It’s been nearly a year since Phoebe Lau has been able to coach her young athletes, but as of last weekend her condo was transformed into a gym space as she taught them, virtually, how to play soccer, basketball and other sports.
Lau is a program leader with Special Olympics BC, which is moving its programs for youth with a variety of intellectual disabilities online for the first time, starting with Richmond, Abbotsford and Vancouver.
It’s been “quite challenging” for these children, said Lau, whose normal routines and activities were interrupted by the pandemic. Many have also been staying home more as parents may not feel it’s as safe to take them out.
But now, the virtual sessions will give the kids not only a chance to exercise, but also to connect with each other.
“It’s a time for them to socialize with each other, because a lot of the kids are from different schools,” she said.
“I’ve talked to a lot of parents and they can feel overwhelmed and alone when they have a special needs kid. So we kind of build a little community where everybody can come and talk to each other.”
Lau’s virtual FUNdamentals program started on Saturday, Feb. 6, and she hopes it can run until June to line up with the school year. It’s something that could put a bit of normalcy back into the kids’ routines, she said.
While some in-person youth programs have been running with safety protocols in place, not all families are comfortable participating, according to SOBC. In Richmond, the youth programs haven’t been running since pandemic protocols were first put in place last March, said Lau, who has been volunteering with SOBC for the past 10 years.
The FUNdamentals program teaches kids how to play sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer. Typically, sessions would be held in a school gym – and Lau admits it will be challenging to adjust to coaching these sports virtually, as families may have limited space.
She said she may try coaching virtually from a community gym rather than her condo, to help better instruct the athletes on the movements.
“That way, if they have more space to run around, I can show them things they can do. But if they are in a limited space or condo I can also show them what they can do.”
Lau also uses her programs to help the kids and parents with other challenges they may face at school or in daily life.
“Some parents will tell me, my son is not very good at counting, so I will try to incorporate that into the program. If they tell me that their kid is not very good at waiting for their turn, I will work that into the program so that there’s more chances for them to do it.”
The Richmond FUNdamentals program runs on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Anyone interested in registering can contact SOBC.
There are nearly 200 Special Olympics athletes in Richmond, according to the organization. Across B.C., there are more than 5,200 athletes, some as young as two years old and with a variety of intellectual disabilities, in 55 communities.