Rowing NZ launches its restructured pathway programme

 

Every year a bunch of rowers get together over dinner and a couple of beers to catch up on family, mutual friends and shared histories.

At some point in the evening the chat will turn to the current state of the sport.

As the clock heads towards midnight someone will inevitably utter the dreaded acronym.

R...P...Cs

Boom! Suddenly there’s an edge to things as passionate opinions take things into the witching hour.

The chat this year is sure to begin earlier as a couple of new acronyms enter the room.

SPH and SDHs. Summer Performance Hubs and Summer Development Hubs.

They are Rowing New Zealand’s new pilot programmes to replace the Regional Performance Centres that were disestablished in 2021 and add what Janey Charlton calls a major piece of the puzzle for the sport in this country.

Janey is Athlete Development Manager at Rowing New Zealand and has been driving the structural shake-up for the last year, consulting with the community to solve a problem.

“The RPC model went because of the large centralisation here at Lake Karāpiro. The old model didn't cope with having 45 athletes in this building,” she says.

Many saw the demise of the RPCs as a way to rebuild and reboot the club system.

But the reset had swung things too far the other way. Janey wants the clubs to be strong, but she believed another tweak was needed.

“There's now a big gap between the athletes outside the building and the athletes inside the building.

“The clubs are operating a really good club programme, but the athletes are not at the standard to come into the set-up here. So, what the Summer Performance Hubs are trying to do is put in place a daily training environment that pushes the athlete’s level so that they're ready to be one of our top Under-23 athletes or can come into the building as an Elite.”

Here’s the guts of it:

SPHs

  • Two SPH hubs, one based out of Waikato RC and one out of Avon RC, awarded through a contested process.
  • Around 15 athletes spread across the two centres. As Janey describes it: “Very small scale compared to the RPCs.”
  • Athletes invited through a talent ID process.
  • No pressure to change club allegiance.
  • Aimed at top end Under-23s and Elites.
  • One coach per SPH contracted by RNZ.
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SDHs

  • Four SDHs Auckland, Wellington, Blenheim, Lake Dunstan, also awarded through contested process.
  • Focus on the next step of development for athletes identified through age group trials and teams or pathway standards.
  • Potential for more SHDs as pilot evolves.
  • Locations selected partly on pools of suitable athletes already in that region.
  • Funding to assist coaching and development opportunities for identified athletes within clubs and regions.
Web-Hubs-002

Janey’s proud of the emergence of the Development Hub model. It came about after a second look and extra consultation with the rowing community.

“We want to show the younger athletes that they can stay at home for a couple of years and that they don't need to make a decision about moving for rowing until they've established themselves a little bit more as a person,” she says.

“They've got a lot of other life changes going on and we want them to go into the development hubs and have a really good Club or Senior level rowing experience.”

Under the old RPC model, a lot of people had moved straight out of school and away from their support base and really struggled.

The choice of locations and differing arrangements within each SDH gives an insight into how it won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Wellington won’t be run out of a particular club but through its rowing association. There are challenges with decent water but Janey and Jared Cummings, who’s also been heavily involved with the concept, want to think outside the square.

“We're trying to recognise that there are some really good athletes in the regions and in particular coming out of Wellington,” says Jared, Rowing NZ’s Coach Development Manager.

Look no further than the selection of Wellingtonians Nico Daly, Zola Kemp, Kate Barham and Emma Bagrie in this year’s New Zealand Women’s Under 19 Eight, and Maxim Ericson in the Men’s U19 Quad.

The construction of a new association boathouse at Petone and the push by a couple of Wellington schools to use the Foxton Loop on the Manawatu River were also factors in considering Wellington’s bid.

And that’s where Rowing NZ’s funding for the hub had to be driven by Wellington assessing its needs, says Jared.

Lake Dunstan’s successful bid was also based on wanting to give athletes the chance to develop their rowing without having to leave the region. Janey, Jared and the rest of the Pathway team have taken a microscope to the rowing community.

“We ranked athletes as performance athletes, development athletes and identified athletes,” says Jared. “And for the development hub decision, we tried to look at where these development athletes were, locate around the country.”

The Hubs would also be structured so as not to cannabalise clubs as well, says Janey.

“The idea is that if athletes do need to move, they will actually keep their own club alliance, they don't need to change to that club.”

Web-Hubs-Map

Summer Hub locations. Two SPH hubs, one based out of Waikato RC and one out of Avon RC. Four SDHs Auckland, Wellington, Blenheim, Lake Dunstan.

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Rowing NZ’s Coach Development Manager, Jared Cummings (left) and Janey Charlton, Athlete Development Manager (right). 

For Jared and Janey and the Pathway team the future of New Zealand Rowing depends on the success of this pilot in three critical aways.

1. “We're trying to look at it in phases of the Olympic cycle,” says Janey. “Who do we need to get up to standard for 2028? The performance hubs are targeting that. Our development level hubs are more set up for 2032.”

2. Making sure those young athletes have a realistic and enduring pathway in the sport.

Janey: “It's cool to be part of developing something that's hopefully going to produce some awesome athletes around New Zealand and also allow them to develop at a slower pace. I guess the younger generation are in such a hurry these days and they want to do everything now. But rowers don't hit their prime until their late 20s and we've got to be able to sustain these athletes and not burn them out, tell them it’s okay to get a couple of years’ study or get some work under your belt. It's not all going to happen like, bang, bang, bang.”

3. Recalibrate the balance between club and country.

Jared: “We're both incredibly driven and passionate about making sure this pilot works for the community as well as high performance and that balance is really hard to strike. We want it to be good for as many people as we possibly can. We need to get this one right and make sure it's future proof for a really long time.”

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.