The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of specialist athlete training and significantly impacted the sports industry. The lockdown, implemented during the pandemic challenged sports teams by preventing physical interactions. As a result, most high-performance athletes had to adopt home-based solutions to remain physically fit, competent for Judo exercises, and minimize the risks of injuries. The present research aimed to establish whether the COVID-19 lockdown and its restrictions had a significant impact on the training, overall physical fitness of Judo Athletes, and injury risks in Mumbai, India. The study was also interested in finding out whether the COVID-19 lockdown had a significant impact on Judokas’ interest in the sport. Findings indicated a significant difference in Judo athletes’ interest before and during the lockdown.
The Impacts of the COVID-19 Lockdown and Its Restrictions on Activity Levels of the Judo Athletes
The lockdown led to a decline in sports interest among the athletes. This can be attributed to the COVID-19 restrictions which forced many of the athletes to remain indoors (Lim and Pranata 2021). COVID-19 brought many changes and modifications, including the postponement of most competitions, resulting in a substantial decline in sporting activities (Taku and Arai 2020). It was evident from the present study that the COVID-19 lockdown had a substantial effect on training among Judo athletes with 87.40% of the participants agreeing to it.
Staying indoors during the quarantine led to low activity levels and an increase in people’s body weight and consequently decreased efficiency in participating in different sporting activities. According to Moore et al. (2020), judo is one of the games that demands physically fit athletes because of its high intensity. Regular exercise is one of the coping mechanisms of the psychological-related issues during the COVID-19 pandemic (Shibata et al., 2021). However, the measures put by governments to curb the spread of the virus restricted activity levels.
The announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in restrictive measures which curtailed private and public life. As a result, there was a huge decline in physical activity volume and a substantial increase in physical inactivity (Martínez-Patiño et al., 2021). The results of the current study reveal that the lockdown reduced the Judo athletes’ ability to compete and their interactions with teammates. The results were similar to those of the Benzing et al. (2021) study which reported increased inactivity and a decline in everyday physical activity during the COVID-19 lockdown. Bas et al. (2020) in the United Nations Policy Brief reported a significant impact of COVID-19 lockdown on physical activity and wellbeing among individuals and more specifically those in sports. Players who engaged in training activities outside their homes were the most affected with a significant number of them becoming less physically active.
Physical activity has numerous beneficial impacts on the overall health of every individual. The WHO’s recommendation is for individuals to spend 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activities within a week (Bas et al., 2020). However, most individuals including Judo athletes did not adhere to the recommendation (Benzing et al., 2021). In the current study, the number of days per week and the number of hours per day for practice decreased significantly during the lockdown as compared to before the lockdown. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, most of the Judo players would use club or Dojo for practice. This was different after the implementation of lockdown restrictions which forced most of them to train inside/outside their houses.
With minimal interactions, the Judo athletes mostly trained alone indoors resulting in a decrease in exercise levels. These findings are supported by Davis et al. (2015) argument that social bonding is a substantial factor in motivating athletes’ training. Burkow (2018) argues that peer groups encourage players to continue exercising and as a result enhance their activity levels. This was reflected by the loss of interest in the sport among players in the present study after the lockdown. Athletes enjoy training in their social interaction which has a fundamental role in their mental health well-being.
The COVID-19 lockdown had significant physical changes on individuals who were actively involved in physical training exercises before the pandemic. The reduction in training hours shown in the present study during the lockdown as compared to before the lockdown can be associated with the closure of clubs used for training. A study conducted by Woodford and Bussey (2021) showed that restriction on activity levels during the lockdown contributed to stunted athletic development and their physical wellbeing. The pressure among Judokas to remain proactive during the lockdown had a detrimental effect on their physical fitness (Woodford and Bussey 2021). Lack of home training equipment had a negative effect on exercise levels as evident in the current study.
