Virtual replaced real

Moving from the real world to the virtual one has been a necessity for most sports, even if it has just been to keep in touch with players and athletes who were locked out of their venues and playing fields.

For many, though, the screen became a lifeline. Reuben Florence, chief instructor at Dragon Karate Cymru in Bangor used online karate lessons as a way to keep in touch with club members as well as introduce new recruits to the sport.

“Online activities were never going to replace the real thing of face-to-face instruction, but in the present time they were a fantastic way of introducing the sport and keeping people connected,” says Reuben.

Likewise, it was the online world that kept cricket clubs throughout Wales connected to each other throughout the summer – with videos funnies, training tips and quizzes - when the clubs themselves were out of bounds.

Jazz sessions

At the elite level, cyclists such as Geraint Thomas and Elinor Barker headed into their garages where virtual sessions on bikes linked to software such as Zwift, enabled them to stay in shape.

Virtual training then became virtual races, while one of the early social media hits of lockdown were the instructive swimming fitness sessions posted by double Olympic silver medalist Jazz Carlin.

Her workout routines – for swimmers and non- swimmers – were shared by thousands, as were Sport Wales’ own videos for staying active in the home which featured Welsh international athletes Melissa Courtney and Mica Moore.

Ingenuity has also been a familiar theme throughout Welsh sport in 2020, with athletes and whole sports using their creative juices to best effect.

Bags of motivation

During the first lockdown, Welsh long jumper Sarah Abrahamfilled two Sainsbury’s shopping bags with heavy books and tied them to a lifting bar - in order to conjure a makeshift gym in the living room of her London flat.

Similarly, Wales’ double Paralympic champion Aled Davies showed he’s a dab hand in the garden DIY arena by fixing up his own throwing area, slung with netting between two apple trees.

“It’s about being smart,” he said. “I’m not chasing world records in my back garden. I’m just trying to tick over and hopefully not get too much rust on the joints.”

Wales’ Olympic star and former world number one judoka Natalie Powell went one better by creating an entire mat area and indoor gym inside her Cardiff living room.

Super swimmers

When the restrictions began to ease a little later in the year, and gyms, pools and playing fields began to re-open, many sports utilised what they had learned during lockdown.

The connectivity and togetherness may have been absent without regular matches and competition, but organisations such as Swim Wales have been imaginative in their response.

They created the Swim Wales Super Series – a virtual leaderboard where club swimmers denied competition could post their best times in their local pools to set alongside others in the rest of the country.

A total of 34 clubs and over 1,000 swimmers got involved in the first series, while a second is now underway.

The Welsh Rugby Union stayed in touch with all their member clubs with regular webinars, offering advice for returning to training, and while all but the professional clubs are still awaiting a return to matches, the Union have recently been able to sanction touch rugby and tag rugby for juniors.

No locking down Lily 

But anyone really wanting the last word in resilience and motivation, should head to the workout videos posted during lockdown by Lily Rice on behalf of Disability Sport Wales.

Wales’ 16-year-old wheelchair motocross women’s world champion was in inspirational form, providing plenty of get-up-and-go for those feeling locked down and going not very far at all.

Looking Forward

There have been countless other examples of remarkable innovation and determination within Welsh sport during 2020, and don’t forget that if you’re involved with a sports club or organisation which is having to ‘think outside of the box’ to help others be active during the pandemic, take a look at how our Be Active Wales Fund could support your ideas.

We know we’re not out of the woods, but 2021 shows signs of hope and whatever it does throw at us Welsh sport has shown it can overcome it.

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