US long jump legend Mike Powell will be helping launch the IAAF Nestle Kids' Athletics programme in New Zealand later this month. Steve Landells chats to Athletics NZs Club Development Manager Catherine O’Sullivan about the potential impact of the scheme on these shores.
Having reached more than 1.5m kids in more than 120 territories across the globe since its creation ten years ago, the IAAF Nestle Kids' Athletics Programme has proved a worldwide smash.
And now the initiative is finally set to hit New Zealand with the official launch of the project with the help of IAAF ambassador and long jump world record holder Mike Powell, through a series of events up and down the country beginning on February 26 with a date at the Waitakere Douglas Track and Field Stadium as part of the Douglas Waitakere Athletics Festival.
Launched in 2005 in an attempt to move away from replicating small scale adult competitions – which often encourage early specialisation – the IAAF Kids' Athletics programme promotes and encourages the more general development of the run, jump, throw skills in an attractive, accessible and instructive way.
All activities can take place within a 60x40m area in which equipment can be easily transported and put together and participants compete in a team event with the additional bonus that all competitors feel they can contribute to the overall score of a competition, which should take no longer than one-and-a-half hours to complete.
Athletics NZ Club Development Manager Catherine O’Sullivan first experienced a pilot of the programme in Australia six years ago and she was immediately taken with IAAF Kids' Athletics, which she believes acts as great fit to the pre-existing Athletics NZ Run Jump Throw programme - which focuses on the delivery of the basic athletics movement patterns to primary schools and clubs aged 5-12.
“It aligns with what we are already doing with our Run, Jump, Throw programme and matches the skill set and the philosophy which we are aiming for - namely maximising participation and teaching kids skills through modified equipment and activities,” O’Sullivan explains.
“The equipment (for IAAF Kids' Athletics) is awesome. It’s different and includes even little pole vaults. I also like the team aspect, which ensures a good mix of abilities are aiming to work and win as a team – and gives the chance, perhaps, for kids who wouldn’t normally excel the chance to be in a winning team.”
O’Sullivan insists that the IAAF Kids' Athletics – which will be aimed at schools and clubs and target kids in the 7 to 10 age bracket - will nicely complement the teachings of Run Jump Throw.
“We see it as a flexible coaching tool. You might find that on one day the club or school might decide to use one of the activities to complement a Run Jump Throw session and the next they might opt to do the full IAAF Kids' Athletics team competition.
After appearing in Auckland, Powell, who memorably defeated his US rival Carl Lewis to set the existing world record of 8.95m at the 1991 Tokyo World Championships in an epic long jump showdown, will move on to promote IAAF Kids Athletics on the beach in Mt Maunganui on February 27.
He will move south to feature at an event at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in front of an expected 800 kids on March 2 before the two-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist concludes his IAAF Kids' Athletics-related activities at Newtown Park in Wellington on March 8 - the final day of the New Zealand Track & Field Championships.
O’Sullivan hopes that the programme, which is already active in the Otago, Auckland and Waikato BoP regions will help signpost the way forward for the scheme across the whole of New Zealand.
“We are hoping that the launch will highlight how cool the programme is and the other regions will want to come on board and use it as a coaching and promotional tool,” adds O’Sullivan. “I like the team element to the programme. It helps promote mass participation and teaches athletic skills in a fun way that’s age appropriate. That’s what makes it so awesome.”