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Athletes going ‘back to school’ during lockdown

With sport cancelled due to COVID-19, athletes are finding themselves stuck at home with time to consider other aspects of their lives. As a result, the HPSNZ Athlete Life team have noticed an increase in demand for their services during the lockdown.

Chris Arthur, Head of Athlete Life, says athletes are seeing just how fragile sport can be. “Now is the ideal time for athletes to plan for life after sport, do more study, and gain new skills. It’s a massive opportunity to prepare for the future.”

New Zealand’s leading athletes are fortunate to have their tertiary education funded, thanks to the HPSNZ Prime Minister’s Scholarship programme. Athletes usually only chip away at a tertiary qualification, doing one or two papers per semester in preparation for their future careers. But when lockdown loomed, athletes turned to their Athlete Life Advisors and Athlete Friendly Universities. With their help, they were able to rapidly enrol in additional papers, despite the semester having already gotten underway. As a result, universities have seen a surge of athletes increase their study loads.

One such athlete is skier Ben Barclay. His Athlete Life Advisor Carol Goodlass says Ben wanted to use his time in lockdown wisely. As a result, he is now busy doing three papers towards his Bachelor of Business degree this semester.

“Massey gave me the opportunity to enrol in an extra paper due to all of our trainings being cancelled,” Ben says. “I had to catch up on the first four weeks of lectures and assessments before classes resume.”

Just prior to lockdown and the announcement of the Olympic Games postponement, and sensing this decision was on the horizon, Olympic pole-vaulter Eliza McCartney took proactive action to investigate increasing her study load. She got the relevant approvals from her course co-ordinators and checked-in with her Athlete Life Advisor Carolyn Donaldson, to ensure she had a viable plan. Once the lockdown and postponement was confirmed, she was able to add two extra papers to her 2020 study plans, which also include an online te reo Māori course.

Black Stick, Hugo Inglis had a professional hockey contract in Europe and was running his own business before COVID-19 and injury brought him back to New Zealand. In consultation with Chris Arthur, Hugo wasted no time redesigning his plans. Thanks to a Prime Minister’s Scholarship, Hugo is now working through edX courses linked to sustainability, circular economies and climate solutions for a changing planet. He is also undertaking a detailed financial modelling course, as he looks for work opportunities a bit closer to home.

Two-time Paralympic gold medallist Adam Hall was enroute to a skiing event in Europe when races were cancelled due to COVID-19. He hunkered down at his northern hemisphere base in Colorado, and is taking the opportunity to work towards a degree through Otago Polytechnic’s CAPABLE NZ, supported by his Athlete Life Advisor Carol Goodlass, who checks in with him regularly online.

Criss Strange, Athlete Life Advisor in the Waikato, has worked closely with several athletes needing to alter their study plans. Olympic rower Sophie MacKenzie had been planning to complete an advanced yoga teacher’s qualification. “We were able to identify an equivalent online course that still complies with the Prime Minister’s Scholarship criteria,” he says.

Another athlete was unable to complete the forty hours of work experience required for her Personal Training course. With Criss Strange’s help, she is now doing online programming with another training provider in order to complete her qualification.

Athletes undertaking research for their PhD’s and Masters degrees report that they are relishing the time to complete their projects. “They are actually finding it easier to communicate with their supervisors during lockdown,” Criss Strange says.

“It’s great to see that athletes understand the importance of preparing for life after sport and are proactively taking advantage of a challenging situation,” Chris Arthur says.