From the gym to social media: USF Recreation and Wellness transitions fitness classes online amid COVID-19

Students can now watch a Recreation and Wellness staff member conduct classes on YouTube and Instagram Live. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Its doors may be closed, but USF Recreation and Wellness will remain open online through its social media streaming platforms — Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

As of right now, all of the Recreation and Wellness facilities — Campus Recreation Center, the FIT, WELL Fitness Center and Riverfront Park — are closed until at least May 8 due to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home executive order concerning COVID-19.

Assistant Director of Marketing and Membership for Recreation and Wellness Michael Coccagnia said that faculty and staff started making plans to close facilities around spring break when it was initially announced that the university would be closed until April 6. 

Transitioning to Instagram Live

Group fitness classes are now on Instagram Live, where you can watch a Recreation and Wellness staff member conduct a class in real time. 

“We get feedback from the students every week by the Instagram Live platform or through our Instagram and Facebook accounts,” said Coccagnia. “They’ll say ‘Hey where’s Zumba?’ and we can say ‘OK, we got you, we’re listening.”

The Instagram Live classes begin at scheduled times with the type of exercise varying on a week-to-week basis. The choice also depends on the feedback from online users. 

“We have an amazingly interactive platform with the students right now, so they can voice very quickly whether we’re on the right track or not,” said Coccagnia. “Our group fitness teams then adjust and we release the week’s calendar every Monday.”

Students have responded to the livestreamed classes with some recommendations.

“I think they are probably doing the best that they can. I do think they should post the workout on their IGTV so that people can view it after the fact,” said USF student Tess Butler. “I’m still waiting for them to do some type of cardio dance or Zumba class.”

All classes that were originally provided on campus can be provided virtually except for the “Group Cycle” class. 

“I think what makes this [Instagram Live classes] really special is that students get to see the instructors that they might be familiar with,” said Coccagnia. 

On the livestreams, instructors are conducting classes out of their own rooms and other areas while they are self-isolating. During the Instagram Live session, they engage with participants by asking them to give a “thumbs up” and viewers in return will comment that they’re following the instructions. 

There have been positive reactions on Recreation and Wellness’ Instagram posts about the livestreams, with comments like “Bless,” “Thank God” and “Let’s go boysss.”

Fitness instructors are also using YouTube to upload videos similar to the livestreamed fitness classes for students who missed the live session. 

Recreation and Wellness employees

While the fitness instructors of Recreation and Wellness are still able to work and engage with students remotely, other Recreation and Wellness employees have to find work in different ways. 

The Fitness Team, employees that are usually out on the floors of the gym to assist people, are working with the personal trainers to develop workouts for each week. These are called the “Workout of the Week” and are found on Recreation and Wellness’ Instagram and Facebook pages. 

From the livestreams to the workout developments and other challenges, Recreation and Wellness has managed to keep its employees still involved in some work.

There are over 400 paylines for student employment, according to Recreation and Wellness Director Jay Souza.

“We may only have 380 students, but a couple of them have dual roles,” said Souza. “We do have some students employed right now, they’re doing a lot of the virtual content development.”

Souza said these employees are helping with the current content development for Recreation and Wellness’ social media as well as conducting interviews for the hiring process and creating training modules for future employees in the fall. 

Given Recreation and Wellness’ transition to the virtual world, some of its employees are unable to find hours.

“We’re trying to develop some type of means to get them some more work in,” said Souza. “We are very cognizant of trying to get students paid and trying to get some hours in for them.”

Julián Febo, a second-year student and Recreation and Wellness employee for the Outdoor Recreation program is learning how to work around all outdoor spring semester trips getting canceled.

“Our bosses are continually looking for ways to support us as employees and give us opportunities for employment virtually,” said Febo. “Whether that be through trip proposals, or other means.”

Trips and intramural sports put on hold

Recreation and Wellness’ Adventure Trip is arguably the most affected part of its operations as travel has been restricted due to COVID-19-related safety measures enacted by USF. 

The program organizes trips for students to go “hiking, caving, whitewater rafting and backpacking” in places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico, according to the Adventure Trips website. 

“We are still planning [trips] for fall, however we have no deposits in place yet or anything like that,” said Souza. 

Intramural sports are also on hold in compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines. Instead, USF students can now participate competitively in e-sports. 

“We’ve got a more robust platform that’s being launched that is going to allow tournament-type games with some more evolved gaming platforms,” said Coccagnia.

Souza is trying to consolidate USF St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses with the e-sports programs so students from all campuses can compete against each other. 

These will include popular multiplayer games such as FIFA World Cup and World of Warcraft. 

With all of this virtual development, the question remains as to how long online programs will continue for students, even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and campus life returns to normal.

“I am going to charge the team with building some online content as we move forward in order to reach students that wouldn’t normally come in,” said Souza. “However, when we’re back live again and if we are able to open on May 9, we’re going to have a combination of both.”

For Souza, the summer semester will be a good time to test the continued administration of online content. 

“My intent is to be able to offer something remotely permanently, but probably scaled down from what it is right now,” said Souza. “To do that and other versions of in-house [operations] when the facilities are open, that is a lot to ask, for the staff to take on all of that responsibility.”