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Safeguarding children in sport

Child Protection in Sport 

Introduction: Kids playing sport safely - that’s what we all want and it’s what the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Childhood Foundation is working towards to ensure all children are protected appropriately. This has been done through the National Safeguarding of Children in Sports Strategy which is a plan for improving existing policies as well as an opportunity to create educational tools and programs to help all sports at all levels improve their approach to child safety. In this ASC podcast the ASC’s Director of Culture and Leadership in the Sports Governance and Business Capability Team, Merrilee Barnes is talking to Dr Joe Tucci, the CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation and they’re talking about the importance of getting the safeguarding of children right.

Merrilee: Hi Joe, thanks for joining us today.

Joe: Thanks, Merrilee.

Merrilee: First of all, let’s start with a pretty overarching question. Why do you think safety for children is so important in sport?

Joe: Well, I think that safety for kids is important because it’s what they need as the basis for anything that they do. If kids aren’t feeling safe and aren’t actually safe then they can’t learn, they can’t engage with other people in relationships; they’re not at their best and I think what sport is about is trying to maximise children’s potential. It’s trying to get them to participate in an activity, to challenge themselves, to learn how to be part of a team. Often all of those sorts of elements of sport that we love and that we believe that children benefit from all start with children’s own sense of safety and that safety is in the relationships around them and if kids aren’t feeling safe then they’re not really able to fulfill sports ambition of helping them to grow and develop so for me, sport is at its best when it’s also keeping children safe.

Merrilee: Why do you think it’s important for the Sports Sector to review and revise its child safety policies and processes?

Joe: Well, I think that sport like any other kind of major cultural institution has had to face the reality of the fact that children over the last 50/60/70 years have been heard by adults that have used the activity or the institution itself to build relationships with children and their families in such a way that they’ve gained access to kids and so on one level what we’re seeing in the community and in the media is this kind of ongoing reporting about the impact in particular of sexual abuse on children as a result of adults who have managed to exploit the program, the activity, the institution that they’ve worked in or volunteered in and have ended up getting access to children so we’re seeing that reporting and we’re seeing the damage that it’s caused to children so for me sport has a challenge. It already has a lot of great things about it in relation to the way that it engages children and families but it also needs to understand that there are probably more risks than it has been aware of in the past and that those risks need to be addressed and you can’t just address risks by looking to fix problems. You’ve got to have an eye to the kind of culture that you want to develop and promote that culture in a way that then supports you managing or addressing the risks that you have identified in your environment so to me the idea around creating a child-safe sport to strengthen sporting organisations so that they’re more child-safe than what they are is really about engaging or starting on a process of strengthening a culture and a commitment to children that should never stop. It starts from where it starts but it keeps going and I think that’s what we’re trying to do in the project that we’re working on with the ASC, with you Merrilee is trying to have a long-term vision about the way that sport can strengthen its protectiveness of children and realise the safety that children need in order to participate in sport fully.

Merrilee: Just while we’re on that subject about the strategy, what’s the Australian Childhood Foundation’s role in the National Safeguarding of Children in Sports Strategy?

Joe: We’ve had this wonderful role of being able to work with the national sporting organisations, with the State Sport Departments and other kinds of stakeholders including the Sports Commission itself so we’ve had this wonderful set of conversations and discussions over the last probably three or four years now where what has been the focus of that conversation is how do you create a child-safe sport culture and the project that has continued to evolve has really firstly benchmarked what Australia is doing in relation to child-safe sport compared to what the rest of the world is doing so that’s one of the things that we did.

We’ve tried to also understand where we’re starting from so that we can tell as we make changes, as the sporting community makes changes over the next few years how that change is going; whether we’re actually achieving the goals of creating this culture of child-safe sport and strengthening it so we need to know where we are now so we’ve done a project that has set the baseline for that so we can track it over a period of time and then more recently and probably the most exciting part I think for sport is the development of what we’re calling a toolkit that will enable all sport, those sports that are well on their way to developing the culture that’s going to be effective in protecting children and those that are still starting in the early stages of that process, we’ve developed a toolkit that will support them through all the stages, all of the strategies that they need to put in place to get to the end point where they can say, “We’re now on our way to being a child safe sport” so what are the policies and procedures that we’ve got in place? Do people in our sport know what they are? Are they living and breathing them? Do children and families have a say in the way that our sport is run? Do we as a sport commit ourselves to child protection? Have we got an understanding of the screening approaches to making sure that we know the backgrounds of people who are volunteering and working in our sport? Do we have a code of conduct that is really clear about the expectations that the adults that are involved in junior sport – do we have a code of conduct that’s really clear about what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what’s not acceptable? That’s all part of this toolkit and it’s a step by step process that will enable any sport to check what they already have, strengthen the things that they do have, build the things that they don’t have and in the end be able to evaluate for themselves just how well they’ve done the process and what they need to do next and I think that’s probably one of the most significant initiatives in this ambition to build a community of sport around children that is going to make sure that they’re always safe.

