COVID-19 has had a massive effect on the world of sport. We can see extreme changes everywhere, so we were curious about how the most prominent athletes lived with this crisis in the beginning, and what they are expecting from the future. For those who know handball, Eduarda “Duda” Amorim needs no introduction. For those who do not follow the sport, Ms Amorim is one of the best players of her generation. Hailing from southern Brazil, Ms Amorim moved to Europe in 2006, where she became a World Champion as well as a 5-time Champions League winner. She was named Player of the Year in Europe, the World, and she was an All-Star and MVP many times over at various international tournaments. We spoke with Ms Amorim in September 2020, just when she started playing professional matches for the first time since the crisis began.
First of all: how are you?
I am fine, thank you. It is good to come back to play again.
How do you feel about how COVID-19 forced a several-month break, which never happened in sports during your career?
I feel all of this was very different and quite difficult to accept at the beginning. It was very strange to be forced to stop, to have matches cancelled and not know when we would be back. Looking on the good side, it was also nice to have more time to rethink some things in life, to learn to enjoy different activities, reconnect with some friends, study more, and give more attention to my family. So, athletes needed to live their life totally differently than they did ever before.
How can you compare this break with a long-term injury, when the players need to recover for six months, for example?
It is totally different. With an injury, a player can’t stay totally inactive, and in general, they have to hurry the process to come back to the field. And the recovery time is more or less scheduled. With COVID, there is a lot more uncertainty. There are no bigger plans for tournaments or matches being back. And the difference is the players can stay in some kind of shape, and do some training depending on the restrictions of the country they were in.
We can see there are huge differences among athletes regarding how they are handling this situation. Many athletes totally stopped playing, while other athletes could get in better shape than ever before. What do you think: what kind of personality features does a professional athlete need to emerge from COVID-19 as a winner?
I feel the top players enjoyed this time much better than others. I think it was difficult to improve very much technically, of course, without practices. But physically (depending on the possibility of running and fitness conditions), it was possible to get stronger and get in better shape. For me, I could also work more on the mental part, watch replays of my matches, and check what was good and what I wanted to work on harder when I got back.
To improve during this period, you need to have a focused and determined mentality.
There are some coaches and sports leaders who think we don’t need to talk about the professional athlete’s mental issues in a situation like this, because a professional athlete’s job is to overcome it without any problem. Do you agree?
I feel it would be important that clubs at least offer some professionals to help in case it’s needed. All players react differently. Some get more anxious, and some have difficulty to keep a routine, so for me, I consider it important to take care of the players’ mental states at all times, not just during COVID.
What is the worst part of the Olympic games being delayed until 2021?
I believe every player had a different experience with it. For me, I had plans to stop playing with the National Team after August and continue with just my club to have some free time and enjoy what is probably the last season of my career. And now, I have decided to play one more year until the Olympics.
Is there anything good about this delay?
The good side of it is that Brazil has a younger National Team, so they can get more experience before next August.
The junior field is really important in sports. What do you think, how can COVID-19 affect the life of a young athlete?
I believe it is even more sensitive for them because, in most countries, they aren’t allowed to restart their activities yet. And they have more of a tendency to feel anxious, stressed, and sad without sport and social contact. In this case, their families and coaches should pay more attention to their mental health.
How do you feel personally: will you come back with the same motivation to continue your career, or has something changed?
I believe it was good to hit pause since I am about to finish my career. This last year I have been experiencing some moments where I was close to burning out, so for me, the pause was positive. The pause makes you miss playing handball more, which is something you don’t feel during the peak of the season. Now when I am back, the biggest difference is I have to work more on my focus, because a lot of new situations are happening because of COVID, like staying quarantined after travelling and taking COVID tests all the time. Also, not being able to reach peak handball performance makes you work on your patience. It is still strange. I am still adapting.
I think with your career and results I can ask a question like this: what do you recommend to coaches for the next few months?
Coaches should work gradually on the comeback; they should more or less be ready to start everything from 0. Also, they should pay attention to the mental health and physical aspects of their players. Maybe some players lost some kilos or their motivation, or they had some personal problems during quarantine.
It is important to be there for the team, no matter which shape they are in at the beginning.
What do you recommend to professional athletes for the next few months?
I feel players should be patient regarding their performances; it takes a little longer to come back to the top. Also, they should work on putting their focus and energy on things they can control. And, of course, to be positive, be able to adapt, and especially to accept that maybe it will take longer than normal to get back to their normal routine.