Atlético Ottawa’s Ben Fisk relishes ‘creativity’ of socially-distanced training sessions

Ben Fisk never imagined having to fill out paperwork before going to training.

But it’s a form of homework that Atlético Ottawa’s inaugural signing is more than happy to complete as he and his teammates were recently given the green light to return to training for the first time in over two months due to COVID-19 protocols and delays.

“You have to show up with the people you live in a car,” Fisk told, detailing the process Atlético players must go through before stepping onto their training pitch just outside of Ottawa. “Oh, and before you leave the house, you need to complete a medical questionnaire.”

Atlético started its return-to-training program last week. It features a CPL-and-government mandated multi-phase approach, starting with non-contact individual or small group workouts.

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“When you’re in the session, you don’t need to think about protocols, anything like that… you can get lost in the sessions,” Fisk said.

“Protocols have been baked into everything we do, which is fantastic. You can focus on your touches, technique, everything we’ve been waiting to do for months.

“When the session finishes, you can use a set of wipes to clean up and go straight to the car.”

Atlético Ottawa coach Mista. (Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography)
Atlético Ottawa coach Mista. (Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography)

Ottawa’s practice pitch has resembled a merry-go-round, with only four players allowed on the field at a time, with each in individual quadrants. As a result, players circulate onto the training pitch at various intervals.

While a seemingly insular experience, as players withhold social distance in the age of COVID-19, Fisk is quick to credit coaches for creating some normalcy from the four-to-a-field setup.

“We’ve been incorporating teammates as much as we can,” Fisk said, adding that players often complete passes between the quadrants, as seen on Atlético Ottawa’s social media on Monday.

“You have your mannequins and cones acting as competition and different passing drills, hitting into an open net.

“The creativity of the coaches of designing drills to be pretty soccer-specific despite contact was something I was thrilled to see.”

Forge FC and Cavalry FC were the sixth and seventh CPL teams to receive approval to return to training, following similar announcements by Ottawa, HFX Wanderers FC, Pacific FC, York9 FC, Valour FC. FC Edmonton is the lone CPL team awaiting approval to return to training.

Fisk, a former Canadian men’s national team winger, is expected to be a leader in the Ottawa locker room, especially after his solid showing with Pacific FC last season.

Demonstrating leadership qualities is difficult when teammates hit the pitch at different times. Still, that didn’t stop Fisk from pouring cold (and hot?) water on questions of player fitness after a 12-week break.

“When you’re supposed to be staying home all the time, and you don’t come back fit, you’ve got some serious answering to do,” Fisk joked.

“Answering from me, not just the coaches. If guys are coming back and are sluggish, I have to ask what the hell they’ve been doing for two-and-a-half months.”

As CPL Commissioner David Clanachan eyes a 2020 season return as early as mid-July, Fisk claimed Ottawa will be ready.

“I don’t even care if it’s four guys on the pitch. I’m just happy to be striking a ball again and getting some soccer-specific training in. Looking back, March was a long time ago… And even longer when you look back to October,” Fisk said.

“Mentally, getting on the pitch means everything. I only had a few more days of sanity left in me.

“Everyone is happy to get to play again. We’re just really excited to get playing and put on some sort of competition.”