Andrea Twaddle joins the drive to ensure integrity is at the heart of Rowing NZ’s selection process

 

The seat racing was brutal. The eye of a coach with a stopwatch counted for a lot. The athlete was already struggling to keep their spot in the boat and to the rest of the crew they were a ‘dead man walking’.

There was a change in energy when the new person swapped in and for that moment the boat seemed to lift out of the water.

Nothing was said as they came in off the water.  The coach ghosted off and eventually made their call. The aftermath was even more brutal and cut big divisions throughout the camp.

And in the end the boat didn’t really go any better.

For many, that may well be a distant memory of rowing’s old selection trials ‘system’ whether at club, school or country.

Andrea Twaddle has been around the rowing community long enough to understand and appreciate the challenges former generations of selectors and coaches have had when picking rowers and coxswains for their ‘best’ boat.

“The challenge with sport is there are objective factors and there are subjective factors in any selection,” says the new Selection Review and Appeals Commissioner.

“But rowing is unique again in that respect. It's not like rugby [for example], where you have so many people on the field, you have so many people on your reserve bench, and so many people in your squad. You might choose completely different boats at trials, they might be sculling, they might be sweeping. People should be able to understand what information is being relied on by the selectors to come to a decision about those factors and how they've been applied.”

Cambridge-based Andrea started with a PE degree at Otago University, where an interest in psychology led to working in green prescription - “helping people be healthy through being active as opposed to the first point being medication.”

A law degree followed and then through her husband Nathan, a bronze medallist in the Men’s Pair at the Beijing Olympics, a deep interest in the sport.

nz-pair-134075

Nathan Twaddle with George Bridgewater, coxless pairs world champions, 2005. Silver medalists, 2006, 2007. Olympic bronze 2008. Halberg Team of the Year 2005. Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

The opportunity to keep improving Rowing New Zealand’s selection and appeals process across all international programmes combines all her interests perfectly.

“That's really attractive to be part of making sure people not only feel but know that the process is fair, know that there's a person overseeing that, they can see who that person is... feel that they can pick up the phone and ask a question if they're unsure.” 

The role isn’t new - Gerry Dwyer was the first Rowing NZ’s Selection Ombudsman and then Andrew Skelton took over from Gerry in 2013 - but the scope and title has been changed.

Andrea wants to make sure rowing continues to lead the way in the selection review and appeals process in New Zealand sport.

To her knowledge, triathlon is the only other sport with someone in a similar role.

“It's a relatively unique role in that it’s a more accessible means of appeal and review as opposed to stepping straight into the Sports Tribunal, which is really attractive in terms of the ability for people to engage in a way that feels closer and less litigious than a tribunal might.”

Judith Hamilton is proud of Rowing New Zealand’s record in the area. The General Manager - Performance says there hasn’t been a case of an athlete taking a case to the Sports Tribunal in her time at Lake Karapiro.

“We have regular performance conversations with our athletes and we operate on a no surprises approach when we come to trials,” says Judith. “Yes, athletes have been disappointed because they haven't made it, but they've understood because they've been taken through a process of where they're at relative to others.”

Navigating the complications of Covid and the first ever US-based trial for US college athletes in June are just two examples where that process will need to keep evolving.

“We won't be having a US trial next year because the Under-23 world champs and Under-19s are quite late [August],” says Judith. “The Under-23 trial will be in New Zealand and so that's one of the challenges of how we integrate these US athletes...working through what the next cycle looks like based on where the world champs are, when NCAAs and IRAs finish, and what is achievable and how we're going to do it.”

That will involve Andrea but her first hands-on experience will come with the upcoming summer squad selections.

“My view is that I would be around at trial as well in some of those key regattas. I'm not sitting there in a selector's shoes deciding who should or shouldn't be in a particular seat or in a particular combination or in a particular crew. [But] I'd certainly be part of the conversations with selectors so that if there are things that need to be given more thought or revisited, I could help provide some guidance.”

She and Nathan also have other reasons to be at Lake Karapiro.

“We're fans of the Podium Cafe. We spend a bit of time there. It's quite handy. They've got a great playground.”

That’s where they take their “crew of young boys”, their 14, 11 and 7-year-old sons, who Andrea admits are “rowing curious”.

Yep, there could well be some time spent at Lake Karapiro in the next 10 years or so for Andrea Twaddle.

 

Shaun-Hayward-Andy-Hay-gs-e1675209399782

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.