Merrilee: It is a very ambitious project I guess but it’s a necessary one and something that we need to have in place. What difference do you think the strategies are going to make at the end? I shouldn’t say the end because it’s actually an ongoing process and it will evolve over time. It’s a change management process but if we look five years down the track, what difference do you think we’ll see?

Joe: Well, I think that what we’ll see is that the sports themselves and the adults in particular who are involved in the running of junior sport and the thousands of volunteers and parents that are involved in junior sport like me - my son plays Aussie Rules and I can see every week just how many people it takes to get a team of 15 and 16-year-old boys onto the park to play a game so what we’ll see is that those people, all these adults that are in and around junior sport will feel confident. They’ll have the knowledge and the confidence about what they need to be doing and understanding that makes their sport safe for children. They’ll know what it is that they need to be looking out for if there’s someone who they have some concerns about in relation to the way that they’re behaving with children. They’ll all have signed a code of conduct that makes it really clear to not only the people involved in their sport but also to the broader community who are looking at that sport and making decisions about whether their kids for example are going to play that sport. This code of conduct will say to them, “Do you know what? This is how seriously we take child safety” and they’ll know that that code of conduct is in place and it will be guiding their behaviour and I think ultimately what we’ll also see is that kids themselves will feel far more connected to the knowledge that if they’re worried about something, that if something’s going on that’s not making them feel right that they will have someone to talk to about it and that that someone will take what they say seriously and act on it. I mean if we see those changes then I think we’ll know that what we’re doing now is working.

Merrilee: Yes, so I guess that comes back to awareness. How do we get that mass awareness? We’ve got the Royal Commission that’s currently being conducted. That’s generated lots of awareness of this issue particularly in sport as much as other sectors. Everyone is aware of that but once the Royal Commission hands down its report at the end of the year, how do we keep this on the agenda? How do we keep the awareness up and I guess child abuse takes many forms and a lot of us are instantly drawn to the kinds of abuse we see highlighted by the Royal Commission but there’s quite a broad range of definitions I guess to child abuse and that I think is key to generating awareness so Joe, what are some of those things that sit on the child abuse spectrum that’s not just what we hear in the Royal Commission? There’s actually more subtle areas as well.

Joe: It’s a very good question. You know I think what sport needs to understand is that there’s really two kinds of groupings of abuse that they need to be looking out for. The first one is the abuse that occurs outside of the sporting activity and occurs in kids’ families and kids’ homes and the places that they live and where they bring the signs of that abuse into the sporting field or into sport activity and the people around them, the adults around them notice it so that’s an important category of abuse. So for example, it’s physical abuse; kids that are being physically harmed by an adult in their life, someone who is being punched or kicked or scratched or burnt. I mean these are really hard topics to think about but it’s part of what – if we don’t face that we’re part of a community that also silences it; keeps it silent and secret so physical abuse is one of those elements that I think often people in the sporting community might notice about kids but it’s happening at home and they need to know what to do about it.

There’s sexual abuse as well that happens at home or happens within the family. There’s family violence that we’re seeing more and more about where the adults in the household are violent towards one another and there’s the kind of emotional and psychological abuse of children within the family that’s severely affecting their development so it’s being berated or it’s being called names. It’s where fear and threat and intimidation is a day to day experience of what children have at home and I think that sport has a role to know and understand what those signs are and be able to know and understand what they need to do if they see those signs of abuse of children that are occurring at home and those kids are bringing it with them into the sporting activity they’re involved in so that’s the first category of abuse.

The second category of abuse that sport needs to recognise is that there are opportunities unfortunately for those adults who intend to hurt children, who have a motivation to hurt or exploit children, to do it as part of the sporting activity the kids are involved in so we know that coaches sometimes for example groom children, develop special relationships with them in order to sexually abuse them or exploit them down the track so that’s a subtle form of abuse that grooming for example, the initial stages of what might end up to be even more severe abuse that people in sport need to understand.

