practices, while simultaneously finding opportunities to step more fully into my true power as a change-maker and healer.
I have had to deploy all of my training to make time for self-observation, for movement, for mindfulness and meditation, for… pause. I have been reminded of the need to deliberately create space in which I can catch my breath, take a step back, and then move forward again with intention and awareness. Using the gift of the NOVA Profile, I have been able to ‘see myself in action’ and to have greater insight into why the disruption of the pandemic has both brought me great joy and reminded me of what can happen to me when I lose myself in people and causes outside of myself.
Like the leaders with whom I have been speaking, both inside and outside of sport, my body has been sending me signals that I need to pace myself differently. We would never ask a marathoner to run back to back marathons, let alone simultaneously do interval training. And yet, many of us – myself included – have been doing just that. And it is not sustainable.
Some questions that I have been grappling with include:
As I have been contemplating my answers to these questions, I have been reflecting on the notion of syncing with the seasons. The shift from Fall to Winter is a period of transition and yes paradox, bringing the satisfaction of the harvest, tinged with the sadness of saying goodbye to the ease of summer. To sync with this season for me is to slow down, and to make time to take stock and harvest what I cultivated this Spring and Summer. This takes the form of a special kind of gratitude practice where I take a somewhat wider perspective. Syncing with the season also means acknowledging what is coming to an end and letting go of those mental stories, behaviours, and standards that are no longer serving me.
As the pandemic has proceeded, I have taken on a lot of new. But what I have I let go of? The heaviness that so many of us are experiencing is in part related to this holding on to what no longer serves. In the world of sport, in particular, we are really good and soldiering on, pushing through, and performing under pressure. We are not so good at letting go.
During a meditation before the snow came, I was noticing the movement of leaves as they were blown off the surrounding trees, sometimes one at a time, sometimes in clusters. And I started to name all of the things that I needed to let go of … beliefs about myself and my performance, attachments to being recognized or needed… all of the ‘stuff’ that no longer serves me at this time. I finished with some loving-kindness and a mantra as we move through this next phase of living through the pandemic:
May I be brave.
May I be humble.
May I be kind to myself.
May I embrace all that I am.
If this idea of syncing with the seasons and both cultivating what we have sown, and letting go and allowing to pass that which has served its purpose, I hope you try this practice yourself. I’d love to hear about your experience and invite you to share with me at SMP@sportlaw.ca. Most importantly, I look forward to connecting, sharing, and serving this amazing community as we bring sport back better, together, after the pandemic.