Welcome to the new normal – a world where high school proms are canceled, graduation is postponed until who knows when and the chance to hug or high-five a friend has disappeared.

In these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is affected. Many moms and dads aren’t getting their paychecks, their children are home because of quarantines and the threat of illness can take over your mind and soul.

That’s why someone like former William Chrisman High School teacher and volleyball coach Cindy Swatek is trying to be that sliver of light that shines through the dark and stormy clouds.

The former Bears volleyball coach, who won district titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001, is now a mental performance consultant for Sterling Sport Mindset.

She became intrigued with sports psychology when she was a college volleyball player at Baker University. She had struggled with some injuries and felt that she was missing something in her game, even though she was working extremely hard during practices and matches.

“I was always THAT player who would try to ‘win’ every drill and I would stay after practice to work on my skills, but it didn’t always pay off. I was definitely lacking mental skills.

“I learned more about sport psychology during a college internship at Kansas with the women’s basketball program and Peak Performance Clinic. I knew I had found my passion, although life happened and I wasn’t able to go straight into grad school.”

But that didn’t keep the energetic Swatek from living her dream. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in physical education, coached at many levels and recently graduated from Kansas with a master’s degree in sport psychology.

She graduated this year, along with her son Jacob, who graduated from Piper (Kan.) High School.

“High School athletes might be struggling right now with so much uncertainty,” Swatek explained. “It can be frustrating to be forced to stay away from a sport they love, but this doesn't have to be a time of stagnation. Athletes who are working on their mental skills are still training.

“Mental rehearsal is a key skill to be working on right now. Research has shown that athletes who practice visualizing their performances can build muscle memory. So if they can't get in the gym or on the field, they can practice at home. This can lead to confidence when they return to play since they can be building muscle memory even when away from their sport. If athletes practice seeing themselves be successful, when their moment arrives and they are back on the field or court that will transfer into their play.”

While these ideas are geared toward athletes, they can serve a purposeful role in anyone’s life, she said.

“These skills are not just limited to sport, though,” Swatek said. “I played the violin for eight years and I understand firsthand the importance of being mentally prepared for performance. I’d also love the opportunity to help those in the musical performance realm become more mentally tough because I know that having the correct mindset can be beneficial to you, too.”

And she certainly practices what she preaches as she has attained her lifelong goal of being a performance coach as a working mom with two teenagers.

“As a mental performance consultant, we work with athletes to help them improve performance,” she said. “This has been an interesting time, since athletes are not competing, but now is a great time for them to focus on training mental skills.

“The athletes that I work with are still doing mental skills work, including a lot of emphasis on goal setting. Some goals have had to be tweaked to adjust timelines since competitions have been canceled and/or rescheduled, but they are still setting goals and striving to meet them so they can be ready to compete when the time comes.”

And while it may seem like “normal” is never going to return, it is, she said. And Swatek said it is important to be prepared.

“Athletes, don't wait until the announcement that sports are back,” she said. “Use this time to hone your mental skills so when you step back on the court or field that you will be ready to not just perform, but you will thrive!”

Swatek is available to work with individuals, coaches or teams. For more information contact Swatek at www.CoachSwatek.com.