Student athletes use online workouts to stay sharp during COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 restrictions have left coaches searching for creative ways to keep thousands of young players connected while remaining apart. Many teams and clubs in Edmonton are using online coaching to keep their players engaged with workouts at home.

Players and coaches connect online without getting together

Vimy Ridge student Rhett Melnyk practises his lateral movement in the basement of his family's home in Fort Saskatchewan during the COVID-19 lockdown. (Rhett Melnyk)

Rhett Melnyk can't remember the last time he was off the ice this long.  

The 15-year-old Vimy Ridge Academy hockey player is used to spending at least half of his day on skates playing the game he loves. 

"I've definitely been missing the ice for sure," said Melnyk, who has replaced ice time with a structured workout program he follows every morning at his Fort Saskatchewan home.

Melnyk is supposed to be heading to Kennewick, Wash., this fall to play for the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans

He was chosen in the second round, 33rd overall, of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. He played last season with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers Midget AAA team, in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.

For now, Melnyk and other Vimy Ridge student athletes are connecting with teachers and coaches who are setting up routines for them then sharing them online. 

"We're doing our best to try and communicate with them and trying to engage with them," said Stephen Armitage, program director for athletic and academic development at Vimy Ridge. 

"Obviously not having them in the school is a challenge," he said, "and not being with them and not being able to guide them through their activities is a big difficulty that we're facing."

'It's hard' 

On the south side, the Edmonton Scottish United Soccer Club was getting ready to kick off its outdoor soccer season four weeks ago. 

More than 1,000 youngsters are enrolled in the club's program. 

While everyone waits, weekly online skills sessions are being hosted by coaches.

Teams are also doing online weekly group check-ins to stay connected.  

"For so many kids, the club is an important part of their life — not just their athletic life, but their social life," said Kevin Poissant, the club's executive director. 

"These are friends that they're missing, these are coaches that they've enjoyed connecting with, and being away from that, it's hard."

It's a similar story in the west end at ATHX Performance, a training centre that works with youngsters of all ages offering individualized coaching in a variety of sports. 

The gym is empty now, though the centre does offer virtual programs specific to the customer.

Derek Lampshire, owner of ATHX Performance, stands beside a squat machine in his gym. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

"It's very challenging building some of these programs because we have so many athletes," said owner Derek Lampshire, who joked that he has also added shipper, receiver and Kijiji expert to his title. 

He said nearly 80 per cent of ATHX's equipment is being rented out, much of it flying out the door in the early days of the pandemic.

"My co-worker and I have been coming into work but it's kind of eerie right now. It's very quiet, we've got a whole gym to ourselves," Lampshire said. 

Tough adjustment

Physical distancing rules make for a tough adjustment for athletes and coaches alike. 

Teaching and training for sports is based on in-person instruction, which can't be done during the pandemic. 

Registered psychologist Nicolas Allen said he's been seeing it first-hand with clients at Human Integrated Performance.

"It's common knowledge that structure and routine is so important for all levels of youth sports," said Allen. 

"So to have that thrown out the window has been very difficult in my practice at the very least, so we've been trying to find a way to create or re-create that structure in their home life now."

It's a void Allen said can be best countered by creating a routine, or even writing down what you want to do.

He suggests athletes make a list of personal goals, work on breathing and concentration, and visualize what getting back to playing will look like.