November 2023, Articles

Canoe Racing reaping rewards of performance pathways

Canoe Racing is one of the sports seeing the benefits of performance pathways programmes in their current and previous iterations.

CRNZN’s men’s head coach and former high performance development manager, Craig Mustard, says the sport is working closely with HPSNZ’s performance life coaching team and the Christchurch regional performance hub to transition two young athletes from foundation, through identification and, hopefully, to elite level.

Craig says the key principles of HPSNZ’s Performance Pathway programme are aligned to CRNZ’s longer term development planning which recognises that development takes time, that it is extremely beneficial for young athletes to stay close to home, to build a trusted support team and work with the sport on the transition readiness to elite level.

“While the senior canoe racing programme is centralised, all our other athletes stay in their local environment and work with their own coaches,” says Craig.

“It is essential we don’t rush them and hence the importance of working closely with HPSNZ’s Performance Pathway and Performance Life Coaching teams.”

Craig cites the example of rising young star, Olivia Brett, a member of the World Championship gold medal K4 500m crew.

“I was in Year 11 when I first entered a performance pathway programme which meant I still had two more years of school to go.  I decided to take a year off from the programme but then went back into it in my final year at school,” says Olivia. Despite her time in the programme being disrupted, Olivia says it was an amazing experience and she believes instrumental in setting her up for the transition into the elite level.

“When I took a year off from the programme but was still competing, I really noticed what I was missing.  The support I had from doctors, nutritionists and physios, along with the gym time where I was able to see how elite athletes operated was an incredible learning experience.”

Olivia says CRNZ’s Paddle to Podium programme was like a mock trial of the high performance system which was important as the reality of the transition to elite level was a “big, overwhelming shock”.

“When I moved into the elite programme there was a lot going on.  I moved away from home to a new city which in itself was pretty stressful, but thankfully there was every support service I needed there to help me with the change.”

On reflection, Olivia says she would give pathway athletes a few pieces of advice.  “Take a step back, use all the resources available, ask questions, go to everything you can and just learn.”

Christchurch Regional Pathways Performance Lead, Andrew Ellis endorses Craig’s view that Olivia is a “living example” of the pathway principles in action.  “She was originally from Canterbury, competing out of the Arawa Canoe Club, and entered our pathway programme as a 16 year old following her success in the Junior World Championships.”

Craig says that while Olivia is a fantastic example of pathway programmes, it is important to recognise that different athletes need different things at different stages.

“The relationship and opportunity to partner with HPSNZ and access regional support is incredibly important if CRNZ is to achieve its goal to be the best paddling nation in the world.”

World Championship gold medal winning K4 500m crew with Olivia Brett in 3 seat