Valentin Altenburg opens up on how to tackle coronavirus and the mental impact it has on athletes

Valentin Altenburg, Germany's junior men’s hockey coach, talks about how to tackle the coronavirus and how it has mentally impacted athletes.

Valentin Altenburg

Valentin Altenburg said it was challenging to manage the spread of coronavirus in a country like India but insisted people's support was imperative.   -  Getty Images

While the entire world is struggling with the coronavirus, Germany has done well to keep the fatality rate low despite being among the top-five nations in terms of positive cases.

Valentin Altenburg, the German junior men’s hockey coach who also led the national team to a bronze at Rio Olympics, believes a joint effort from the government and people was the only way to ensure control.

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“I think Germany took very early measures to contain the virus. So far the hospital situation is alright. The whole strategy is to ‘flatten the curve’, which means not too many people get very sick at the same time. The goal is that everyone can be treated as well as possible. I understand that, in some other countries that were hit early by the virus, not everyone could get the treatment they would need because they did not have enough capacity in hospitals,” he told Sportstar on Wednesday.

“As Germans, though, we still don’t know when the big wave is going to come, or if there will even be a big wave. If it is like now, everybody will have best possible treatment. It is difficult for me to say what you can learn from it but if you have enough materials, enough hospital capacity, very good measures from the government that people accept, that’s possibly the best way to dealing with the crisis right now,” the 38-year old based in Hamburg and currently on a two-week lockdown – Germany extended it to April 19.

He admitted it was challenging to manage the spread of the virus in a country like India – Altenburg has first-hand knowledge of the country from his time here for the 2016 Junior World Cup and the Hockey India League – but insisted people's support was imperative.

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“We have seen pictures from India where a lot of people were leaving the big cities in a rush, and I believe it’s a huge challenge for a very big country and cities like Mumbai. The most fascinating aspect when I visited India was how many people live how close to each other, which is very bad for controlling the crisis. Everyone here is trying to not come closer than two meters but how can you do that in a city like Mumbai? That’s a challenge and I don’t have answers.

“I feel the German government has taken some strong measures but, at the same time, they have had a lot of support from the people. It will be very important in India also that people are supporting government measures,” he said, when asked what could be the lessons for India.

Altenburg has also fallen back on technology to stay connected with his team and staff. “There are no team trainings. We have started challenges and everybody does some work at home and keeps everyone else posted via Whatsapp groups or through video calls. We do a lot of team chats and once a week the coaching staff meets at night and talks about what the crisis does to us personally, what we would hope for when everything gets over and what our next steps could be,” he said.

A bigger concern was dealing with the mental issues, specially among junior players. “We work with mental coaches because there are a lot of questions and insecurities. Some of them were planning around the Tokyo Olympics, now they have to re-arrange everything. The younger kids had European Championships but it was cancelled and some of them won’t play now because next year they would be too old. There is a lot of psychological insecurity,” he said.

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He added that athletes found it difficult to stay indoors. “It is a struggle to stay inside for sportspersons because we are used to a lot of physical activity. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don’t have even the basic stuff we should consider ourselves lucky. Honestly, I think right now there are more important things than sports but the bigger question is, what happens if this continues for more weeks or months?

“So far, the perception in Germany is that it’s going to take time. Everybody has come together to help each other but how long can we contain this? There is fear of finances. We will have a big problem -- personal, enterprises and for the country, even the whole world economy -- if this continues much longer,” he said.