England prospect Smith turns to mind coach to get through isolation

‘People underestimate the power of your mind’: England fly-half prospect Marcus Smith turns to mindfulness coach to deal with isolation stress during coronavirus pandemic

  • Sport stars are at a loose end with competition on hold due to coronavirus 
  • To handle isolation, young fly-half Marcus Smith is working with a mind coach  
  • Luke Doherty aims to keep athletes’ settled using his mindfulness techniques 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

When Luke Doherty took himself to a solitary retreat in the Spanish mountains to learn about Buddhism, little did he know that his techniques would be used to help guide rugby players through the stresses of a pandemic.

With training grounds closed and stadiums turning into makeshift hospitals, most players find themselves sitting idle during the coronavirus crisis. Doherty’s work as Harlequins’ mindfulness coach is just cranking up.

He is in regular contact with players such as 21-year-old England prospect Marcus Smith, while there are also weekly sessions for the players’ wives and girlfriends throughout the lockdown period.

Marcus Smith has turned to mind coach Luke Doherty to help him through isolation period

Players have been left in limbo with the coronavirus lockdown putting their sports on hold 

‘Players are out of their usual routines and that can become stressful,’ said Doherty, 32. 

‘Being at home 24/7, the weekdays and the weekend can become one big blob of time. Using the Zoom platform, we might have group sessions on Monday morning to set intentions for the week.

‘Everyone’s under pressure in different ways during this time of uncertainty, and mindfulness tools can help you stay in control. Breathing and talking therapy are two of the key techniques.’

Doherty was once a promising England Under 18 flanker and played alongside the likes of Tom Wood. But his interests turned towards meditation and mental health after two of his team-mates committed suicide.

Players need an outlet for the mental energy they put into their sport during the lockdown

‘Professional players channel a lot of energy into rugby and you’ve got to be able to find ways to use that and free it up,’ said Doherty. 

‘One of my age group team-mates played a few games for Sale, picked up an injury and committed suicide. Everyone thought he was happy and fine but there’s always that element of unknown because he didn’t communicate why he did it. It’s important to have someone to talk to.

‘For five years, I would spend at least two months a year alone on solitary retreats to deepen my understanding of mindfulness.’

Fly-half Smith is one of Doherty’s most engaged students. Unable to train with team-mates, he is exercising alone and working on daily mindfulness techniques.

Smith said: ‘You can go to new places. A lot of people are suffering which puts things into perspective for the lucky ones. I speak to Luke once a week.’

Smith broke into the England squad as a teenage prodigy and turned to Doherty when he started to feel the pressures of elite sport.

Smith began to feel the pressure of top level competition after breaking in at a young age

‘I had to portray that I was calm when I was this 18-year-old barking orders at British Lions,’ said Smith. ‘My heart used to race. To instil calmness into your team, you need to feel calm yourself. To do that, you need to be bulletproof and hold your body language.

‘If I make a mistake in a game, I re-roll my socks to flick the switch in my head and re-set.

‘Look at Owen Farrell or Dan Carter at his peak — they’d make a mistake but then their next 20 minutes are world class. People underestimate the power of your mind.’

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