Across the world people are rising at the crack of dawn for Joe Wicks P.E. Parents and children alike are starting the day with high knees, burpees and by the end of it having sore knees. However, Joe and his shoutouts don’t have a monopoly on the coronavirus fitness market. For the families that are tired of rolling around their living room, there’s a footballing alternative available. Football’s Next Star winner and Dartford Academy coach Ben Greenhalgh is getting young footballers across the country with a new drill each morning. His daily football drills are helping youngsters develop their skills and stay motivated during the pandemic.
When the government imposed lockdown prevented Ben from coaching in person he had be to be creative. He needed to find a way to keep his squad on top of their game from home. Through the medium of social media, Ben crafted the idea of daily skill challenges for players, not just his own, to further their ability.
“It was the first Monday when we got locked down I thought I’d do quarantine daily tricks. Originally I got the idea because we had to call off all of our coaching stuff. I’m the academy manager at Dartford and I no longer had the boys in, all my after school stuff in Orpington had been called off. I thought what can I do to keep everyone active, keep everyone involved. I’ve tried keeping them reasonably simple, on some days I’ve found them quite challenging myself.”
The skills videos have proved a hit for Ben, attracting viewers from beyond his Dartford community. Rather than just kicking the ball aimlessly against the garage door, Ben wants there to be a purpose to the training. Ben is a coach for Skills Academy in Orpington where he coaches children between the ages of 5 and 12. At this stage Ben is 34 days into his lock down challenges, we don’t know how long this lock down will go on or how many videos Ben will need to produce.
“I originally said I’d do up to 35 days, I’ve got some ideas about how to keep everyone active. I thought I might only have to do it for a few weeks before we went into lockdown. I have also thought about doing some stuff around golf because I play a bit and coach. The drills seem to have taken off, this week alone we’ve had 30,000 views. I have had quite a few high up coaches message me asking for the videos and that they will pass them on.”
Whilst Ben is enjoying the experience of online coaching, it does not replicate the value of one on one and in person coaching. The lockdown came at a particularly bad time for Ben’s Dartford side as they were on one of their best runs of form.
“In terms of the academy it was a difficult one as we were top of the league and doing really well. It was our first time in the National Youth Alliance League and to be honest, we have got a really strong team. At the end of the day football does not come first, we have to accept what’s going on. You feel a bit for the boys because they were top of the league and they worked for two years to get in that position.”
The mental health of footballers is in the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic. Staying locked up in the house affects everyone but for footballers it represents a radical change to their normal way of life. The regular routines of training, travelling for away days and the camaraderie that goes with it has been snatched away. Ben has never had so much free time at home, but plenty of positives have come with the negatives for him.
“I have never had this sort of time off in my life, I have played football for 12 years and usually you just get a minimum of a few weeks in June to yourself. This is six weeks off without football, you can’t watch football and I understand that people don’t know what to do with themselves. I’m quite lucky that eight weeks ago myself and my wife had a baby. It’s given me a good opportunity to be at home because I never would have had the opportunity to spend so much time at home, because my whole day from 9am to 9pm is football.”
Due to the free time that lockdown has created, many people are beginning to focus more on their fitness. The government’s allocated exercise time is making people do exercise that they probably wouldn’t have done in normal times. Various challenges have cropped on social media such as running 5k and donating £5 to charity. Ben believes that increasing our personal fitness is one positive that could arise from this situation.
“I think the thing is keeping fit as well, I see people running 5ks which is good. I think in a way people are getting fitter, they have nothing to do, there’s nothing to work towards and they know they need to keep fit. That was the objective behind the challenges, keeping everyone active and keeping everyone fit.”
Away from fitness, apps such as Zoom are enabling us to stay in touch and feel less alone during these times. Quizzes and virtual drinking sessions have become all the rage as we endeavour to maintain our social lives whilst in isolation. Chatting with friends on Zoom has provided Ben with the ability to celebrate occasion with friends despite being physically separated.
“I think one thing with the lockdown is that it’s made everyone get together a bit more. I had my birthday last week on Zoom and I was able to have a drink with my friends on it. I’ve been doing quite well at the quizzes because they’ve all suited me with a lot of sport. I’ve had some recently that didn’t suit me as much with geography and current affairs. Rounds without sport and music maybe I’m not so good.”
Staying at home, staying safe and following the guidelines is the priority at the moment and increasing your fitness is an added bonus. Finding the time for some exercise in the morning or practicing some keepy ups in the back garden can go a long way and help people stay motivated. It’s not life as we know it but Ben’s videos are giving plenty of people a reason to get up in the morning which is very important when the days are all meshing into one. The power of maintaining a level of routine and adding a bit of exercise shouldn’t be underestimated.