News & Updates

13 October 2020 • Community

Coaching hub provides pathway to senior ranks

Athletics NZ has helped support an exciting coaching initiative in Auckland with the aim of easing the transition of participants from the junior to the senior ranks. Steve Landells found out more.

While participation remains healthy at many of New Zealand’s junior clubs, the simple fact remains that the transition of young teens into the senior ranks does not happen in sufficient numbers.

The factors contributing to the drop off in participation levels are many and varied but what is not in doubt is that change is necessary to address the issue.

So when an Auckland Central Hub was suggested which would involve Auckland City Athletics (ACA) in collaboration with principally five junior clubs – Eastern, Roskill South, Point Chevalier, Ellerslie and Hillsborough – to work on helping ease the transition, ACA Club President Simon Yarrow was hugely supportive.

“We saw this as an opportunity because we already had a good relationship with clubs in our catchment area,” explains Simon, whose club is part of Athletics NZ’s Targeted Club Project – a national initiative to provide more intensive support to 19 targeted clubs.

“We have an agreement that we do not do junior athletics because we are a senior club and we were therefore keen to form a central hub,” he explains.

“We’ve enjoyed awesome support from Athletics NZ and run a bunch of coaching initiatives in the junior clubs to aid athlete retention.”

The Run Jump Throw programme was given a big push within the five junior clubs but Simon admits something more needed to be done to ease the path for youngsters aged 12 to 14 from the junior to the senior ranks.

ACA has held open nights to welcome young emerging athletes but he admits this can be intimidating for some youngsters and says it was important to establish more of a connection.

On the back of these concerns, a coaching initiative was launched this winter to target kids aged 11 to 13.

Involving three coaches, who each guide around ten children, two-time former Commonwealth Games distance runner Phil Clode leads the endurance group and the 20 or so sprinters are shared between coaching duo Bailey Stewart and Ignacio Pena Araya.

The programme offers quality coaching and acts as a teaser to life beyond children’s athletics.

“We see that coaching and mentoring is key,” explains Simon. “We are trying to get the kids together to create a group dynamic and offer some things it is hard for some junior clubs to offer. For example, access to starting blocks can be hard for some junior clubs, but Bailey and Ignacio have offered block sessions to the kids and other levels of coaching expertise.”

The groups train every Sunday in ten-week blocks with the sprinters regularly meeting at Mt Smart Stadium and the endurance athletes at either Cornwall Park or the Auckland Domain.

The initiative is offered for free for the first four weeks, from which point each session is $10 per athlete. Despite the user-pays aspect to the project, Simon has been enormously encouraged by the number retention.

“We’ve had virtually no drop off in numbers (since charging the fee for the coaches’ services),” explains Simon. “People have been really committed and see the value in the programme.”

Phil Clode immediately saw the potential in the project and believes it could help recreate what he had previously experienced as a youngster at Whakatane AC.

“I was brought up in a small club but part of the experience was that the older boys would take on the younger athletes and help nurture them,” explains Phil. “It made sense for me to create that lifestyle, togetherness and tribal aspect that I remember as a kid. As a country, particularly in the more urban areas, we have lost this a bit.

“I believe working with the junior athletics clubs and bringing a squad together is a great way of producing that next generation of athletes.”

Phil says it quickly became apparent that the group of kids he was working with were serious about the sport, with his role to offer them a little more structure around training and to show the value of how regular training can reap rewards.

He explains how the periods in lockdown have bred resilience and given the youngsters a purpose through training and, such has been the success of the initiative, from November the group will meet for training three times a week.

“The initiative has given the group a real focus and shown them that sport is more than having fun on a junior club night. You can also have fun and be competitive as a senior athlete.”

Simon says the initiative has the potential to expand to include field event coaching and from the middle of October the club will provide an opportunity for junior athletes to train or even run timed events at Mt Smart Stadium, with the aim of further easing the transition to the senior club.

“We’ve had great support from the clubs and Athletics NZ have been awesome in getting the initiative going,” he adds.

“Everybody has identified the same problem that we are losing too many youngsters to the sport from a key stage of their development. If we can retain these kids in the sport for longer and help ride that pathway to a senior club, then it is a win-win for everybody.”

For more information please go to the Central Auckland Athletics Hub Facebook page