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Photo of two British Sailing Team mates sailing on rough seas with a grey sky in the background

Q & A with Kate Eddy, British Sailing Team's Head of Performance Support

In February 2020 Kate Eddy joined the British Sailing Team (BST) as Head of Performance Support, leading the Sport Science and Sport Medicine team. Here we find out what BST has been doing during the COVID-19 lockdown, what nutritional changes it has made, and what extra precautions it is taking for the return to training.

Kate, first of all tell us a little bit about your background.

Well, I've worked in the UK high-performance system for the last 15 years. I've supported athletes through six summer and winter Olympic Games cycles, with my first being Beijing 2008. I started out as a strength and conditioning coach with an interest in applied biomechanics, working across many different sports including beach volleyball, judo and bobsleigh, before moving on to leadership positions in sports science and sports medicine. Most recently I was working as Head of Performance Support for Archery GB and Performance Manager and Team Leader for Wheelchair Fencing.

My own sporting background has mainly centred around team sports, and in the past I've played hockey and rugby at national level, as well as coaching semi-professionally. Currently, I spend my free time surfing, so I'm looking forward to discovering the south coast spots.

What has a typical working day been like for you?

I joined the team just three weeks before the country went into lockdown, so I don't think I've been able to experience a typical working day yet. So far it's been about getting the right balance between leading and supporting the Sport Science and Sport Medicine (SSSM) team and working with the wider leadership team to navigate the government guidance and translate this into a sailing environment.

I think the team has navigated this phase really successfully, and that's been down to good communication and teamwork. We've stayed fully committed to the sailors and coaches, helping them to create a positive training environment at home. In recent weeks the SSSM team has been managing the return to sailing process, and now we are gradually getting the sailors back into organised training.

Ultimately, we take our responsibilities seriously to protect the health of the team and to use this opportunity to be good role models through the return to sailing and training process.

Kate Eddy in London

What has surprised you the most since joining the British Sailing Team?

Other than COVID-19? I didn't expect to start a leadership position in the middle of a global pandemic, that's for sure.

But I think the biggest surprise for me has been the complexity of the logistics involved in the sport, and what this means for planning processes and optimising time both on the water and for land-based training. Having ten Olympic classes each with their own competition schedule and different demands is a bit like dealing with ten different sports wrapped up in one, which keeps things interesting, and it's great to be part of this challenge.

What is the best thing about working with the BST?

Working with the team to maximise each individual sailor's performance is a really exciting opportunity. Sailing is such a complex sport, which merges technique with decision-making and physical qualities in order to find a way to win.

But also, it's become clear very early on that there are some exceptional people involved in this team. In such a short space of time my interactions have shown me that this is a very high-functioning group of people. They are completely focussed on continuing to push the boundaries of performance, not only during this unprecedented time but also on towards the Olympics.

What has the BST been doing over the last few months during the lockdown?

Our initial approach to the lockdown period was to make sure everyone was safe and well. We looked at ways everyone could stay active, setting up home gyms and new routines, whilst encouraging everyone to take care of their health and wellbeing. As the weeks progressed, for those that were ready, we started to focus on the physical aspect of their performance plan, utilising home-based training and providing online coaching sessions with the strength and conditioning coaches and physiologists. Athletes have also had frequent contact with their coaches, psychologists and medics.

Some athletes have also used the time to work on non-sailing projects, with the support of the performance lifestyle advisors or just to spend quality time with family and friends within the guidelines. There have also been a number of charity fundraising challenges, including a joint enterprise between one of the sailors, Ali Young, and team physiologist Ian White, which saw them cycling on turbo trainers for 15 hours on their balconies, covering over 270 miles.

What extra precautions is the BST taking as it now returns to on-water training?

As we've moved through each of the different phases, we've introduced new layers of process that have allowed us to return to our elite training centre at Weymouth and Portland. This is still focused on the basic principles that we have all become aware of, such as staying at home if you have any symptoms, maintaining social distancing and washing hands and cleaning.

All athletes and staff are required to screen for any symptoms and to carry out a temperature check each day before entering the training environment. Team members must maintain social distancing and avoid any unnecessary contact, which has meant that we've had to adapt the way we coach. For example, we can't brief and debrief the way we usually would, and coaching conversations and initial treatment sessions now take place remotely.

Finally, we all need to maintain rigorous hand hygiene and cleaning processes. This has involved disinfecting gym equipment before and after use, as well as identifying and regularly disinfecting all shared touch points in the boat park.

Now we are starting to return to more intensive, organised training we've had to adapt our training programmes to reflect the transition back into the elite environment. Most sailors wouldn't usually have been off the water for this long, so this means there is an increased risk of them picking up small injuries. We've had to plan the return carefully with sailors and coaches to prevent this happening.

Kate Eddy at Rio Olympics

Have the sailors made any changes to their nutrition during this period?

Maintaining optimum nutrition is crucial for athletes throughout the year, and not just during the current situation. We tailor specific nutritional advice based on individual needs, but the basics apply to everyone. The team aims to eat a variety of foods that provide appropriate carbohydrates, proteins and fats and have a wide nutritional profile.

This means eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and protein sources whilst avoiding items that are high in fat or sugar with low nutritional benefit. It is also important that they drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Overall we believe that it is best if nutrients come from a balanced diet, but where this is not possible or during intensive training blocks or periods of travel, supplements can provide an effective way of bridging any gap and ensuring that dietary needs are being met.

For vitamins and supplements, we are confident sourcing products from Healthspan: an official supplier to the British Sailing Team that will support our performance training. All Healthspan Elite products undergo extensive batch testing in line with UK Anti-Doping guidance, a key requirement for elite sport.

We like the Healthspan Elite Sport Essentials, as it includes everything you need in one pack. The multivitamin contains 100% of your recommended daily allowance, which in combination with the probiotic and Omega 3 provides for all of your needs in one go. This has been especially useful at a time when sourcing a range of food has been challenging, with restrictions on supermarkets and the opportunity to shop around for exactly what you need.

What are your top three fitness tips for anyone headed back out on the water?

Not really a tip, but the most important thing to do is follow the latest government advice to help keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19. We have three basic principles – screen for any symptoms, maintain social distancing and ensure good hand hygiene.

It's also important to stay within your limits and focus on enjoying being back on the water and having fun. This is the same principle our sailors focussed on during their first week back on the water. Don't overdo it in those first few weeks.

Final one would be to do your research in advance and check what facilities are open. For example, most indoor facilities are currently closed, so you would need to make sure you take plenty of food and fluid with you and understand access processes.

At the time of speaking to Kate, the British Sailing Team and elite sport were in phase two of the government's guidelines for a return to sport. You can keep up to date with the team's current situation on the British Sailing Team website, and please continue to follow all government advice regarding COVID-19.