The Strategies and Modifications Applied by Judo Athletes to Maintain their Fitness Levels and Lifestyle
The majority of Judo athletes changed their training plans and methods during the lockdown. Others had to take a rest or stop training due to injuries sustained during the lockdown. The Judo athletes are expected to have highly developed technical skills which demand high levels of physical fitness (Franchini 2020). The requirement of performing many actions during matches demands the Judokas to have high velocity, muscle strength, and power. It was necessary for the Judo athletes and other sports groups that were affected by the restrictions to adapt to new situations to continue exercising (Benzing et al., 2021). With the athletes being required to minimize the total body weight and fat, they had to find strategies that would help them maintain fitness levels and lifestyle during the lockdown. The Judokas moved from using clubs for practice before lockdown to using gardens and lawns for training.
Consistency in training among the Judokas during and before the lockdown was significantly different. Consistency which according to Benzing et al. (2021) is a temporal practice structure used by athletes to maintain their routine was substantially affected during the lockdown. The judokas modified their duration of practice per day from two to more hours during the lockdown to 30 and 60 minutes during the pandemic restrictions. The athletes had to also start training alone because they needed to remain physically active to remain fit for the game.
The Judokas belonged to different actively training and competent groups including international teams, nationals, universities, Clubs, and states. All these levels of teams demand players to remain active. Quintero et al. (2019) add that Judokas should remain focused by maintaining aerobic training. The training helps the athletes maintain a steady amount of between 7 to 10% body fat because high levels are correlated with negative performance in matches. The athletes in the current study remained active to avoid negative physical effects that would affect their ability to play. A cross-sectional study by Dor-Haim (2021) involving active trainees showed that almost 75% of them reduced their training duration and 60% were dependent on digital media for training. This led to a significant increase in body fats and body weight.
Replacing the old routines with the new ones was a pivotal change adopted by most players during the COVID-19 pandemic. The adoption of new training methods was necessary to provide a structure of the players’ day-to-day activities. The results of the present study indicated that a huge number of Judokas had to stop with their sport-specific training during the lockdown and adapt to other training methods that would help them remain physically fit. This is in line with Benzing et al. (2021) study which showed a potential effect of exercise behavior due to the governmental restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the lockdown, most athletes had to continue exercising by choosing training activities that required few pieces of equipment, minimal expertise, and space. The requirement of a well-planned exercise program for Judokas was necessary during the lockdown (Andreato et al., 2020). The training modifications were important to the Judokas’ agility because training regardless of the duration has a great impact on minimizing the risks of injury. This would also be critical in helping the athletes remain flexible (Dalui and Bandyopadhyay, 2018). During the lockdown, it was important for the athletes to remain physically active to avoid lifestyle-associated illnesses.
Results of the present study show that the changes in training among the Judo athletes after the implementation of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected their ability to compete in matches. The change in the training plan and reduction in duration of exercises changed the athletes’ lifestyle significantly. However, it was important for the Judokas to continue engaging in physical activity for enhanced quality of life, maintenance of body weight, and improved overall well-being (Ranasinghe et al., 2020). Training during lockdown however small, was essential for the Judo athletes to promote their cardiac efficiency which is critical in any match (Dalui and Bandyopadhyay 2018). The study reveals that the majority of athletes understood how critical their fitness was despite the pandemic restrictions and tried to maintain training.
Encountered Injuries Among the Judo Players During Lockdown
There are a wide variety of barriers and motivators for maintaining physical fitness among Judo players. The findings of the present study established that the COVID-19 pandemic and its containment measures were major barriers to physical fitness among Judokas in India. The restriction of Judo training by the COVID-19 lockdown had a huge impact on the athletes’ physical wellbeing. During the lockdown, the injury incidents increased with many Judo players being forced to rest or stop training as a result of their physical welfare.
Shoulder and knee injuries were the most common types of injuries among the Judokas during the lockdown. The increased injuries among the Judo players can be attributed to decreased efficiency in performing sporting activities. Injuries are a hindrance to training and a threat to the physical wellbeing of a Judo player. According to Impellizzeri et al. (2020), there is a high likelihood that a player with an injury will stop playing Judo because it is a highly intense game. Failure to train affects the players’ physical fitness and affects their set goals on lifestyle improvement and physical wellness.
