Part 1 – Return to High Performance Sport: Progress and Suggestions in the Midst of COVID-19

Published On: July 15, 2020Categories: Business, COVID-19 Resources, Industry

The objectives of this article are to share the processes, challenges, and successes of reopening facilities dedicated to high performance sport in Canada.  In so doing, specifics are shared related to one case study.  Additionally, in being open and transparent, practices outlined here within may be appropriate and applicable, for facility owners and operators, during reopening phases in the public and private sectors.

Each Canadian Provincial and Territorial government links, for specific guidance, are included at the end of this article.

Note, the comment/blog reply posting feature is activated for this article. We encourage you to post your feedback, replies, and questions.


People around the world are losing their lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no easy way to discuss the topic, and it certainly puts things into perspective.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has created opportunities and challenges for Canadians, as it has for those around the world. The way we live, work, and play, has changed.  As such, it has magnified the need for Canadians to share best practices across industries, and sectors within industries. As the sharing of best practices relate to S&C, in this article (Part 1), we will discuss opening policies and procedures that have been implemented in high performance sport, and the important role of the S&C coach during this process.


An objective of the S&C coach is to create evidence-based programming, and strategies to monitor training adaptations, that aid performance (1). Another key objective, resulting from appropriate programming, is the minimization of injuries (2). Furthermore, the S&C coach does provide problem-focused and emotional support to athletes (3).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the S&C coach is a pivotal practitioner servicing athletes to help:

  1. minimize the loss of training adaptations due to reduced or limited training opportunities
  2. help to structure and periodize evidence-based programming given equipment and space limitations
  3. assist in the planning of reopening facilities and daily training environments
  4. assist coaches in the return to sport programming to minimize the likelihood of injuries


On March 22, 2020 the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees (COC/CPC) were the first national sport governing organizations globally to take a stance. They stated Canadian athletes would not compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, due to the risks and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. This led to additional countries making the same decisions, and the eventual postponement of the games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  

While heartbreaking news for national team athletes at the time, it was the “right call” as stated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an interview with the Canadian Press on March 23, 2020. Furthermore, we should all be proud of the tough decision made by the COC/CPC.

While Canada led the way, the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, and cancellation of all international competitions, created both opportunities and concerns for Canadian national team athletes. Some athletes had yet to qualify for the games and are now hopeful, other athletes have accelerated retirement plans.

Furthermore, coaches, high performance directors, support staff, and practitioners were faced with unexpected planning around supporting athletes away from their usual daily training environments. To note, several national high performance training centres had already taken the action to close prior to the March 22nd announcement, the first of which within the sport institute network was the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO).

Within high performance sport, the postponement of the Olympics has magnified the need for athletes’ psychological and physiological support.

Beyond the emotional support S&C coaches provide athletes (3), the shutdown has heightened the importance of sport psychologists and mental performance specialists to address the psychological stressors.  While the necessary physiological support highlights the need for physiologists and S&C coaches to service asymptomatic athletes. However, for infected asymptomatic and symptomatic athletes, additional practitioner support may be required including cardiologists, pulmonary specialists, and neurorehabilitation specialists (4). 

When discussing the needs of athletes during the shutdown of facilities, the possibility of detraining comes to mind. Detraining is a partial or complete loss of training-induced adaptations as a result of reductions or cessation of training (5).

(view this webinar for more information related to the consequences of detraining in athletes CLICK: Webinar – Detraining and Performance Residuals: Minimal Effective Dose? ).

In returning to sport overtraining and injuries may be a concern if athletes are not given the appropriate re-conditioning time.

(view this webinar for more information related to the physiological and psychological consequences of overtraining and detraining in athletes CLICK:


The shut-down of training facilities and daily training environments began in mid-March. This created a situation whereby athletes were forced into finding alternate methods to train for an undetermined, unprecedented, period of time. At the CSIO, S&C training was seamless for some, however, the immediate modification to virtual support was unfamiliar to others.

The current practice for the majority of the S&C coaches at the CSIO has been to support athletes remotely using various methods and platforms for remote programming and monitoring. The value of S&C coaches was immediately evident as 100% of them were retained, at a range of 1.0 full time equivalent (FTE) to 0.8 FTE, by the National Sport Organization (NSO) partners to help guide the athletes through their physical conditioning.

