World_news NBA players face mental health challenges in Disney bubble – New York Post

World_news

The adjustments NBA players will make in the Orlando bubble for theseason’s restart on July 30will be enormous.

One change the players must adapt to is the lack of a crowd and its wall of noise, according to a leading sports psychologist.

But acclimating to fan-less games may not be as large as the isolation they will face amid the restrictions placed on them inside the confines of Disney World.

Dr. Stephen Gonzalez, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, told The Post the experience may feel like “house arrest,’’ noting the bubble rulebook of 113 pages. Violators are subject to banishment.

“It’s unchartered waters,’’ Gonzalez told The Post. “The Olympics, you need to have all their movements tracked with security details and it hampers your freedom. It’s a small amount of what’s to happen with basketball. They’re restricted to where they can eat. They’re giving up a lot of freedom to do this.”

The 22 teams, including the Netsbut not the Knicks, report to Orlando July 7-8 for official training camp.

“There’s going to be an initial excitement and motivation to follow the rules,’’ said Gonzalez, Assistant Athletics Director for Leadership and Mental Performance at Dartmouth. “Eventually, it’s like a New Year’s resolution. You diet and, after a week or two, you revert back to habits. Our athletes are going to revert back to what they like things to be. I think it’s going to be a lot of struggle and stress.”

The players’ physical wellness —staying free of COVID-19 and getting back into game shapeafter nearly a four-month hiatus — might be nothing compared to their mental health.

“We’re looking at COVID from a physical standpoint, but there’s a mental aspect — the anxiety and fear,’’ Gonzalez said. “There is interesting data about how COVID affects long-term lung capacity, even for those at a younger age. For athletes, it’s a damning ramification. But the anxiety worry and isolation of human beings? We’re social creatures. It’s challenging.

“It’s causing a lot of depression. That’s the hidden side effect of COVID. We’re not talking enough how that could effect these guys,’’ Gonzalez added.

Recreational rooms will be provided, but with reams of guidelines. For instance, players can’t share headsets when playing video games and no doubles in ping-pong. There’s a document specifying the proper recipe on disinfecting basketballs used in practice.

Gonzalez predicts some players may drop out midstream.

“It’s a pretty big experiment of willpower and patience,’’ Gonzalez said. “Not being able to train properly for four months, then I’m stuck in a hotel and can’t do anything. They will need something to occupy themselves or it could be a miserable experience.”

Players will undergo daily COVID-19 exams. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday “the level of concern has increased’’ because of the coronavirus spike in Florida. “We can’t outrun the virus,’’ Silver said.

Gonzalez indicated he would run away from the restart.

“The news has not been great recently,’’ Gonzalez said. “A lot of this is being driven by how much money are we going to lose. We need to really take a look at whether the risk is worth the reward.”

The risks may be too great, the Dartmouth psychologist said. Players may not be aware of their preexisting conditions.

“I respect them for wanting to try it,’’ Gonzalez said. “Fans are hungry for it. If you’re the commissioner, you hate to see an athlete’s career trajectory be negatively effected by side effects or death. We know younger, healthier population it’s less, but it still doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

“If somebody gets in critical care on a ventilator because of underlying preexisting conditions, are you OK as a commissioner knowing the life-threatening consequences? I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that if I’m the commissioner of a major sports league.”

On the court, Gonzalez believes players will get used to the fan-less atmosphere, but it might take several games for them to find their game mojo.

According to an industry source, music will be piped into the gym for some games — just like in a pre-coronavirus arena, making it less deathly silent.

“They’re used to bigger crowds,” Gonzalez said. “This could feel more like an organized scrimmage or competitive practice. It is going to be interesting to see how they handle what they’re not used to. Crowd plays into it. You make a shot and feel an adrenaline rush from the crowd noise and applause. Athletes need now to be to focused on the task at hand.”

Gonzalez works with Dartmouth athletes — and some pro competitors — on dealing with arena volume. Now it’s the opposite: silence.

Different players react differently. Gonzalez senses LeBron James feeds off the fans more so than, says, the more placid Kawhi Leonard. James said in March he preferred not to play if it’s without fans, though he has since changed his tune.

“LeBron appreciates the relationship he has with fans,’’ Gonzalez said. “Not having the other end of the relationship present is going to be a really hard thing for him. However, Tim Duncan, you can’t tell if Tim is having a good day or bad day. He’s just stoic. There’s a couple of players like that now in how they present their emotions like Kawhi.’’

Many teams have added sports psychologists — and the specialists will come in handy.

“If I was working with any NBA player, one of the things we’d talk about is what effect does crowd have on you positively or negatively,’’ Gonzalez added. “And without the crowd there, how are we going to plan getting those same emotions, same level of adrenaline. Maybe using visualization and getting yourself as many simulated reps, shooting in an empty gym, getting a sense of that quiet and stillness and embracing it. It’s a factor. They’re going to need to find a way to adapt and adjust.”

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