The Impact of Covid-19 On Athletes’ Overall Physical Fitness
Body weight increase among the Judo players was evident during the lockdown. More than half of the interviewed Judokas indicated that they had gained more than four kilograms during the lockdown. Weight management is among the critical factors that are required for Judo players and athletes. Franchini (2020) argues that athletes should maintain an appropriate weight class for them to continue applying the needed judo techniques. Physical fitness is a motivation for players to compete in matches. The judo players maintained physical fitness through the minimization of body weight and body fat.
According to Lakicevic et al. (2020), Judo athletes employ weight-loss interventions before the tournament to achieve physical fitness and fit in an appropriate competitive category. With most players employing rapid weight loss techniques, studies show that those that lose more weight have higher chances of success compared to their counterparts (Lakicevic et al., 2020). Increased weight gains among the Judo players in the current study show a decline in their physical fitness and the risks of injury. However, the maintained weight classes should match the height and physique of the player.
Elite judo players have several athletic components which show how physically fit they are to participate in matches (Kostikiadis et al., 2018). The players are required to be aerobically fit and agile to attain a specific level of body fat composition. The findings of these studies showed a significant decline in aerobic activities among the Judokas. The reduction in exercise levels lowers the players’ agility and increases their chances of having a higher body fat percentage. Toress-Luque et al. (2016) reported that an increase in fat percentage among players lowers their competition level intensity and overall physical fitness.
Findings of the current research showed that more than three-quarters of the players abandoned the high intense sport-specific training. Judo players require aerobic power which is acquired through training to maintain physical capability and reduce fatigue. According to Almansba et al. (2010), high-intensity exercise enhances the VO2max of the Judo players and improves their VO2 kinetics. It is evident from the present study findings that the players’ VO2 kinetics was significantly compromised during the lockdown given the decline in physical exercise levels.
Before tournaments, Judo athletes engage in different physical fitness sessions to boost their skills and confidence. In the current study, Judo players’ confidence to return to tournaments immediately after the lockdown was on average. This was a result of the decline in exercise and training level among the players. Findings also reveal that the players were moderately skilled right after the lockdown. The majority of players felt that their overall physical health was poor thus affecting their confidence in participating in the tournament.
Franchini (2020) states that Judo athletes require highly developed skills and physical fitness to win a match. Before the lockdown, the athletes reported having high levels of Judo skills which declined substantially during the lockdown consequently resulting in moderately skilled Judokas after the lockdown. The players’ physical capability gives them the confidence to engage in matches because they have the necessary Judo skills to perform. The present research shows that Judokas’ physical fitness during the lockdown was negatively affected by a decline in exercise levels leading to low confidence in tournament participation.
The paired t-test results in the current study showed a significant difference in Judo’s interest among the players before and during the lockdown. During the lockdown, there was a decrease in interest in the sport. Impellizzeri et al. (2020) believe that failure to have set goals creates a visionless individual and affects his or her physical fitness and interest in Judo sport. Also, the lack of sporting facilities due to the lockdown restrictions has an influence on players’ attitudes towards a game. During the lockdown, the majority of Judo athletes could not access clubs and some choose to stop playing. As a result, they stopped adhering to Judo exercise programs. Consequently, the athletes’ participation in exercise fitness was adequately affected leading to an overall decline in physical wellbeing.
The regression analysis results in the current study show that the lockdown due to COVID-19 had significant effects on Judo players’ training patterns and consequently their overall physical fitness. For those players with a high level of interest in Judo before the lockdown, their interest levels during the lockdown experienced a significant decline. COVID-19 lockdown significantly compromised the aspects of effective training among Judokas in terms of the prescribed training plans and the duration (Martínez-Patiño et al., 2021). The lockdown elicited a change in athletes’ training behaviors and discipline and negatively affected their general health and wellbeing. The confidence levels with the sports skills before the lockdown had a significant positive impact on players’ interest in Judo during the lockdown. Athletes with higher confidence levels in playing Judo before the lockdown put more effort to continue exercising despite the lockdown. The findings in this study show that most of these Judokas would train either inside or outside their houses in the garden or other places.