However, for athletes that relied on the training facility, there were challenges that needed to be addressed. For one sport, it is fortunate that several athletes live in the same houses. In this situation the S&C coach was able to facilitate, and plan for, equipment to be moved from the training facility to the homes of these athletes and the setup of safe training environments. In the case of paralympic athletes, appropriate equipment was signed out to ensure training continued.

Additionally, S&C coaches facilitated and guided athletes towards the purchase of portable equipment such as TRX units, bands, dumbbells and medicine balls. Finally, S&C coaches began providing guidance via video conferencing and the creation of webinars. These remedies offered a stop gap until the time that the facility was ready to reopen. Clarification regarding the legalities and insurance coverage were addressed prior to equipment being moved and virtual support extended.

Following a lengthy process of planning, the CSIO training facilities re-opened in phases, with three facilities opening for training on June 1st , 2nd , and 15th 2020.


Prior to the shut-down, a Sport Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) was created that included representation from the COC, CPC, Institut National du Sport du Quebec (INS), Canadian Sport Institute Calgary (CSIC), Canadian Sport Institute Pacific (CSIP), and the CSIO.  The committee is led by Own the Podium (OTP) with the first Advisory on COVID-19 distributed to NSOs, and the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Institute Network (COPSI Network) on March 8th, 2020. Subsequently, advisory updates were distributed every 48 hrs during the month of March. From April onwards updates are distributed on a two week cycle.

Information and guidelines contained within the advisory notices are obtained from the World Health Organization (WHO)(6), Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention(7), and federal and provincial governments’ guidelines (8).

For example, the following is an excerpt from the Ontario provincial guidelines that were released

O. Reg. 82/20

34.4  Facilities, other than pools, that are in compliance with section 8 of Schedule 3 and that are being used by one or more of the following organizations, leagues or clubs to train amateur or professional athletes or to run amateur or professional athletic competitions:

  • A national sport organization funded by Sport Canada or a member club of such an organization.
  • A provincial sport or multi-sport organization recognized by the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries or a member club of such an organization.
  • A professional sport league or a member club of such a league.
  • Any national sport organization that is a member of, or is recognized by, either the Canadian Olympic Committee or the Canadian Paralympic Committee or a member club of such an organization.

Once the above information was released by the Ministry, it gave the green light for the CSIO to reopen as a multi-sport organization. Furthermore, the below information was used when creating the processes of what would and would not be accessible during the initial reopening phases (e.g., change rooms and washrooms).

Facilities for athletic training or competitions

Every person responsible for a facility described in paragraph 34.4 of Schedule 2 shall ensure that,

(a)  the only persons permitted to use the facility are athletes who are members of an organization, league or club described in paragraph 34.4 of Schedule 2;

(b)  any person who enters or uses the facility maintains a physical distance of at least two metres from any other person who is using the facility;

(c)  team sports and pool-based sports are not practised or played within the facility;

(d)  other sports or games that are likely to result in individuals coming within two metres of each other are not practised or played within the facility;

(e)  all sport activities are conducted in accordance with the rules and policies of the applicable organization identified in paragraph 34.4 of Schedule 2, including the rules and policies put in place to enable a safe return to the sport;

(f)  no spectators are permitted at the facility, other than up to one accompanying parent, guardian or other adult for each athlete under the age of 18; and

(g)  any locker rooms, change rooms, showers and clubhouses in the facility remain closed, except to the extent they provide access to a washroom or a portion of the facility that is used to provide first aid.

The complete guidelines can be found here
(Please see the end of this article for your provincial and territorial specific guidelines)


During the month of May a Facility Readiness Committee (FRC) was created at the CSIO that included the Executive Team, the Lead S&C coach, and the Chief Medical Officer (CMO).  The purpose of this committee was to structure the reopening processes including: setting a date for reopening, determining which athletes would access the facility during an initial 3 week stage 1 period, facility set up, off-site pre-screening methods, on-site screening methods, and booking methods.  Furthermore, additional functions of the FRC continue to include liaison with legal and insurance representation.

