Photo Credit: Mackenzie Gerry

 

It has now been over a year since the last time a Brock Badgers varsity team played a game. For the past 12 months, the best they’ve been able to do is try to stay in shape for whenever “next season” might be.

 

Varsity athletes at Brock conduct their training and recovery regimens through the Brock Sports Performance (BSP) division. Over the past year, BSP has had to undergo a series of changes and adjustments in order to continue to guide athletes through what were entirely virtual training sessions in the spring and summer of 2020.

 

“The biggest adaptation we had to make was that most of the athletes had limited access to resistance training equipment at home,” said Steve Lidstone, Associate Director of Sport Performance. “The majority of programming was limited to body weight exercises, backpacks filled with textbooks and things like that to load them a little bit and get some strength adaptation there. Aside from that, we spent more time on the velocity end of the spectrum, so instead of moderate-to-heavy resistance training that we would normally do throughout the summer. We spent a lot more time doing plyometric training and sprints.”

 

The Brock Sport Performance Centre (BSPC) was shut down in March 2020; from the initial shut down until mid-August, it was entirely virtual training sessions for both individuals and entire teams.

 

“Our sport performance staff were doing video-based exercise programming using a software called Team Buildr,” said Lidstone. “It’s an app, which allows you to send programs to the athletes and they can click on each exercise which is accompanied by a video of every exercise. We’ve been using that software for four years now, so we were ready for the switch to virtual. Our athletes know how to use the software so it was pretty seamless for us. We not only sent those programs out, but we’d also host virtual sessions throughout the summer, so the whole team would come on Teams and you could coach athletes while they trained at home.”

 

That went on until the BSPC was permitted to re-open in mid-August after the BSP and Sport Medicine staff put together an extensive 52-page document as part of their risk mitigation process outlining their entire return-to-train plan, which was approved by Brock University’s COVID-19 Committee. Lidstone says education — for both the athletes, coaches and performance staff — was of paramount importance, with BSP hosting monthly town halls and weekly meetings for varsity athletes, coaches and staff to go over the necessary steps to safely return to in-person training.

 

The initial return was successful, with the BSP getting four months of modified, in-person training at the BSPC before the province went into a second lockdown in late December. January and February saw the same Team Buildr/Teams-led training utilized in the summer, before getting the green light to return once again on March 8 in an extremely modified setting.

 

“Every individual is assigned to their own squat rack,” said Lidstone. “Each rack has their barbells, bumper plates, a set of dumbbells and power blocks, bands, foam roller, etc. Nothing leaves the rack, the athletes don’t move around the weight room, they stay at their station. That’s how we mitigate risk. The athletes have to stay 3.8 metres away from each other at all times. They wear masks when they come in, they can take their masks off when they’re in their zone of training and then they put them back on when they’re leaving.” 

 

There is also an extensive cleaning and disinfection process that takes place multiple times a day.

 

“The athletes train for a period of time and then will clean everything they touched using Snap disinfectant and a towel,” said Lidstone. “Everyone gets handed their own towel when they come in, they spray, clean the equipment and then they discard the towel in a bin [for laundry] when leaving. We also have a special machine called a Clorox 360, which is used at the pro level, but we’ve been using it in our hockey dressing rooms for a couple of years now. Every single day the staff are Cloroxing at noon and then custodial staff are also Cloroxing all of the equipment at the end of the day.”

 

With safety protocols in place and athletes returning to in-person training in both the late-summer and again just a few weeks ago, the BSP staff were keenly aware of the added risk of potential soft tissue injuries that would naturally occur after months of reduced activity. 

 

“You have to realize that our athletes weren’t able to play their sport — something they do all the time, every day since they were young kids — and then all of a sudden you have a lockdown and some of our athletes aren’t leaving their homes,” said Lidstone. “We understand that these athletes hadn’t played sports for a period of months, so their number of foot contacts were down, the amount of steps per day was down, their ability to exert themselves to a point of maximum fatigue was down, so their fitness had dropped. We had to battle with all of those things and really put together programming that challenged them, but also worked with mainly body weight and metabolic circuits to condition them.”

 

“Some sprint and jump work could be done on a sidewalk, but even then, getting them to transition from courts to pavement could be hard on their bodies, so there were a lot of factors that we considered,” said Lidstone. “I think the biggest factor was the volume piece and the de-training effect that would’ve occurred over the summer due to lack of activity, so that’s why we hosted an education session with our coaches and periodized a gradual return to activity in both the weight room and practices.”

 

Lidstone sat on calls hosted by the Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario and the U.S. Olympic Committee to get a sense of what performance staff of professional teams that had returned to play had endured in terms of a gradual reintroduction to sport. Multiple performance coaches for English Premier League teams gave breakdowns as to what they did to ensure there were no soft tissue injuries, including gradually increasing sprint distances over a two-week period. This planning proved successful, as Lidstone and his staff saw no major injuries when they returned to in-person training.

 

“For the most part we were able to mitigate risk, we had no major injuries, no severe injuries or anything like that.”

 

As for the current state of Brock’s varsity athletes, in a normal season, this time of year is the start of the offseason for winter teams, while fall teams are at the midway point of theirs. BSP continues to work with their athletes to prepare for the upcoming season, whenever that may be. It is still unknown just how the 2021-22 season will unfold, but for Lidstone and the rest of BSP, the priority is health and safety first, followed by preparation for the fall.

 

“We’ve been through a pretty difficult year, not only as a sporting body where we weren’t able to compete, but more importantly we’ve been in the midst of a worldwide pandemic where a lot of jobs and even lives have been lost and we don’t lose sight of how many people have been negatively impacted,” said Lidstone. “The priority is obviously health and the well-being of our student-athletes, followed by academic success and then sport.” 

 

“For U Sports and the OUA, vaccinations are the underlying variable that will control whether or not we compete in the fall. Until we’re told otherwise, we’re going to continue to prepare for the upcoming season. We don’t know if the schedule is going to go as planned in the fall, if there’s going to be a modified schedule where we start a little bit later, those are all things we’re going to have to wait and see what happens and then pivot as needed,” said Lidstone.

To learn more about Brock Sport Performance, visit https://brocku.ca/bsp/. To look at the various safety protocols being implemented by BSP and to see a series of walkthrough videos at the BSPC, visit https://brocku.ca/bsp/covid-19-resources/.