There’s also the emotional and psychological abuse of kids and I think in the sporting arena it’s probably easier to talk about bullying of kids but not bullying only from peers to peers but from adults to kids and we’ve seen that. We’ve seen that in the media in the last couple of weeks where even junior umpires are being verbally abused and even physically abused by parents on the sideline so that’s also part of a culture that says, “Actually, let’s remember as adults that sport is supposed to be to the benefit of children and not to their detriment” so the people in and around sport can also hurt kids and that’s what child-safe sport also needs to face up to, people in sport need to face up to is the reality that adults in and around sport can also either deliberately or sometimes unintentionally hurt children and safe sport needs to develop a culture where kids aren’t being hurt. That doesn’t mean that they don’t be competitive and that they don’t have a desire to win. It’s not about making everything just bland. That’s what we love about sport but what we need to do is to make sure that actually the adults are supporting a healthy, competitive and safe sport culture within the local clubs and the places that kids are actually playing.

Merrilee: Notwithstanding the obvious reasons why sport should become child-safe, what’s in it for sports? As you said they’re pushed as it is for resources. This is yet another thing to be diligent about and to put safeguards in place and no-one questions that but what’s the positive in all of this for sports?

Joe: Well I think sport is competing with a whole lot of other opportunities for kids to use their recreational time and I think that if sport wants to continue to attract participation from children and families then they have to realise that they need a competitive edge not only between the sports themselves but between sport and other kinds of activities and I think if you can say you’re a child-safe sport, you take the protection of children really seriously, you’re committed to not only making the sport experience a positive one but the whole environment in which children are going to play sport will be one that you and your family will enjoy and participate in and be safe in then I think you’re going to be able to attract more people or at least you will be able to not have to compete as much with the other options that are out there. That’s one huge positive for sport to think about.

Merrilee: Obviously, you’ve worked in this area for a while Joe and you’ve seen what’s happening internationally, where would you place Australian sport on that spectrum of nations that are doing something about this important issue?

Joe: Look, Australia is not doing too badly but I think we’re in the middle of the pack. The dangers for us in the next 5-10 years is that once the spotlight of the Royal Commission as you said Merrilee is turned off that this issue will slip down the priority and what will happen is that we’ll find ourselves in five or 10 years actually having to go backwards again to make sure that all of these things that we’re trying to put in place have been maintained so we could easily move up towards the top, in fact lead the world in a lot of ways and in some of the things that we’ve done over the last couple of years we are leading the world especially around setting the baseline for understanding the change and being able to track that change but you can’t rest on your laurels. We have to be able to make sure that a child-safe sport culture is delivered in the next few years and a lot of sports are well on their way to doing that and then the biggest challenge is to maintain it and if one child is hurt then we’re not doing our job properly in that process.

Merrilee: Agreed, that’s great so Joe, one of the things I’ve really liked the look of of some of the work that’s been done to date is that linking a sporting organisation and its values back down to every stakeholder in that sport and that’s one of the key pillars of this strategy is to make it human, to be binding and to have a commitment, an organisational commitment to making one’s sport a more safer place for children to play and I think it’s linking to those human values and that emotion that everyone has by having an organisation commitment statement or a club commitment statement – I think that’s really powerful and I think that to me is really exciting. It’s something that we’ve seen a lot of sports at this point pick up on and they’ve had some early success I guess in connecting people and engaging people in this important issue.

Joe: Yeah, I agree Merrilee. I always say that one of the things that adults need to do for themselves is to stay in touch with the experiences of childhood because when you do that, when you stay in touch with your own experiences of childhood you actually keep alive in you the kind of joy and enthusiasm that childhood has and when you have that, when you’re in touch with what childhood means you end up at a spot where you say, “I want to do something to make sure that the kids of today have a childhood that is safe and a childhood that offers them opportunities and a childhood that makes the relationships around them be really important to them” and if you can capture that in a statement and really mean it, in your own words alright – not something that somebody has given to you but in your own words as a club, as a State body, as a national body and really mean it and own it then I think not only are you making a commitment to kids today but you’re also making a commitment back to that little child in you that played sport in a safe way, that wanted to make sure that the relationships and that feeling of childhood never ended and I think that’s what you’re doing when you do that.

Merrilee: I don’t think anyone could argue with that. Joe, thanks for joining us today.

Joe: My pleasure Merrilee. Always good to talk.

Play By The Rules: Keeping kids safe in sport

Play By The Rules: Keeping kids safe in sport - NSW perspective.