A key member of this group continues to be the CMO, who is part of the SMAC. He regularly presents current protocols and updates regarding best practices. The FRC also developed a communication strategy to inform NSOs and athletes of the reopening procedures.  All steps were considered with the objective of creating a safe environment for athletes and practitioners upon return.   

Additionally, during the preparation phase a COVID-19 Risk Assessment tool for sport was created by OTP and COC/CPC. The purpose of the tool was to assess sports’ readiness and risk management outlining the sports specific risk category and plans for returning to the daily training environments.

Questions in this risk survey included:

  • Specific Measures to Limit Transmission
  • Staff Knowledge
  • Public Health Awareness
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Isolation Capacity
  • Coordination & Logistics
  • Risk Communication

Once completed, all sports were categorized related to their risk rating (negligible to very high) and for their mitigation strategies from Level A to Level C

Concurrently while sports were assessing their readiness and risk to return, the FRC worked on the logistics of the following to ensure safety for athletes, S&C coaches, and support staff:

  1. Facility (i.e., a floor plan)
  2. Athlete Preparation
  3. Enter – Train – Exit strategy
  1. Facility

Considerations related to the use of space and physical distancing included:

  • the publicized recommendation of 2 meters physical distancing between people
  • the length of an Olympic bar (i.e., 2.2m)
  • the space needed to safely load and unload weight plates
  • the heights of the tallest athletes
  • wheelchair accessibility

Change rooms were closed however washroom access was permitted if necessary. Given the closing of the change rooms and limited access to washrooms other considerations included:

  • Single lane, one direction flow for entry into the building
  • Entrance and hallway access while maintaining 4 meter physical distancing
  • Storage of backpacks, outdoor shoes and personal items during training sessions
  • Hand washing station with required use before and after the training session
  • Single lane, one direction flow to a dedicated exit doorway

The above information dictated the number of possible training spaces while maintaining a minimum of 4 meters between stations. Through Phase 1 athletes were not required to wear masks during training sessions, however, S&C coaches were required to wear a mask at all times.

The S&C coach to athlete ratio during Phase 1 was set at 1:3, with an additional person for oversight of the facility during training sessions.

Finally, Safe Sport practices as recommended by the Responsible Coaching Movement were implemented to maintain an open and observable training environment with the Rule of Two (i.e., a minimum of 2 certified and screened individuals overseeing sessions that is apart from the coach to athlete ratio).

2. Athlete Preparation

The following continue to be requirements for athletes to complete prior to their first training session. Note, all athletes require NSO approval, and access was granted in stages with Olympic qualified and nationally funded athletes being granted initial access. Having a clearly communicated method for which athletes would return during which phases was helpful to avoid an initial rush.

Step 1: Register

  • Download a building access app (for contact tracing – all athletes must sign in upon entry to the building and sign out upon exit using the access app)
  • Use a phone with specific barcode access for signing in and out
  • Complete building waiver online

Step 2: Sign COVID Waivers x 2 (must be signed prior to entry)

  • Sign Declaration of Compliance online
  • Sign Release of Liability, Wavier of Claims & Indemnity Agreement online

Step 3: Watch the Following YouTube videos CLICK TITLE TO VIEW

Step 4: Session Bookings  

  • Book the S&C sessions using the online account (maximum numbers indicated – 1 week advanced booking).  
  • Await confirmation notice

3. Enter – Train – Exit Strategy

With the above steps completed, the focus of the steps below is a process that enables athletes to enter the facility, complete a workout, and leave the facility efficiently.

  • Parking lot specified
  • Entry doors specified
  • Hand sanitization, temperature check, screening questions at the security desk upon entering the main building
  • Scan ID
  • Enter training facility (direction specified)
  • Stow belongings and wash hands
  • Train at a specified station (75min training time allotted)
  • Clean all equipment touched once training is completed (15min cleaning time allotted)*
  • Wash hands and pick up belongings
  • Scan ID
  • Exit doors specified

*The Government of Canada website page dedicated to information about appropriate disinfectants and hand sanitizers use is extremely helpful (9) (


Based on the guidelines mentioned above, and from the SMAC, the FRC submitted a proposal for reopening the CSIO to the office of the Ontario Minister of Health, Labour and Sport for review. The proposal was approved by the Provincial government on May 20th, 2020. Due to the funding model approval was required, which would likely not be required for private businesses following provincial guidelines.

