When COVID-19 shut down Halifax and the rest of the world in March, Jen LaPlante’s children went from enjoying plenty of physical activity, especially with their local basketball team and running club, to virtually none.
After months of missed competitions, her two sons, aged 13 and 10, were finally able to return to the gym on Aug. 31. They were enrolled in a Dalhousie Tigers basketball youth program and have been for a few years.
“They were a bit overwhelmed at first and reluctant to go,” LaPlante said about how her kids first felt about going back to sports. Another reason for their discomfort was how reduced enrolment numbers impacted how many of their friends would be there. But their reluctance soon turned into enthusiasm.
“Once they got there, it was fantastic. They were super sweaty on the walk home. They felt good getting exercise,” said LaPlante.
A different approach, but the same camps
Dal’s summer youth programs started up later than usual this year. The first day of camps began on Aug. 4. Groups were limited to eight participants with a maximum of two instructors. Programs offered included basketball, volleyball and soccer camps, plus “Active Youth,” “Youth Adventure” and “Youth Leadership” programs.
Chris Keough, Dal’s campus recreation coordinator, oversees the running of programs. He said the camps themselves didn’t change, although their greatest challenge was planning around Nova Scotia’s public health regulations that mandate minimal contact in sports.
“We did two-hour sessions for most groups and three for some [as opposed to full-day camps before]. It eliminated participants’ need to eat here, minimized the amount of time they needed the bathroom and everyone brought their own water since fountains were closed,” Keough said.
He said the summer programs ran smoothly. He hopes all will go well in Dal’s fall youth camps too, which are new this year. Due to the suspension of Atlantic University Sport(AUS)fall competition and fewer team practices, Dal teams aren’t in the gym or on the field as much. So, there will be more openings in booking times at the Dalplex, Studley Gym and the other athletic facilities for these kids camps to use. The instructors at these camps are Dal Tigers coaches and athletes.
“[The fall programs] have been well-received from a registration point of view,” Keough said. He added all but one fall camp sold out within an hour of registration opening.
“The demand is there because minor sporting organizations aren’t running right now. Players can get into school gyms. They aren’t open. We’re one of the few options available for people.”
“Camps at Dal are really well-run without a doubt,” LaPlante said. “The university coaches run the camps and they really push the kids to focus and try. This leads the kids to challenge themselves a little more.”
Importance of youth returning to sports
Sport Nova Scotia CEO Jamie Ferguson said sport is important for children’s physical and mental health and having them gradually come back is beneficial for them. However, the timing must be right for each restriction to be lifted.
“Ultimately having sport activities, and the opportunity to play, back is important. It’s also important that [they reopen] safely and we protect each other,” Ferguson said.
“From talking to parents, they were very appreciative that we’re able to do something [this summer],” Keough said. “We’re happy that we can provide this for kids.”
LaPlante said she is grateful Dal offers these programs, but despite their popularity and limited sporting options right now, a lot of kids still aren’t back in sports.
“It’s critical that these programs are here. Kids need to get back out and be challenged. The longer they’re away from physical activity, they spend more time inside, become less social and don’t recognize the value of exercise,” she said. “There are very few opportunities right now and there’s a big gap of kids that still aren’t in programs or exercising.”