By Paresh Dave
OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – Locked out of practice fields because of coronavirus-related restrictions, Olympic softball players this week began turning their homes into training centers and preparing to lean on smartphone apps for virtual coaching.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought most sport to a standstill, with events and competitions around the world postponed or canceled as health authorities urge people to keep apart to limit the spread.
Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, however, have said they are still planning for the Games to start on July 24 and have encouraged athletes to continue preparations.
With at least four of the six countries competing in softball’s return to the Olympics having canceled upcoming practice games, players have been left to train individually for longer than expected.
Closures of parks, gyms and batting cages have increased the challenges they face.
“It’s unfortunate but at least we’re all in the same boat mostly,” said Mexican slugger Tori Vidales.
“We’re all trying to do what we can do to be innovative with our training.”
Team Mexico players said they were watching old games on YouTube to stay mentally sharp, tossing balls against backyard walls and dusting off old exercise equipment in their garages.
No longer able to practice with a nearby team mate, Mexico catcher Sashel Palacios said she had been building up her strength by watching television from the squat position.
Canada’s strength and conditioning coach is recommending exercises with everyday furniture.
One player went a step further and shared a video of her jokingly hoisting her dog during a squat exercise this week, head coach Mark Smith said.
United States head coach Ken Eriksen said players had returned to their respective home bases after a curtailed nationwide exhibition tour but that they would be filming themselves on their smartphones to evaluate technique.
Australian players still have gym access, albeit in small groups and with extra cleaning in between, but officials are preparing for players to train at home as the virus spreads.
Worst off may be Italy, where the coronavirus-caused respiratory disease COVID-19 has killed 3,405 people, more than in any other country, and prompted severe travel restrictions.
Some players do not have a space at home to swing or throw a ball, manager Enrico Obletter said.
“It is hard to explain how hard it is, we can only hope all this to end soon and we can actually play the Olympics,” he said.
Carlos Caro, the Mexico head coach, is mailing players devices from California startup Blast Motion to monitor hitters’ training from afar.
The tiny gadgets attach to bats and score players through an app on how level, fast and on target their swings are. Data can be shared with coaches as well as team mates and synched with video of swings.
Australia started using Blast last month to survey home workouts, too, and players on the United States, Italy and Canada also use the sensors.
“When you’re not together, when you’re not with your coaches, it’s a tool you can use everyday,” catcher Palacios said. “If I see my team mate putting in 200 swings, that’s going to motivate me and constantly make us better.”
Her team mate Brigette Del-Ponte said this week that she had fielded softballs against a wall in her southern California backyard. But the infielder, who has a six-month-old daughter, said focusing on softball had been challenging.
“The priority right now is taking care of my family and making sure we have enough diapers, formula and food,” she said.
“One friend gave us two four-packs of toilet paper. Amazon had the baby supplies, and I looked up how to make formula at home.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)