Interviewer Peter Downs: It’s a great pleasure to have Kerryn Boland with me today, who is the Children’s Guardian at the Office of the Children’s Guardian in NSW.  Kerryn is also on the Management Committee for Play by the Rules.  Now, Kerryn I do want to get to talk about some of the outcomes that are coming out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.  We’ll come to that in time and with Working with Children Checks too but can you tell us first maybe a little bit about the work of the Office of Children’s Guardian?

Kerryn: Sure.  Basically, it’s a regulatory agency so what we deal with is all of the regulation that’s associating with keeping kids safe, in particular industries.  We actually look after kids in the out of home care area, we also look after kids in the children’s employment area.  We administer the Working with Children Check and we have a large compliance component of that and education compliance in relation to that.  So that basically forms the underpinning, if you like, of a safety net for kids in NSW and it operates as quite an efficient little outfit.

Interviewer: How did you come to be Children’s Guardian?

Kerryn: Lucky I guess.  I actually worked in the Department of Community Services, we used to be called DOCS, we’re now called FACS in NSW.  I was in senior executive roles there for a number years, a position become available; it was part of actually a reform package following the Royal Commission in NSW, where they completely overhauled the Child Protection Legislation and a critical element of that overhaul was establishing a NSW Children’s Guardian.  We really had a critical role in child protection. We had a really critical role in relation to kids in particular who came in the out of home care system, so that was the beginnings.  The office since then has grown significantly to take on more and more functions until the most recent with the new Working with Children Check being introduced in 2013.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about that then a little bit.  Sporting organisations across NSW have obviously part of Working with Children Checks.  What’s your view in the effectiveness of that in terms of, one, perhaps raising the issue of child safety but also as a kind of deterrent?  What’s your view on that for sporting organisations?

Kerryn: The Working with Children Check in NSW has been around for about 15 years and it was completely overhauled in 2013.  I think it’s got high community awareness and high credibility.  Its benefits under the new system are that it will screen out people who’ve got offending that puts children at risk in a workplace environment or if you’re with a volunteer so it screens people out.  What we say is well that’s one element of a children safe organisation, it will tell you about people’s past but it won’t tell you about their future behavior or their future offending trajectory and therefore people really need to do more than just rely upon the Working with Children Check and that’s why we’ve just released our Child Safe Principles and indeed we’ve been working for quite some time, particularly in the sporting sector.  We recognise that the sporting sector has got particular challenges because it is often largely volunteer based.  There’s a lot of volatility in the volunteer base, a lot of turnover and associated with the Working with Children Check we also recognise that there is obviously for sports an administrative burden in administering and ensuring that people have Working with Children Checks but on the other hand they can rely upon the fact that in fact they’ve screened people out that shouldn’t be working with kids, so really the fundamental is to use that as one toolkit and what we’ve done recently is released a whole lot of E-learning to people, which really goes through the elements of a child safe organisation and gives you some really practical hands-on things that you can do in relation to your organisation.

Interviewer: Let’s go to the principles and I’ll put you on the spot, the first one being the organisation focuses on what is best for children.  How can a sporting organisation focus on what’s best for children?  What’s some ways to do that?

Kerryn: You know I would call it the “bleeding obvious”.  If you’re in the business of an activity and your primary objective is to engage children in a sporting activity, then obviously you want to do that in the best interests of children, so it’s really trying to put a child lens across that.  Often adults in these circumstances think about all of the things they have to do in order to organise things but they don’t often think about, “well how is the child experiencing this?” so it’s really just thinking about, you know, we’re in this business, to call it a business for kids, are they enjoying it, are they having fun or are we just organising them into an activity, do we listen to them?  That leads us onto the next one but I mean I think it really is quite simple.  It’s really trying to, if you like, get out of your own way in a sense and just think from the child’s perspective, what’s the child feedback and how do you deal with kids when they’re distressed. Do we ask extra questions or do we do something different?  Over the years that I’ve been doing this job it’s a real leveler, if you do actually ask kids and what they want is something really simple.  It’s as simple as let me just finish my sentence, let me have my say or give me a little bit of respect here or can you keep me informed about what’s happening or could you just explain that a bit more.  If you’ve told me to do X just don’t shout at me to do X. Can you explain why I’m doing that?  It’s really basic stuff and it makes such a huge difference to kids and I’m always sort of humbled by how simple they make it sound and yet in the hurly burly of the organisation and the this and the that some of that sometimes gets lost.

