May 2022, Articles

Supporting Athlete Wellbeing - A Rowing NZ Example

Rowing New Zealand Athlete Wellbeing Lead Tina Ryan is charged with championing and delivering holistic athlete wellbeing through all stages of the sport's high performance pathway.

She has had a sharp focus on four key areas during her first year in the role – helping athletes transition in, through and out of the programme, enhancing athlete voice mechanisms within Rowing NZ’s programme, accommodating individual needs (including a return to training after Tokyo) and enhancing the performance environment athletes are working in.

One of the key shifts in HPSNZ’s 2024Strategy is the Wellbeing and Engagement pillar, of which a cornerstone component is supporting identified NSOs with Wellbeing Managers or other sport specific solutions. Rowing NZ was the first to appoint a Wellbeing Manager, with Tina Ryan taking on the position just over a year ago.

Prior to Tokyo a key focus for Tina was identifying what athletes needed in the lead up and what measures could be implemented quickly.

“It was interesting that athletes coming into the elite or age group programmes received an induction from HPSNZ, however there was no specific Rowing NZ induction.   A quick solution was to develop an induction programme which provided a welcome to Rowing NZ and their campaign.”

Tina’s second six months saw the focus shift to supporting athletes as they transitioned into the Paris cycle or out of the programme after Tokyo.

Tina has introduced a mentoring programme focused on athletes supporting athletes.

“We now have an up and down mentoring programme with our elite athletes mentoring our elite development athletes and elite development athletes mentoring our Under 23 rowers etc,” says Tina.  “We have certainly seen that athletes respond best to mentoring from someone they look up to even in little things like behaviours in the gym and how they comport themselves around the building.”

Enhancing athletes voice mechanisms and how they feed into key decisions has been Tina’s second focus.  There has been an Athlete Representative Group at Rowing NZ since 2016, with rowing one of the first to implement this initiative.  Representatives are voted on by athletes every year with each now having a different responsibility such as selection, wellbeing and age group leads.

Accommodating individual needs and embedding greater flexibility for athletes returning from Tokyo was a new focus for Rowing NZ.

“We want our seasoned campaigners to return and so it became apparent we had to find a way to meet their needs.  The pressures of campaigns, along with extended lockdowns, put an additional load on our athletes.  Normally athletes would have a relatively short break before returning to the rowing programme however we implemented a longer break for seasoned campaigners allowing them an alternate return to training.   This has allowed some athletes to take time out to focus on studies, work experience or other activities outside the rowing programme.”

Tina says the new approach has managed to keep more seasoned campaigners in the programme which is important as rowing embarks on the Paris cycle.

“We’ve also been working with overseas rowers, such as two athletes who competed in the Oxford/Cambridge race and others who are based in the US, to support their needs.”

The fourth focus for Tina has been enhancing the performance environment for athletes.  This has involved working with the people and policies around athletes and ensuring they are schooled in improved communication techniques.

“All athletes have attended at least one workshop on communications which helps them with techniques to enhance their communication skills with coaches and selectors, for example, how to give and receive feedback.”

Measuring wellbeing is a challenge says Tina although she can draw on her experience as a sport psychology lecturer.

“To date we’ve used surveys, questionnaires and focus group check ins however I am looking to develop a tool that will measure holistic wellbeing, not just physical wellbeing.”

Image: Photosport