Sunday 29 March 2020 1:38 pm

How sports teams are using technology to recreate group training sessions with players in isolation

They may be miles apart and isolated in their homes, but footballers, rugby players and cricketers across the country are finding new ways to continue training together. 

Sportspeople left in limbo while their seasons are delayed indefinitely by the coronavirus pandemic are still staying in shape, as they have readily documented on social media. 

The situation has posed clubs with new obstacles, but a number are using technology to create collective training sessions, allowing players to train as a group while alone.

Why? Because exercising in groups has numerous “psycho-social benefits”, according to sports psychologists.

Read more: Coronavirus: The County Championship might have to be sacrificed this summer for good of the game, says Angus Fraser

Premier League team Brighton and Hove Albion are using spin bikes, apps and video conferencing to maintain team spirit through this challenging period.

Those without a Wattbike have been sent one by the club so they can log into its associated app to train together. 

Brighton are also scheduling regular chats between players and staff using video conference-calling app Zoom, and Skype for one-to-one sessions with manager Graham Potter or one of the club’s psychologists.

There is a particular emphasis on ensuring the wellbeing of those living on their own or less settled in the UK. 

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Everton have also sent gym equipment to players’ homes and some of the first-team squad are taking regular spin sessions together on Peloton bikes, although it is understood that aspect has been organised informally among the players rather than by the club. 

Cricket

But this is not just something top-flight football clubs are doing. County cricket side Middlesex have also been trying to keep training as collective as possible while the start of their season has been pushed back.

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A number of players are using interactive equipment such as those made by Peloton (Getty Images)

“Cricket is very much a social game – the relationship you have with players is very close and you spend a lot of time with them,” the club’s managing director of cricket, Angus Fraser, told City A.M.

“Everyone is allowed out once a day to do some fitness work, so using some of the apps out there we’ll say ‘everyone go out for a 5km run at 3pm and all come back and look at the times’.”

As well as using the Strava running app to compete with one another, Fraser revealed they too are using Zoom to hold conference calls with all 40 staff. 

Rugby Union

And in rugby union, Harlequins are one side following suit. From this week the players will begin having live stretching, running and home workout sessions with coaches over video call. 

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Harelquins players are set to begin live sessions with coaches next week (Getty Images)

Quins will also be getting players to conduct mindfulness sessions with specialist coach Luke Doherty to help with their mental wellbeing.

These sessions will be split between forwards and backs and conducted over Zoom.

Bristol Bears are another rugby club using Wattbikes to get players working out from home, while encouraging some friendly competition.

The benefits

There are a number of benefits to getting players to train together while in isolation, according to Dr Edson Filho, of the University of Central Lancashire, and not just for their physical fitness. 

“Training in groups has several psycho-social benefits, including enhanced motivation, confidence, and group cohesion,” Filho tells City A.M.

“People are naturally motivated to have positive social interactions, and when you exercise in a group you have lots of opportunities to interact and have fun with teammates. 

“Secondly, when you exercise in a group you have the opportunity to boost your confidence. More skilled peers and coaches can serve as positive role models and exercising in a group also gives you the chance to receive positive and quality instructional feedback.

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“Finally, when you exercise with teammates, group cohesion is enhanced because people have the opportunity to set team goals and remember that every teammate is contributing to something bigger.”

With no end in sight to this period of isolation, bonding, motivation and team camaraderie might be more important than ever. 

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