The St. Joseph Falcons Ball Academy has had to go full digital but is still helping players improve during the difficult times. (Supplied photo)

Online coaching having impact for St. Joseph High School Ball Academy

For about a month, it’s been all virtual for the players and coaches at the St. Joseph High School Falcons Ball Academy.

That means google meets twice a week, virtual instruction and inventive workout programs for the 41 baseball and softball players who are involved.

It’s been a significant change for coach Jason Chatwood, who says he misses working with his players on the field or in the classroom. He noted one big positive, is there’s been a lot more time for one-on-one digital instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been good. It’s just a new challenge that we’re adapting to and if the kids that are taking advantage of the work, when hopefully they say we’re allowed to play, then they’ll be in as good a shape to jump on the field as possible,” he said.

Chatwood explained he had no idea what to expect when the school was making the transition to online learning and wasn’t sure how he’d be able to help his players get better.

After hitting the reset button on their goals for the spring, he turned to homemade instructional videos to help players with their workouts, baseball and otherwise to keep them on track.

“It’s been good and some kids have really, really taken advantage of it. Every week I try and get them to send me their videos and something that they would like to work on. They’ll update me, once a week is the goal. Now they can see the progression,” Chatwood said.

“One of the goals is for them to really understand whatever they’re doing, now they can slowly start to coach themselves… we obviously incorporate video in the academy. We’ve never used this much video before. The kids are really starting to understand what they’re working on and they know.”

The Falcons coach said he sends out workouts every Monday, with some strength and conditioning as well as some yoga. They’ll add in outdoor conditioning as the weather improves.

Almost all of the workouts are based on what kids have at home and are pretty straight forward. When it comes to baseball skills, it can be as simple as juggling two tennis balls against the wall to work on hand-eye coordination. He asks the players to send videos to him of their baseball work, so they can break it down together or work on any questions they might have.

One player who has jumped fully on board with the program is grade 10 catcher Kyle Belich. In his first year with the program, Belich has been recording himself and sending videos routinely to Chatwood, in the hopes he can be a better player if baseball resumes this summer or even next season.

“It’s definitely different and weird to do this, but you get used to doing it… when you get into a routine doing it, it almost feels normal,” he said.

Belich said from breaking down the smaller parts of his swing to improving his mechanics as a catcher, there’s always something to improve on. Still, it’s been tough not seeing his teammates but he has been able to really hone in on specific skills.

“We’re focusing more on the little stuff because you can’t really do the normal stuff. At home you can master the smaller, easier stuff,” he said.

Chatwood said that’s been the challenge as a coaching staff, keeping the players moving forward, while also making it engaging and fun.

“As coaches, we really miss seeing the kids and getting to work with them every day, for us, the video meets have been nice because you still get to see the faces and have the conversations,” he said.

“A lot of that is just keeping those relationships going and see how the kids are getting through this. Just to know that we’re there for them or if they have questions, whether it’s softball or baseball-related or not, they can reach out.”

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