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Return to Train/Play: Gymnastics

Coaching, in general, requires a great deal of patience.

So when it came to dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, trying to determine how best to proceed in rolling out Return to Train protocol for their particular sport, the folks at Sudbury GymZone felt very well equipped to proceed at a pace that perhaps prioritized extra caution a little more than some.

"We did not open immediately when we were allowed to do so," noted Tia Richter, Recreational Team and Program Lead with the New Sudbury gymnastics venue. "We knew that the clubs down south were opening, so we wanted to wait and see what worked and what didn't, to try and get some feedback."

"That helped us build our structure about what we wanted to do."

Six months later, the strategy also appears to be paying dividends.

"There honestly isn't a whole lot that we have changed or altered in the training, only because I do think that we opened pretty strong," said Richter. "The message we have emphasized is that it will be a similar learning environment to before, just with heightened protocol. We are still trying to keep our programming identical to what people would have received, pre-COVID, however there won't be any hands-on learning, no parents in the facility, things like that."

In truth, there is obviously more to it than that. The GymZone management has instituted a policy of completing temperature checks as athletes enter the building, while coaches now tend to their duties armed with sanitizers, from start to finish of their classes, given the need for all children to sanitize when moving from one station to the next.

Given their modus operandi, the staff at the home of the Sudbury Laurels was thankful for a bevy of sources of helpful information, both sport-specific and otherwise. "Throughout the whole process, we worked closely with the other 250 Gymnastics Ontario (GO) member clubs," said Richter.

"We were bringing the information they shared and GO guidelines to our health unit here in Sudbury, making sure that we were in line with what we were able to do. Some places were staggering their starts for classes down south, just to avoid a bunch of people coming into the facility at one time. Others decided to build in time to clean between sessions, which is what we decided to do."

All in all, there is no doubt that the entire process has added a whole new layer of experience to the slate of the 23 year-old graduate of Lasalle Secondary, who went on to complete her Business Administration and Accounting degree at Cambrian College, prior to accepting full-time employment with the GymZone.

A former competitive gymnast who remained part of the provincial scene until she decided to immerse herself in a variety of high-school sports in grade 10, Richter has always intertwined a love of coaching, one which comes with the requisite learning curve along the way.

"The hardest thing for me, initially as a coach, was that I was not doing the skills as much as when I was competing, obviously," she said. "So it became more about teaching the kids rather than demonstrating."

Her coaching foundation was moulded by people who have held her current position in years gone by, folks who embodied the vision of the GymZone, as it pertains to that key line of contact with the young athletes that they service.

"There are a lot of different coaching styles," Richter acknowledged. "We really focus on the philosophy of coaches providing a fun, safe learning environment. That's kind of the ideal coach that we are looking for. You want the kids to be safe, and you want the kids to want to come back."

And while some former athletes who return to coaching are drawn far more to recreate their competitive outlet, Richter enjoys a much more grass-roots approach. "I think that it's really important that both markets are serviced," she said. "For younger kids, it's so important for them to benefit from physical literacy."

"Gymnastics encompasses physical literacy so well, allowing children to learn through play. There are just a lot of things to be learned through gymnastics, whether its balance, strength, coordination, agility - gymnastics encompasses a lot."

And thanks to the work of so many in the area, gymnastics, at a whole slew of Sudbury venues, encompasses gymnastics in a safe, friendly setting - music to the ears of the average parent.

Dairy Queen - Sudbury - Kingsway / Val Caron