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Virtual Recreation Keeps Kids Connected, Improves Mental Health

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — In addition to school being canceled, many after school sports and activities have also been put on hold. Local coaches and instructors are going out of their way to not only help their athletes stay active, but emotionally and mentally engaged.

West Point Ballet Academy is usually lined with promising ballerinas, but today Miss Juliana Martin is the only one in the room.

When COVID-19 forced Martin to close her brick and mortar, she opened her virtual doors.

“Lengthen so tall, lift so tall… Reach!” she said to her dancers through her computer screen.

Martin has been holding regular class time through ZOOM video conference calls, keeping it at its normally scheduled time throughout the week.

“It’s Tuesday. It’s time for ballet,” she said. “You log on and you see them all dressed in their leotards, and their tights, and their hair is all done.”

Martin said she knows her students thrive on routine.

“Any parent can relate that when one little thing gets thrown off, the whole day is off right now. Everything is thrown off for every kid,” she said.

She said these virtual classes help her students stay active.

“I feel like more than ever, kids need an outlet to exercise,” she said.

But even more importantly, Martin said her students need a way to feel connected.

“Hey, I still see you. We’re still doing this together,” she tells her students through the screen.

She said she tries to call her students out by name so they still feel engaged.

“Nice, straightening behind the knee. That’s good Mercedes!” she said during her online class.

Initially she was worried parents would have hesitations about committing to more online activity, but she said the response has been the exact opposite.

“Saying thank you so much for giving us something to do with our day, having some sense of normalcy for our kids,” she said.

Club V Volleyball owners and brothers, Reid and Matt Carlson, found themselves in a similar situation. They have been operating a club of 1,100 athletes, and were in the heart of their tournament season when they had to close.

“It came to a screeching halt just overnight,” Matt said.

They said it has taken a traumatic toll on their business.

“No team practices, no weekend tournaments, [no] concessions. I mean, literally nothing,” Reid said.

But the Carlsons said they aren’t letting anything get in the way of reaching out to their athletes to let them know they still care.

“Every day we get to wake up and make a difference in an athlete’s life, and to us, that’s just the most rewarding thing we can do every single day,” Matt said.

In place of practice and games, they send out a daily email with at-home workout videos.

“Hopefully it inspires them to take action,” Reid said. “This is the one moment where we have all the time in the world.”

In addition to physical workouts, the Carlsons also send out pep talks on topics like motivation, perspective, character development, and gratitude.

Reid said he wants his athletes to know: “We can react to everything externally, or we can find happiness internally first.”

Freshman athlete Liv Ruy used to spend at least five days practicing at the club before the virus hit.

“Being in the gym is a way to relieve stress for me, and just be an active and happy kid,” she said. “It’s hard not to talk to my teammates because I am really close with my teammates and everyone at Club V.”

She said it’s been frustrating and stressful to stay at home all day, but she is committed to improving her game and mindset while social distancing.

“I have definitely been working as hard at home, if not harder,” she said. “But I’m really trying to use this time for personal improvement.”

Club V Volleyball has been posting videos of their athletes working out at-home on social media as a way to help the team stay engaged.

“It’s been really fun to see all my teammates working at the same thing I am, and it’s helping me feel kind of unified with my club still,” Ruy said.

The Carlsons said they believe connectivity is one of the most basic human needs. In the absence of daily human interaction outside the home, they hope their daily videos fill a void.

“Having someone somewhere thinking about them and still feeling connected,” Matt said.

While the Carlsons hope their athletes stay in physical shape, they also hope their videos help them become emotionally and mentally stronger.

“They really do help put things in perspective,” Ruy said.

“What version of themselves can they find on the other side of this pandemic?” Reid Carlson said. “If they can find happiness, now in the simplest of times where everything is taken away, how much more can they magnify that when they have the New online COVID-19 symptom tracker available to the Utah public chance to get back on the volleyball court?”

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