Happy smiling children. That was the main goal of Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital in Utrecht (The Netherlands) when constructing the interactive Yalp sports cage on their roof terrace. Almost three years later it’s clear that their mission has been accomplished.
Enthusiastically, Jochem Uytdehaaghe (former Dutch ice-skater) invites a timid boy to play in the play cage. Soon, whilst playing the game, his embarrassment turns into joy. His father watches tenderly and asks his son: “Do you know who this man is?” The child raises his shoulders unknowingly looking up at Jochem. The father continues: “This man can ice-skate very well.” The father is visiting his other son in the hospital and explains that, in the meantime, his little brother is able to enjoy himself in the play cage with the Sutu Sports wall, which is one of the game options.
The relationship between Jochem Uytdehaaghe and the hospital is a sincere one. The two-time Olympic ice-skating champion of 2002 (5 and 10 km track) opened the newly furnished roof terrace together with Mayor Jan van Zanen back in 2016. Jochem is an ambassador for WCH Sportive, a program that aims to promote exercise for children with a disability or chronic illness.
Jochem Uytdehaaghe says: “Of course noone wants to stay in hospitals, but you can always try to make things around it as fun as possible. I certainly think this sports cage contributes to that.”
The first ideas for a sports roof terrace at the WCH were sketched in 2015. This had everything to do with the Tour de France that started off in Utrecht that year, the so called Grand Départ. Ewout Tuyt, project leader of the WCH Sportive program, saw a dream come true. “All kinds of initiatives arose around the Grand Départ. Our biggest wish was to get the children in the hospital moving again. One of the initiatives was to convert the former playground terrace into a new sports roof terrace. Sponsorship funds were released for this project and we were able to get started. This is where Yalp came into the picture.”
After careful consideration, the WCH Sportive program decided to realize the plan to build a sports cage with an integrated Sutu Sports wall and interactive Toro goals. Three years later, Tuyt is still pleased with his choice at the time. “The cage is very attractive, both visually and in terms of play possibilities. It tackles a large target group. Whether you’re in a wheelchair, young or old, have a disability or are not able to move; It invites you to go in there and play. That’s something we find very important.”
Tuyt continues: “We’re still incredibly happy in 2019. We think it’s a fantastic asset to the hospital. And not just us. People that visit the hospital often ask where the sports roof terrace is. It still is and remains an attraction. Everything in the cage always works. We never deal with failing equipment. All children are incredibly motivated to get active and play around in the cage. Moreover, it is customer-friendly and vandal-proof. It fully meets our requirements.”
Influence in rehabilitation
Tuyt receives support from the medical sector. Erik Hulzebos is an exercise physiologist at the WCH. He mainly looks at the influence that the device has on rehabilitating children. He says: “The sports cage is very important. The best thing about it is that children can get out of the typical clinical setting and enter a more playful environment. They get to know their limits again, which is something this sports cage stimulates.”
Erik continues: “What we see happening is that the children of this hospital play with their family and friends. A child in a wheelchair can roll or throw a ball and join other kids in play. That’s why this sports cage is so amazing: Children with or without a disability come together and play in unison. It’s great to see that our sports cage provokes a child to get to know and recognize his/her boundaries. It’s a place where children can play and exercise and just have a good time. One of the main advantages of this sports cage is that it’s interactive. In terms of sound, lighting and invitation. You can play by yourself or with others. That makes it very challenging.”
In the meantime, Jochem Uytdehaage is engaging in a fun game of Speed Sutu with a patient. Who can shoot the ball the hardest. The wall is able to measure how hard you’ve hit it. “I’m a strong believer that children, in whatever form, whether they are sick or healthy, can simply enjoy a good workout. This interactive sports cage is a party by itself. You get an interactive response when you shoot the ball. It makes me very happy. It’s a nice outdoor area. This gives children pleasure, which is the best thing there is.”
A sports roof terrace like this was the only one of it’s kind at the time. In the meantime, a new one has recently been established at the Antwerp University Hospital (Belgium) and another one is in the making at the Montana Children’s medical Center (United States). The sports roof terrace at Antwerp was realized in collaboration with the Jan Vertonghen Foundation. Jan Vertonghen is a Belgian international Soccer Player.
Jochem Uytdehaaghe is not surprised about the (international) interest. “I think it’s incredibly valuable to invest in this concept, because it’s something that will continuously reoccur. Children start playing more, either with friends or family, become healthier and boost motoric skills at the same time. It’s the entire experience people get that makes it valuable, which comes with a price tag. But looking at the bigger picture makes it all the more worth it: investing in the future of children.”
The ball is still rolling in the cage. But this time they’re not using the interactive elements. The Sutu wall has been transformed into an old-fashioned goal with a keeper. Just shoot. Droplets of sweat sparkle off happy playing children’s faces.
Author: Bert Schabbink