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Magpies turn to tennis balls to keep fit during lockdown

While the suspension of The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup season may have halted the momentum of the third-placed Western Suburbs Magpies, it hasn’t stopped them from doing anything and everything – including using tennis balls - to stay ready for a return to play.

As the Greater Sydney lockdown has limited the opportunity for team training and contact sessions, coach Ben Gardiner has invented new COVID-19 safe training methods to keep the Magpies fit and firing.

The NSWRL Major and Community Competitions were suspended following the move by the NSW Government to place the Greater Sydney Region in lockdown to cope with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“As the government regulations have been, we’ve made adjustments to training so the boys can continue remaining fit and keeping up their hand-eye coordination more than anything,” Gardiner told nswrl.com.au.

“Over the last three weeks where they could only train with partners or individually, because they’ve been in their own area, we’ve gone to a Zoom-orientated session on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“I go to my local park, they go to their local park (and) I send them a session plan of what they’re going to do and what they need to bring on the weekend prior, and we’re doing a variety of skills – passing, tennis ball skills and just being really inventive to be honest.”

From tennis-related hand-eye drills to individual wrestling via Zoom, Gardiner and the rest of the coaching staff are using a range of methods to make sure the players can get straight back to their best when the competition hopefully resumes.

“We can’t do contact, so we’re doing a lot of shoulder rolls – doing a forward roll from on the feet and coming back up after contact with the back of the shoulders,” Gardiner said.

“(We do) wrestle-style drills by ourselves where it’s a lot core strength and core movement with high repetition, so we can get the movement of being on the ground when we’ve got to rotate and move.”

Gardiner also gave an insight into the exercises where training gets more creative, including the “hand-wall catch” drill.

“You basically pass it (a tennis ball) from your right hand, hit a brick wall, the ball bounces back and you catch it with your left hand,” Gardiner explained.

“So, it’s just alternations of that - right hand, catch and pass, left hand, then we alternate and then throw it, so they have to move and adjust their feet.

“And those drills come from tennis, so I look at lots of different stuff and to put it in a nutshell it’s about stimulating the players, keeping some enjoyment in it (and) making sure there’s consistent connection with the playing group.”