Speed skating through a pandemic has been a season of challenges, improvement, and reward. Coaches throughout the province have remained resilient to ongoing changes to keep both participants and volunteers safe while advancing skaters’ abilities.
Of course, coaching requires constant communication and feedback – a challenge at a distance while wearing a mask. “Humour doesn’t translate as well with a mask or megaphone,” recalls coach Arianna from Burnaby who, like others, have had to adjust communication styles to fit protocols. Electronic whistles have also been helpful to many clubs, who have suggested using them even following a return to “normal.” While many had presumed wearing a mask while skating would be challenging, coaches have found skaters have often found unique ways to adapt – such as adding a bandaid as a seal to prevent fogging or twisting the ear loop for a secure fit. Fewer volunteers allowed has also meant additional time dedicated to mats – coaches have tried their best to make the task more enjoyable for skaters.
In an effort to advance skater abilities, coaches have had to adapt an otherwise standard season plan. With no competitions in sight, the season has shifted to an emphasis on technique and skills. To the surprise of many coaches, skaters have often been keen to work on drills. There has been no pressure to skate fast for upcoming meets, reminds coach Tania from Williams Lake. With less requirement to balance training systems, a renewed focus has followed. Thinking creatively for example, has allowed coach Chris from Kelowna to create new games like skating Red Light/Green Light or coach Keith from Fort St. James to find creative balance drills. Others have used everything from pool noodles to bingo dabbers to new skating tracks. At the end of the day, “be willing to experiment – not everything will work out, but skaters can still have fun and improve their skills,” reminds coach Malcolm from Burnaby. Video and technology has also been a beneficial tool for coaches and skaters, whereby skaters can review their videos for analysis even after practice. Many skaters have also taken the opportunity to advance in online courses like NCCP modules.
Although the season continues to see many changes, coaches are consistently thankful to have the ability to coach skaters within the Return to Sport Guidelines; many clubs have noticed an increase in participation. In the end, consistency, attitude, and resilience have been key motivating factors for many coaches. By creating a positive environment and managing fears, it has allowed their skaters to feel a sense of normalcy and routine in their disrupted lives as they each reach their personal podium.