Kurt Ewoldt worried about his son Tyler’s routine as the 13-year-old is tethered to their home in Naperville, IL, honoring the state’s shelter in place order to battle the spread of COVID-19.
Tyler’s school day was shorter, his screen time much longer.
Plus, Tyler wasn’t doing much to be active, other than short bike rides or tossing a tennis ball against the garage door.
But All-In-9 Baseball (AI9) started posting at-home skill videos on Facebook and Twitter.
“Now that we’re all hunkered down, the organization’s staff really stepped up with these videos,” Kurt says. “The clips break up the monotony. It’s been beneficial, especially for Tyler since he doesn’t have siblings to play with.”
Tyler’s school day runs from 8 a.m. until noon, then he and Kurt head to the front to work on the skill from the latest video. After, they'll do a few drills and play some catch. Then Tyler heads in and plays video games — usually Fortnite — with friends online. Later in the afternoon, Tyler might go for a bike ride then hit the ball off the tee in the garage.
Still, Tyler and millions of other athletes around the nation and world are missing the games and their coaches and teammates. But some programs — inspired by forward-thinking leaders and coaches -- are making the proverbial in-game adjustment and developing ways to stay connected to their athletes.
Sporting Missouri Valley, an affiliate of Sporting Kansas City of the MLS, hosted a FIFA tournament for its players and uploads workout and training videos on Tuesdays and Thursday.
Wave Volleyball in Del Mar, California, sends out a daily email. On Mondays, they focus on mentally stimulating videos via TED Talks, podcasts, videos or articles, according to an article on JVAVolleyball.org. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they provide recruiting tips. And on Wednesdays and Fridays, they email skills-related videos.
Stryker Field Hockey hosts daily CrossFit workouts via Zoom.
And 43 Hoops in Hopkins, Minnesota, different trainers post short training challenges and sessions to its YouTube channel and Facebook page for its athletes to try at home.
“We would have been practicing and preparing for Opening Day,” says Andrew Brauer of AI9 Baseball. “But when we got word of coronavirus, we didn’t know how to react, but we wanted to help.”
Jacques Tournoy is director of operations for Sporting Missouri Valley, which serves about 600 players aged seven to 19 years old. He and his staff focused on ways to keep everyone within the club engaged, despite social distancing.
The coaches and leaders have a Zoom meeting Sunday nights and Wednesday mornings (Coaches & Coffee, they call it). Chris Dean, director of coaching, has his 12-year-old son help him record training videos that post on Tuesday and Thursday. And last Wednesday, they hosted a Zoom with high school players to strategize ways to navigate recruiting.
“It’s allowed us to take a look at some things that we might have said in the past that we want to do, but found excuses not to do them,” Dean says. “Now we’re getting the message out about what’s important in our players.
“It's been a positive experience.”
Sporting Missouri Valley also sends out emails that highlight different professional matches and suggests players they can study and even write about.
Brauer is proud of the coaching staff he and co-founder Scott Lawler have developed. So the videos empower his coaches to show off their ability to teach and communicate. They are ever mindful that the drills and exercises can be done without much equipment or even space.
Knox Hunsucker, 14, is a left-handed pitcher and outfielder. He’s following the videos daily in the basement, the family’s partially-heated garage or outside, when the weather permits.
“I’m a big fan of all those guys, and what they do for the boys,” says Knox’s father, Lou Hunsucker. “All the kids, they’re frustrated and tired of being inside. So it helps that the coaches show them what to do and how to do it.”
Making a Difference
Leah Lindstrom of Lees Summitt, Missouri, is thankful for all their hard work. A mother of three, she’s adjusting to a departure from the family’s usually frenetic schedule.
“We usually have something seven days a week,” she says, “so it’s been an adjustment going from 100 miles per hour to nothing.”
She admitted they are playing video games more than she’d like, but her 10-year-old son Reid has embraced Sporting Missouri Valley’s videos. In fact, Reid recently posted a personal-best of 441 juggles with a soccer ball — and they even captured it on video!
Dean, who also happens to be Reid’s coach, highlighted that accomplishment on a Zoom call amongst the team.
“It’s hard to go from seeing your buddies to nothing,” Leah says. "So to see him have that competitive edge is awesome.”
Rhiannon Root, a seventh-grader in Columbus, Ohio, told Project Play that her inclination would be to do nothing in the midst of the pandemic.
“I wouldn’t do anything if my parents weren’t here (encouraging me). It’s very hard,” she says. “I usually just end up watching TikToks instead of doing my (soccer) work.”
Brauer says that is why he is so determined to communicate with AI9 athletes.
“We want them to know, ‘You are not alone,’ ” he says. “We want to help.”
Jacques says he is mindful to be a resource but not to put unnecessary pressure on its players.
“As the thing goes longer, it’s not just physically, but also mentally challenging for our players and their families,” he says.
Leah says her three children are handling the shelter-in-place “better than I expected.”
“It helps that they have siblings and the weather is starting to get nicer,” she says.
But they are also disappointed because they were supposed to be preparing for a tournament in St. Louis later this month but that, like thousands of other events and tournaments, has been canceled.
In these uncertain times, though, she’s still holding out hope.
“We’re hoping that by the fall season,” she says, “that we’ll be able to get out of town a few times.”