Bicester AC’s core membership comprises essentially junior athletes mainly under 17 years of age. It has required some feat of organisation to continue to provide access to athletics training within the restrictive and changing environment of the Covid pandemic.  Many local sports clubs have either provided only limited access to training or no training at all during the summer months.  This feature outlines the steps Bicester AC have taken to continue to provide the basis of training for all of its athletes in what has been the “new normal”.  It has been a story of organisation, flexibility, and innovation to meet the unique challenges of the pandemic.

When the lockdown restrictions were at their harshest, Bicester AC were unable to provide any on sight training as directed by UK Athletics.  It however stepped up the output of virtual training through its social media arm.  This involved producing exercise videos and ideas for training sessions to help athletes retain their fitness during the period of the lockdown when the lockdown was at its most restrictive.

Bicester AC made the early decision to try and meet athlete requirements within the strict safety limits set by the government.  Therefore, when the lockdown restrictions were eased, a plan was established to start outdoor training from the end of June.  A helpful 14-page booklet on how future Covid compliant training sessions was produced by club chairman Paul Groves and sent out to all coaches, volunteers, and parent helpers.  An induction session for coaches and helpers was arranged for the end of June prior to the resumption of training.

The club had to improvise as no oval running track had been marked out.  There was an early recognition that sessions would be different with training of smaller groups within specially marked out areas of the field within Bicester School.  Athletes, helpers, and coaches sanitised at the commencement and closing of sessions if equipment had been handled.  Each session was overseen by a triumvirate of designated Covid officers whose main purpose was to ensure that each session was undertaken safely. 

Training commenced very conservatively in July with specified year groups invited to the early sessions.  Most of these were fitness-based sessions.  As the club gained assurances that training could be arranged safely, all year groups were invited to specially divided evening sessions held on Tuesday and Thursday.  All sessions were open by invitation only with younger age groups invited to the earlier session and older age groups for the second session.

All sessions were initially organised in advance with coaches allocated to specific groups.  This then evolved into specific event training which mirrored the training that athletes would normally expect to receive but within the confines of the space available at Bicester School.  The field was split into up to seven areas to allow social distancing training to take place.  Coaches were then invited to set up their own sessions but within the central guidelines of where each athletic age group should have progressed as defined by UK athletics.  This ensured that no athletes were disadvantaged and received training appropriate to their expected skill level.  Over time this evolved specialist events training incorporating jumping, hurdling, and throwing with the appropriate sanitisation of all equipment used.  

This process has enabled many of the athletes to remain physical fit whilst retaining a semblance of mental balance during what has been a difficult period for all.  For those who still wanted to compete, the training provided has provided a good base for athletes competing in open meeting competitions.    

Summer training is now due to end this week with internal competitions organised for the last two weeks. We managed to get 13 weeks of training, providing a total of 38 sessions with 129 athletes taking part at some point.

The club are indebted to the help of coaches, young leaders, various committee members and parent helpers whose contributions proved invaluable during the summers and to which these sessions would not have taken place.  The club are particularly grateful for the help of Paul Groves, Emma Gould and Tom Gould who devised the concept of Covid compliant training and the sessions that underpinned this.

The club are mindful of the fluid situation with regards to the pandemic and will continue to respond flexibly to meet the athletic requirements of the athlete but within the strict safety guidelines to keep athletes and official safe.    

Written by N Dolden