Athletics New Zealand High Performance Athlete Development Leader Tim Driesen hopes to aid and accelerate the evolution of the next generation of carded athletes. Here Tim explains a little more of his work and how the Pathway to Podium (P2P) and Performance Potential Squad (PPS) work.
Can you explain a little of your role?
As High Performance Athlete Development (HPAD) Leader, the majority of my time is spent implementing the HPAD strategic approach with the vision of leading a world-class programme that prepares athletes for high performance success. Much of this focus is aimed at the pre-carded athletes and specifically the two programmes we have for emerging athletes; Performance Potential Squad (PPS) and Pathway to Podium (P2P).
These programmes allow opportunities to learn, understand and demonstrate the four fundamental elements which are important to future podium success. The transition to high performance starts with athletes learning to understand themselves, their environment and the skills and behaviours required to become an athlete. As an athlete develops these attributes, they will discover where their potential and passions lie and be able to further individualise their development needs based off their abilities and the requirements of their events of choice.
Via the Athletics NZ HPAD programme, athletes and their coaches will be provided with opportunities to learn what is important to performance and to receive appropriate support relevant to the athlete’s stage of development. This provides a platform to maximise development and demonstrate abilities so that if carded, the athlete is able to utilise the support provided effectively towards maximising performance.
Can you explain more of the Pathway to Podium?
It is a joint initiative run by Sport NZ, HPSNZ and Athletics NZ. The multi-sport programme is primarily run within the athletes’ regions with opportunities to attend athletics specific workshops and camps run by Athletics NZ. The idea behind the programme is to facilitate educational workshops so athletes learn and start to understand about the different elements of what becoming an athlete and performance sport is all about. Athletes for P2P are first selected aged 16 to 19 and are selected for the programmes because of their potential to do well in high performance sport. Athletes can be part of the programme for anywhere from one to three years.
What criteria do you need to fulfil to be part of the programme?
As a high performance department, we are looking for athletes who have the potential to go on and become successful senior athletes. Athletes may be invited to the P2P programme based off a number of different reasons related to an athlete’s future potential in the sport. We are looking for athletes that are currently showing some event potential for their age as well as being well-rounded multi-skilled athletes.
What does the programme specifically offer?
The series of workshops introduce an overview of how nutrition, athlete life and performance psychology/mental skills is important to maximising performance. Some individual support across these areas as well as strength & conditioning and medical is also provided. This is so P2P members start to learn about the expectations of high performance sport and to start to build relationships with providers that they will hopefully continue to work with in the future.
On top of this Athletics New Zealand organise an athletics-only camp, which is run biennially or annually, where we provide more athletics specific information for the 40 athletes and Para athletes and their coaches who are part of the programme.
Has Pathway to Podium proved a success yet?
P2P is just about to enter its fourth year of existence. Ten athletes out of the current 14 in the Performance Potential squad have been a member of P2P. Athletics has had a good conversion rate. One current example is pole vaulter Olivia McTaggart, who is now part of the PPS. Even though Olivia has displayed excellent performance progression she is still undertaking her second year of P2P workshops. Even with good performance, it is still critical to learn and effectively develop all the other elements crucial to performance to ensure all the skills are present when entering the high performance environment.
Can you explain more about the Performance Potential Squad?
PPS athletes are one step closer to demonstrating the potential of achieving to a performance level and have started to demonstrate the different elements important to maximising their chance of success. Put simply, P2P is about learning and development and PPS is about continued learning and development and a confirmation period of demonstrating the skills and performance required to effectively enter and thrive in the high performance environment.
What criteria do you need to meet to be part of PPS?
Athletics NZ selects athletes – and we currently have 14 on the PPS – who are showing the potential to one day become a future podium athlete and are progressing to displaying the traits expected of a performance athlete. One example of such an athlete would be javelin thrower Alex Wood. When he joined the PPS programme, Alex had a PB of 63m, which in itself may not look too fantastic. However, Alex demonstrated other physical potential, made a huge change that allowed him to focus on his development as a javelin thrower and a commitment to training in a performance environment with his coach, Debbie Strange, and training partners and mentors, Ben Langton-Burnell and Stuart Farquhar. This season Alex improved his PB to over 70m and is continuing to progress in his development putting in place all the elements to maximise his chance for future success.
We also have some older athletes on the programme like distance runners Camille Buscomb and Eric Speakman (both aged 26). We need to consider that an athlete’s development can be very individual. Camille recently set a big 10,000m PB of 31:45.02 for 10,000 and has been selected for the World Championships while Eric is on the cusp of qualification. Both are showing the potential to progress even further in their chosen events.
Is there a time limit to being in the squad?
We will have regular reviews with the athlete to monitor progress. Obviously, our hope is to support PPS athletes to one day become carded athletes and to thrive on the global stage. Development across all of the fundamental elements and event performance will be a factor as to whether the athletes will be retained on the squad. Athletics NZ doesn’t have limitless resources, so during the planning and review process if an athlete is continuously not performing or developing in identified areas then they may not be retained.
What do you offer the athletes who are part of PPS?
By working through a planning and review process, the developmental needs of the athlete are identified which allows more effective and targeted support. PPS athletes are also offered opportunities during the year to attend HPAD camps and event group initiatives.
Traditionally non-carded athletes do not have the benefit of HPNSZ athlete performance support, but this year we’ve worked an arrangement where the athletes will receive some of this vital assistance. This is an important step in earlier detection of potential issues and needs, whilst also allowing for a much smoother transition for those athletes who become carded in future. Without this opportunity, it can take time to establish a relationship with a provider. Not every athlete is offered exactly the same support, it is based on need and priorities. Support could be a combination of athlete performance support (physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, athlete life support, nutrition, mental skills and sports medicine) and/or funding assistance to aid in the athlete’s development and preparation.
High Performance Athlete Development introduction
Pathway to Podium programme overview
Performance Potential Squad programme overview