The CSIO reopened three facilities on June 1st, 2nd and 15th.  Across Canada, CSIP and INS reopened on June 15th, and CSIC on July 6th. Additionally, the Sport Centres in Nova Scotia and Manitoba reopened on June 22nd and July 6th respectively.  Each high performance facility created protocols necessary to address specific facility needs while following provincial guidelines.


Creating a process to reopen training facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic is not easy.  Recommendations and needs are frequently changing. Additionally, the following may present challenges:

  • Having to move equipment
  • Maintaining adequate cleaning supplies
  • Athlete punctuality
  • Inability to spot exercises (programs should be adjusted accordingly)
  • Having an appropriate contact tracing system in place
  • Eliminating the use of change rooms
  • Minimizing the use of washrooms
  • Controlling walking flow (entrance, access to training stations, space between stations, exit)
  • Ensuring an appropriate emergency action plan is in place
  • Ensuring an appropriate process is in place if an athlete or support staff member contracts COVID-19

A final key challenge is athletes may not initially feel comfortable returning to a facility. As such, being open and transparent with policies and procedures are key steps in the process which may help minimize apprehensions.


As stated at the outset, the objectives of this article are to share the processes, challenges, and successes of reopening facilities dedicated to high performance sport.

Principles and processes shared may be appropriate for additional facilities focused on high performance, or facilities in the public and private sectors.

Feel free to comment and post your feedback, suggestions, and requests for additional information.


Sheldon Persad MSc, CSCS, CPTN-CPT.M, SWC. Sheldon has been coaching athletes for over 30 years, and for the past 20 years he has worked with the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario in the following capacities: S&C Coach, Lead S&C Coach, Lead Sport Science, Manager Performance Services, Director Sport Science and Sport Medicine and Senior Advisor. Sheldon is also a founding Board of Directors Member of the CSCA.

Let’s keep each other safe


1. Sousa T. (2019). The Role of a Strength and Conditioning Coach. In: Piedade S.R., Imhoff A., Clatworthy M., Cohen M., Espregueira-Mendes J. (eds). The Sports Medicine Physician. Springer International Publishing, Cham:107-119. DOI:10.1007/978-3-030-10433-7

2. Lauersen J.B., Bertelsen D.M, & Andersen L.B. (2014). The Effectiveness of Exercise Interventions to Prevent Sports Injuries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(11):871-877. DOI:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538

3. Foulds S.J., Hoffmann S.M., Hinck K., & Carons F. (2019). The Coach-Athlete Relationship in Strength and Conditioning: High Performance Athletes’ Perceptions. Sports (Basel), 7(12):244. DOI:10.3390/sports7120244

4. Baker-Davies R.M. et al. (2020). The Stanford Hall Consensus Statement for Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation. Br J Sports Med: DOI:10.1136/bjsports-2020-102596

5. Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2001). Cardiorespiratory and metabolic characteristics of detraining in humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(3):413-421.

6. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic 

7. Wu Z. & McGoogan J.M. (2020). Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72 314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. JAMA, 323(13):1239-1242. DOI:10.1001/jama.2020.2648.  

8. Government of Canada. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Prevention and Risk

9. Government of Canada: Hard-surface Disinfectants and Hand Sanitizers (COVID-19).

Provincial and Territorial Specific Resources

Alberta – Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy.

British Columbia – Gyms and Fitness Centres: Protocols for Returning to Operation.

Manitoba – Restoring Safe Services: Manitoba’s Pandemic and Economic Roadmap for Recovery.

Newfoundland and Labrador – Nlife with COVID-19.

New  Brunswick – NB’s Recovery Plan.

Northwest Territories – GNWT’s Response to COVID-19.

Nova Scotia – Reopening Nova Scotia.

Nunavut – COVID-19 GN Update.

PEI – Renew PEI Together.

Quebec – Public Health Authority Guidelines Concerning the Resumption of Indoor and Outdoor Physical and Sports Activities Carried out Individually and in Teams.

Saskatchewan – Gyms and Fitness Facilities Guidelines.

Yukon – COVID-19 Information.

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