Peter Schaale could hardly contain his excitement.
On Monday morning, HFX Wanderers FC became the first Canadian Premier League team to return to training after pre-season camps shut down back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Twelve HFX players participated in Monday’s voluntary workout sessions held at the Soccer Nova Scotia training centre that were overseen by coach Stephen Hart. Players who returned to Halifax after travelling home when training camps halted must observe a 14-day period of quarantine before being allowed to return to training.
As you can imagine, this wasn’t the usual practice for Schaale and his teammates due to the ongoing pandemic. Players were divided in groups of four (Schaale was teamed with roommate Corey Bent, Alessandro Riggi and Alex De Carolis) and were limited to doing non-contact, individual drills. Proper social distancing had to be maintained at all times, as the groups were assigned a separate section of the field, and players within a group had to stay within their quadrant.
Players were instructed to arrive wearing masks and fully dressed in their training clothes – the team practised on an outdoor pitch, and did not have access to the indoor facilities, thus they had to shower at home afterwards. Before even stepping onto the pitch, players sanitized their hands and had their temperatures taken to ensure they had no symptoms. When they left the pitch for the day, they put their masks back on, and sanitized their hands again.
It was a strenuous (but necessary) protocol that HFX players had to go through, but Schaale was just excited to be back on the pitch
“It felt amazing. Even though it was very different from usual training sessions, it’s good to have that feeling back. Going to training and actually being back on the field, seeing the faces that you used to see when you went to practice, working with the coach was fun again, for sure. The guys have missed it; I have missed it a lot,” Schaale told CanPL.ca.
Athletes are creatures of habit, and Schaale and his teammates are no different. Unfortunately, a lot of the customs they take for granted during a routine training session are forbidden.
“It was weird and different. You arrive and you have to rethink the stuff you normally do, like fist bumping the guys. You haven’t see the coach and the boys in a while, and you want to pat them on the back, and you’re not allowed to get too close,” Schaale explained.
“But you understand because you don’t want to do anything wrong and break the protocol. … You want to follow the rules as good as you can to minimize the risks.”
Like the players, Hart was overjoyed to see his players in the flesh again after having to be happy to communicate with them via text and Zoom video sessions.
“You could tell he was very happy to be back. He said at the beginning he wanted to hug everybody, but he didn’t, obviously,” Schaale quipped.
“The communication was very good. Stephen wants us to get into it slowly because the risk of injury is high now.”
Schaale explained that Monday’s practice was mostly about getting the players’ fitness back up.
“It was much different than what we’re used to in training. Today we were back in and got a good sweat going, and just being back on the ball, it was great,” Schaale offered.
“I feel like we can get something out of these sessions where we train individually to get our touch going again, to get sharper again, and to work on our fitness.”
Monday’s practice also gave Schaale a boost in terms of his mental health after sitting at home for the past two months due to the pandemic.
“I’ve seen Corey every day because we live together, but the other guys, it’s good to see the boys again, and be happy to be back and outside. After a long break that was so draining mentally, I could tell guys were so happy, and the motivation is really high to go into the season once it kicks off,” Schaale said.
Some HFX players are not as lucky as Schaale, as they first must go through a 14-day period of self-isolation before being allowed to come back to training. But Schaale maintains that those players haven’t been forgotten.
“They knew before that this was a possibility, and it’s strict because you don’t want them to risk the health of the club, other players or even the community – they have to stay in. But get them groceries, help them any way we can, and we’re always talking on group chats and Zoom calls,” Schaale said.
“It’s annoying for them not to be training with the rest of us. But it is what it is, we have to take the situation for what it is, and the guys realize that.”