WJHA maintaining connection with kids from a distance

May 1, 2020 2:40 pm by Jason Friesen Dynamic Featured Image

The Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy (WJHA) may revolve around the sport of hockey, but the real focus of the program is connection and building relationships. If teaching kids to play hockey was the main focus of the program, the COVID-19 pandemic would put a halt on any impact the staff would be able to have on the kids in the program.

Instead, hockey is a pathway that the WJHA uses to build relationships with students, and their ability to impact kids’ lives has simply needed a shift in strategy during these times of physical distancing.

Though they can’t be on the ice with the students and they can’t interact with them during the after-school program, the WJHA staff have creatively pivoted to ensure they remain a positive influence to their student athletes during the pandemic.

The WJHA joined in on car parades put on by some of its partner schools. Coaches joined teachers in driving their vehicles in a parade-like fashion past the homes of their students in a show of support and care. The Winnipeg Jets truck and True North Youth Foundation van were part of the procession and Mick E. Moose even jumped in the back of the truck to wave “hello”.

“The elementary school car parades have been a lot of fun,” said Alex Kampen, Minor Hockey Supervisor for the WJHA. “We got to see a lot of our kids waiting on their front steps or yards, in the windows, or on their bikes, and they were all waving and smiling to our staff. Many of them even created signs to display as well.”

Teachers at the schools have noticed the impact the WJHA is still making with kids, despite the distancing measures. Principal Jane Couch from Stevenson Britannia Elementary School knows that just like the teachers in her school, the WJHA is a regular part of students’ lives and needs to continue to be there for them.

“It is important that the WJHA continues to connect with schools and kids during this time because these students have a connection with the WJHA staff,” said Couch. “Our school staff are trying to keep in regular contact with our students, but the WJHA staff are a normal part of these students’ weekly routines too. They are important people in their lives. It is so important for our students to see that all the people who were in their lives while they were in school are doing well and are still part of their lives.”

The school car parades are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways the WJHA is still connecting. Coaches have held team video calls with their minor hockey players, and although it’s much different than how they envisioned their season ending, they were still able to celebrate their seasons with virtual team wind-ups.

“Being able to connect with our female bantam team was a way to check in and see how they were all holding up,” said Nicole McAlpine, Hockey Canada Skills Academy Liaison for the WJHA. “For some of those girls, I know that our video call was one of their biggest highlights they’ve had in a while.”

To make up for the cancelled end-of-year banquet, McAlpine and her fellowcoaches got creative with a trivia game and a virtual awards presentation.

“It was amazing to see the girls connect despite being apart and they’ve already asked to do it again.”

Social media shout-outs, phone calls and TeamSnap messages have also helped to maintain social connections while also providing academic support and encouraging physical activity.Given the challenges of distance learning, virtual tutoring has been a priority and special exercise videos have been shared.

Jaclyn Fraser, Tutor and Student Support Coordinator for the WJHA, has spent plenty of time on video calls to ensure that students are still getting the support for school and life that they need.

“The students have been excited to hear from us, and they’re happy to know that we are still around if they need any assistance with school or need someone to listen to the struggles they are having during this time,” said Fraser. “My biggest takeaway from all of this has been the confirmation of how important it is to check in on students and continue to build on the connections that have been made throughout the years. Regardless of the barriers that may be in place, it is important to find a way to reach out.”

The extra effort by the WJHA staff certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by the students and their parents. Staff see gratitude in their smiles as they drive by houses in school parades, and hear it directly from the students during video calls.

“It means so much as we feel important and cared for,” said Riley, a 13-year-old WJHA participant from Hedges Middle School. “It gives us the chance to still feel like we are learning and part of the WJHA, even though we aren’t physically at school or hockey practice. I like hearing from the coaches and watching videos of them; they make it a lot of fun.”

“We can’t say enough about the staff at the WJHA – they are like no one else,” added Riley’s mother, Candace Goddard. “Their kindness and care for each child and family is beyond words. The fact that they are still taking the time to create videos of activities and workouts for the kids is just amazing and they are so fun to watch. I love that they came out for our Buchanan School Parade, as it was sure fun to see all the teachers and coaches with their amazing creativity make the parade enjoyable for the kids and parents.”

The WJHA staff have found the interactions with kids just as fulfilling. It’s a regular part of their day that they too are missing.

“The connections with the kids offer a sense of normalcy, and we’re able to give the kids some reassurance in knowing that they are missed, that we’re here for them now, and that we’re excited to see them when we are able to,” said Trevor Hollins, a coach with the WJHA. “I think all of that can go a long way.”

“Our program works because we build relationships with the kids and their families,” said Kampen. “The most rewarding part of staying connected right now is when a current or former player’s face lights up when they recognize that you still care.”

The success of the WJHA is not simply found in the goals, assists, and big saves on the ice. You’ll see the success in the smiles of the student athletes and in the community that is built through the program’s dedicated staff, and no distancing measures can stop that.