Confidence with Judo skills remains a critical factor for players successfully competing in tournaments. Findings in the current study revealed that the level of confidence with judo skills before the lockdown was a significant predictor of interest levels in taking part in the sport. Physical activities that involve the Judo players demand highly technical skills and high levels of fitness (Franchini 2020). The Judokas with the necessary skills for the game can perform several activities in the match because they are physically fit. The physical well-being and judo skills give these athletes the motivation to engage in matches and perform different Judo techniques. Contrary, the physically frail players lack the physique to engage in the highly intense game leading to a low level of interest in Judo.
Alteration of the training plan during lockdown was a significant negative predictor of Judo players’ interest in gaming during the same period. Athletes with the primary goal of maintaining their physical fitness can attend training sessions of Judo because it has a positive impact on the players’ health. According to Kowalczyk et al. (2022), Judo exercise involves a training plan that motivates athletes to continue with the sport to avoid lifestyle diseases. The plan involves exercises that help players burn cholesterol thus reducing the risks of stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. The training is also said to burn levels of fats, glucose, and reduce diabetes mellitus risks. Players who changed their training plan and adopted it during exercises lost their interest in Judo and consequently experienced a deterioration in physical fitness.
Similarly, changes in training plans among Judokas during the lockdown had a significant negative effect on their level of interest in gaming right after the lockdown. According to Woodford and Bussey (2021), lockdown restrictions were a hindrance to players spending time outside consequently affecting their well-being. The restrictions limited the players’ opportunities to train due to the limited spaces in their homes. Change of training plan results in loss of physical capability and aerobic capacity among players. As a result, players suffer from fatigue and are unable to maintain their physical capability during matches. Lack of agility among athletes lowers their motion range and increases injury risks (Franchini 2020). When the players adopt a different training plan of lower intensity compared to the Judo training plan, they lack precision in their performance. Consequently, the players lack interest in participating in Judo activities.
The Importance of Findings
This study provides insight into the impact of COVID-19 and other related pandemics on the Indian Judokas. The findings are important to the ministry of sport, coaches, and physiotherapists on possible impacts of pandemics on athletes and how to deal with or avoid the negative effects. Creating appropriate training plans during the pandemic to suit the changes experienced would be critical in helping players avoid harmful effects such as injuries and physical inactiveness. Findings emerging from the present study suggest the need for agility within the sports leadership and coaches to ensure that their players continue with training under any restrictions.
It was evident that during and post COVID-19 lockdown compared to pre-COVID-19 lockdown, the Judo athletes did not follow their sport-specific training plan, thus a significant decline in sports interest. Findings in this work show the importance of emergency preparedness in sports in India to help players remain active during a pandemic. Judo is an important sport in India’s industry of sports. Therefore, scaling up the country’s readiness and response operations during pandemics would be a fundamental step towards helping coaches and athletes. The huge decline in sporting and physical activity during the lockdown has potential impacts on players’ mental health. The findings are critical for policy planning and implementation during subsequent future pandemics. This study shows that sports development is an indispensable part of the public health system of any community
The Implication of the Findings
It was evident that during the pandemic lockdown compared to the pre-lockdown period, most athletes hardly met the WHO physical activity guidelines. The majority of Judokas abandoned their sport-specific training plan and would exercise for less than two hours per day. These changes brought several consequences among them an increase in injuries and deterioration in overall physical fitness among players. Post-lockdown, the players rated their interest in Judo on average with a significant fall in Judo skills. From a practical perspective, the results in this study suggest information dissemination to the government through the ministry of sports and health on the importance of remaining active during pandemics. Drawing for the paired t-test results which showed a statistically significant difference in interest for Judo pre-lockdown and during the lockdown. Communication of targeted strategies is important to support physical activity during pandemics. Adequate coping strategies and training plans can help Judokas remain physically fit and minimize the risks of injuries during pandemic-related restrictions.
