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Rowing NZ reshaping approach to high-performance athlete development

  • 09 Feb 21

Our high performance pathway purpose is to guide and support our people to achieve repeatable and sustainable medal winning performances on the world stage, which inspire New Zealand. In order to achieve this we must review, change and adapt in order to reach for greatness. Rowing NZ is evolving it’s High-Performance Athlete Pathway based on evidence gathered through an extensive review and is excited to deliver on what the rowing community have informed us was important.

The reshaped high performance athlete development pathway seeks to:

  • Reshape the way we think about development using an evidence-based approach.
  • Create a high-performance system with multiple entry and re-entry points.
  • Put the athlete at the core of what is delivered.
  • Offer a versatile support structure, that moves with the athlete - resourcing people, rather than places.
  • Provide athletes with education and knowledge to drive their own development.

Elite athlete and chair of our Athlete Representative Group, Tom Mackintosh speaks to High-Performance Athlete Development Lead Annika Wing to discuss what the research found and what changes are planned. You can view the video below.

A short summary of the conversation and key aspects of the strategy are outlined below.

Why change?

Over the past 20 years, Rowing NZ’s High Performance Programme has evolved. This period has seen the introduction of a very small, centralised High-Performance base at Lake Karapiro, followed by the creation of four Rowing Performance Centres (RPCs). Post the introduction of RPCs, an expansion of the centralised programme at Lake Karapiro incorporated a women’s and men’s eight programme. There are now approximately 50 elite athletes training full time at Lake Karapiro as members of Rowing NZ’s Summer Squad, and the new Elite Development Squad, introduced in 2020 to support athletes training towards the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

This evolution across the last four Olympic cycles has resulted in unprecedented success at World Rowing Championships and the Olympic Games. During this period New Zealand has seen both advancements in technology and societal shifts, and the support prospective Olympians need and want has evolved alongside these. Rowing NZ have identified the need to reshape the athlete pathway, and recognise the importance of using an evidence-based approach to ensure we are doing what is best to support all athletes at each stage of their pathway within our sport.

As we strive to remain World Leading, our programme must continue to evolve and adapt. Our research highlighted that specialised support must be provided to athletes trying to break into the elite team, giving them access to a highly competitive daily training environment where they can learn what is required at elite level and giving them time to transition. In previous years RPCs were able to excel in this area, but with the growth of the centralised system the average age of RPC athletes has now reduced to just over 20 years of age where the developmental needs of those athletes are no longer being met as well as they can.

Our pathway must adapt to ensure that what we provide is age and stage appropriate – emphasising patience with young athletes to allow them the time they need to develop physically and holistically, whilst having the opportunity to race competitively and enjoy the sport alongside education or career development. We need to adopt a long-term approach - understanding when to prioritise rowing and when to prioritise personal development goals to allow athletes to specialise when appropriate for them.

There is also a requirement to support more athletes within the pathway, creating multiple entry and re-entry points to high performance rowing. To do this, support needs to be flexible and move with the athlete. Advancements in technology allowing us to track and monitor athletes and the normalisation of video conferencing since the COVID-19 lockdown last year have demonstrated a capability to deliver and provide support remotely. We need to work with our athletes and coaches to help create an environment around them that optimises their chances of succeeding, regardless of where they are based.

What changes will happen?

In the new strategy, there will be no change to the centralised high performance model or the way that athletes are selected into the elite or age group representative teams. The domestic season and racing will still be the focal point for athletes working towards age group representation. Centralised campaigns for the age group teams will continue to be a key development opportunity for pathway athletes, with plans in place to increase the level of support during campaigns and at the different levels.

The first significant change is that the elite development squad based at Lake Karapiro will expand to look after the top-level athletes currently within the RPCs and pushing towards the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Any athlete that is not part of the centralised high-performance programme but meeting age specific targets putting them into contention for Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 will be supported through the Rowing NZ National Pathway. These athletes and their coaches will be supported remotely by a National Pathway Coach and invited to regular development camps hosted in the region and centrally.

A key driver for change highlighted through the research is the need for a thriving domestic rowing base, giving people across the country opportunity to engage in the sport competitively. Through increased emphasis on regional development with focussed support for athletes and coaches at their home base expanding coverage across the country, Rowing NZ aims to create more opportunities for people to come into and remain in the sport.

Over the coming weeks Rowing NZ will be consulting with the rowing community to determine how the National Pathway strategy can best work to address the needs of the individual athletes and regions. We recognise the need for regional strategies rather than a one size fits all approach to ensure that the support offered works for the specific region, which is why a finalised model will not be confirmed until consultations have concluded.

All athletes currently rowing as part of the high performance system in the RPCs or age group teams gain automatic selection to the National Pathway in 2021 and will continue to be supported through the National Pathway programme or representative campaigns through the winter.

Further updates will be provided at the conclusion of the consultations and will be published upon Rowing NZ’s website and within Rowing NZ’s newsletter and social media platforms.