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Sports psychologist gives athletes, coaches advice on dealing with COVID-19 shutdown

Sports psychologist Andrew Yellen, a former Reseda Grant football coach.
Sports psychologist Andrew Yellen, a former Reseda Grant football coach, said there’s a way forward while waiting for high school sports to return amid the coronavirus shutdown.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

At a time when Southern California has returned to a stay-at-home environment because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, Westlake Village-based sports psychologist Andrew Yellen said athletes and coaches need to “stop looking at what you can’t do” and “start looking at what you can do.”

“Somebody gets a torn up right knee,” he said. “What can he do? Well, you can’t work out your right knee. You can do upper body.”

Yellen has been seeing teenage patients during this time of no high school sports, and said it’s their parents who seem more upset than the kids.

“A lot of these parents’ egos are tied up to how well their kids are doing in sports,” he said. “Not having their kids involved in sports takes away from the parents. The kids I’ve spoken to understand. They don’t like it and are doing the best they can. They’re asking, ‘How do I stay in shape? How do I stay motivated? How do I stay in form?’ The kids take their cues from their role models. They take their cues from their parents.”

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Coaches have raised concerns about the mental state of some athletes whose seasons have been delayed, and Yellen said if any coach suspects there’s a problem, they should bring in professional help.

“You can beat the drums all you want. If you’re really concerned about the kids, let’s get my kids on Zoom. Let’s bring in somebody who can address these concerns. If you take away sports from an athlete, whether because of ineligibility or something else, unfortunately they lose their persona.”

Yellen said he recently read a quote to the effect, “We’re not all in the same boat. We’re all in the same storm but in different boats.”

“One person has a kayak. Another a canoe. Another a yacht. There’s a difference,” he said in how people are handling things.

Yellen used to be the football coach at Van Nuys Grant and understands the emotional and physical challenges being faced in a pandemic.

“It’s no different than an athlete who is injured and loses a season,” he said. “It’s a setback. A lot of time, you can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react.”


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