Limitation of the Research
Despite the study providing appropriately formulated aims and objectives and adequately explained methods, there are several limitations. First, the study employed a small sample size of 103 which might not be representative of the Judo players in Mumbai. However, the employed sample was chosen based on the nature of the research problem which was focused on identifying actively involved Judo players before the pandemic. Also, given that the present study was more qualitative than quantitative, the sample size was not a big issue.
The second limitation was the sampling method which was convenient sampling. This study employed the method given its cost-effectiveness and simplicity. Though convenience sampling may not produce representative results, the method was accurate for the research aim. The COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing and the need to have players respond to the survey during their convenient time informed the sampling method. Due to lack of generalizability, interpretation of results from this study should be based on the sample.
Fitting a linear regression model to a convenient sample assumes that the probability of a player being included in the sample is determined by the predictors in the model. As a result, the more predictors there are in a model the more reasonable the model becomes for the sample. This led to the selection of the model with predictors gender, pre-lockdown interest levels, pre-lockdown confidence levels, interest levels in Judo during the lockdown, training plan changes, and changes in training methods as the most reasonable. More importantly, it would be important to use model assessment criteria such as Akaike Information Criteria (AIC) to determine which of the three models was the best fit.
Suggestions for Further Research
Future Lines of research should consider a probabilistic method of sampling to ensure that the sample is random. Probabilistic methods minimize bias and make the results from a study generalizable. Alternatively, future researchers can adopt non-parametric tests when dealing with convenience samples. Future researchers can consider the alternative non-parametric tests in the analysis given the data deviated from some of the required assumptions and compare the results with the parametric test results. It would also be prudent for future researchers to add more predictors to the regression model and see how they would influence the interest level of Judo among players. Further research is needed to compare the three nested models in these studies and determine whether they are significantly different in predicting the interest of Judo after the lockdown.
Performing an ANOVA on the three models would be important to evaluate the differences in model performance. Researchers in the future can use AIC to determine which model is superior to the others and rely on it for reporting. Future studies should consider exploring the research with non-parametric tests because they make use of the median which is a better representation of the center of distribution despite the sample size and data distribution. Future researchers should also explore the mean interests of the Judokas in the sport before and after the lockdown based on some grouping such as the participants’ levels of competition. Controlling for some variables in the analysis is important because it improves the overall results.
It is recommendable for researchers in the future to use the non-parametric paired two samples Wilcoxon test which is a robust method to compare means among groups for more ranked values. Future research should increase the number of visual representations to make good sense of the data. For instance, the mean interest for Judo before, during, and after the lockdown can be visualized using the boxplots. Future researchers should perform a group comparison analysis such as ANOVA with repeated measures to compare mean interest in Judo before the lockdown, during, and after the lockdown.
The COVID-19 lockdown and its restrictions had a significant negative impact on the activity levels of the Judo athletes. During the lockdown, the players remained indoors and their motivation to train was negatively affected. Compared to the pre-lockdown’s duration of training including days per week and hours per day, the duration during lockdown decreased substantially. It was also evident that the lockdown brought with it several modifications and new strategies of training among the Judo players. Most players shifted from training in Clubs and Dojos in teams before the lockdown to exercising alone either in their houses or outside the houses during the pandemic.
The overall physical fitness of the Judo players deteriorated significantly during the lockdown. The majority of players felt that the restrictions hindered them from training exposing them to risks of injuries and other physical health problems. The athletes weighted more kilograms during the lockdown compared to before. Most athletes’ overall physical health was fair or poor after the pandemic. The interest in playing Judo and confidence in competing in a tournament was significantly scaled down by the COVID-19 lockdown effects. The players’ judo skills were negatively affected by the lockdown and its restrictions.
Interest in Judo after the lockdown was significantly predicted by; changes in the training plan, interest in sport during the lockdown, and interest levels of the sport before the lockdown. Sports teams and organizations should focus on their training to improve players’ interest in Judo despite any social, economic, or political hazard. The training should be upskilled to prevent any modifications and strategies likely to affect the players’ overall physical fitness and consequently their confidence and interest in the game.
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