Return to Physical Literacy at the Community Level webinar envisions way forward

We all have to learn from each other.

That was the message shared by four industry leaders during Sport for Life’s Return to Physical Literacy at the Community Level webinar in June. Over 500 participants signed up to hear from Robert Bettauer and Chris Wright of Victoria’s PISE (Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence), Cynthia Watson from Vivo in Calgary, and Andrew Clark of the Richmond Oval. Each of them detailed the experiences they’ve been through since COVID-19 hit, sharing best practices and envisioning a way forward for the sport and physical activity ecosystem.

“For us, it was important to communicate to the community that not only are we following provincial guidelines, we’ve actually overdone it rather than underdone it,” Bettauer, who is the CEO of PISE, shared. He estimates the outbreak has cost them half a million dollars.

“We ultimately had to lay off 50 staff, which was a very difficult day … but the silver lining was because the facility was empty, our money couldn’t be used for operations, so we chose to move forward with the majority of our planned renovations, which will create something to celebrate when everybody comes back.”

And now that participants are returning for their summer camps, Physical Literacy Coordinator Chris Wright said this is a perfect chance to try new things and establish new safety protocols. They’ve limited the number of kids from 16 to 10, and the camps will primarily take place outside. By staggering the start times and establishing a contact-free drop off, they’re doing everything they can to keep their charges safe.

“Through funding from TD Bank, we’re going to be able to provide equipment for participants to take home so that they can use it throughout the week, personalize it, and then it’s theirs. At the end of the week they can take it home and they can use it for any of the activities we offer online.”

Meanwhile, Senior Manager of the Richmond Oval Andrew Clark has been blown away by how quickly his users have transitioned to an online mode of delivery. With over 70 fitness classes typically scheduled per week, that’s a lot of people now engaging from their homes. 

“The cool thing is we’ve seen parents working with their kids to teach and coach, and we even see grandparents, so the different generations are coming together. We’ve been offering two or three classes a day in a variety of formats, and we’ve been amazed and overwhelmed by how many people tuned in,” he said.

“For a lot of facilities, their plans focus on phases that have beginnings and ends. Our approach was a continuum where we progressively increased the number of programs and the number of people in our building. We weren’t sure what the demand would be, or what people wanted, so instead of focusing on a phase perspective we looked at everything we have to offer and tried to figure out the best way to scale up or down.”

Vivo CEO Cynthia Watson shared that when her facility initially shut down, many participants showed up anyway, completing their workouts in the parking lots and surrounding areas. She said their focus became how to make “things as joyful and easy as possible so we could be their happiness sanctuary.”

They decided to start small with their online offering, but the uptake was enthusiastic.

“It seems like people have really realized the value of time, and what’s possible to do in your own home and backyard with your family. The uptake has been huge. People miss the social piece, but our online offerings have actually increased inclusivity because we’re reaching more different people.”

And though the three facilities are now all in the process of re-opening, there are still kinks to be worked out. For instance, the Richmond Oval now has to figure out how to reschedule major international sporting events, keeping in mind that their qualifying events in some cases have been cancelled as well. 

“We’re all selling safety now,” said Clark. “We’re all selling the idea that our facilities are safe for sport and physical activity.”

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