Interviewer: With sport, obviously sometimes, like you say, it does lend itself to that and it’s very emotional.  Sports are very connected for people so it kind of leads onto the second principle here, that all children are respected and treated fairly, even in the heat of the moment, even in the midst of competition and things in sport; your second principle is very important.

Kerryn: I think the participation of kids and that principle about just treating kids fairly, I mean it goes without saying Play by the Rules is all about that.  I think you’re right.  In the heat of the moment is it win or is it have fun or is it win at any cost?  I think the bottom line in any of this would be engagement and if that engagement encompasses a competition which inevitably sport does, it brings out the competitive nature in all of us.  It’s just that it be done in relation to kids in a fair and participatory fashion, that there’s at least a recognition the way that kids experience things.  It probably sits with them for a very long time and it obviously determines whether they go on playing a sport or not a sport.  I mean I think you can also extrapolate that out into a bigger space which says, well if we get it right here we’re likely to keep kids participating in sports and that’s certainly a very ---

Interviewer: It’s the simple things isn’t it, like language used and the way you behave and the way you address children and things like that and use respect and safety and things.  With the third one which I really like, children’s families and communities are welcomed and encouraged to participate in the organisation.  Now how might a sporting organisation do that?

Kerryn: I think it’s really about that engagement and making sure that the kids see that this is an engagement, this is partnership, we’re working together to keep this club going, to keep this activity pleasant and friendly.  I think those things are at the heart of what a child safe organisation are.  Some of the bigger issues we have are obviously in relation to parent sideline behavior which of course Play by the Rules have just done some fabulous work on.  Certainly, that’s what we see when we’re out talking to people, that that kind of behavior is not the kind of environment in which kids thrive.  I think that clubs and competitions can encourage or discourage that kind of behavior, they can substitute that behavior.  I think there’s quite a lot that can be done in relation to making that a community activity where kids effort is valued.

Interviewer: The final one has a couple of really interesting words there, children receive services from skilled and caring adults.  I would have to say that most people in sport, obviously 99.9% do really care and are quite skilled as well and they’re – what do you kind of mean by skilled and caring adults?

Kerryn: What we’re talking about there is that they come with an empathetic lens.  They’re there to enjoy the children and the young people as much as they’re going to enjoy their sport.  Their skill base is ensuring that kids enjoy and they get enjoyment from that.  I mean I think particularly in junior sport, whatever level, I think some of the challenges for kids and I think that this has been looked at at the moment about the drop out rate of kids once they reach adolescence or get part way through their competitive life, about whether that’s actually for them and I think there’s some real learning and listening to kids that we could do just at that point in time to work out, well what is that discourages kids from continuing at that point in time?  Is it not just commitment and they want to do other things with their friends but is it something about the environment that’s been created and indeed whether there be other types of physical activity that don’t actually fall directly into that, I suppose, competitive sport at no matter what level.  Whether there’s some other sort of recreational activity, you know, a social sport or modified versions of particular sports.  I think all of those initiatives and certainly having a closer look at those types of activities, I think all of that is incredibility positive because sport is actually about building a community.

Interviewer: Coming back to the Royal Commission, now you were involved with that.  Parts of it of course were quite harrowing and difficult for sport but what are some of the more positive lessons that we think come out of the Royal Commission Inquiry?

Kerryn: Look, I think a really fundamental basic thing from our perspective because it really goes to what the elements of a child safe organisation are, is that there is an openness and transparency emerging out of the Royal Commission, so the first stage is to name it, to acknowledge it, that it’s happened in our organisation, sexual abuse of children has occurred, that this is not what we stand for and we are open and transparent about our systems and we make it very clear that it’s unacceptable behavior and won’t be tolerated.  I think from a broader public perspective that’s been one of the really critical elements of the Royal Commission, is indeed showing the community how prevalent it was and how silent people were and how that silence resulted in terrible, shocking misery and unhappiness for young children who grew up with the knowledge that what had happened to them wasn’t right.  I think they’re the two main things that come out of the Royal Commission. 

The more detailed case studies and some of the research work that they’ve done will obviously create a legacy for a very long time about what’s available and how that can be the lens which we look at our work, the kind of evidence that will drive our work.  All of those things have been really important outcomes from the Royal Commission.  I think also from the sports sector the Royal Commission has spent quite a lot of time looking at case studies in the sports sector and variously going around the States and again I think it’s really been an eye opener for people that this level of abuse has occurred in the first instance and the second instance what can we all do together to look at this with a different point of view and how do we move forward and make sure that everyone’s in the same space.  I suppose in the sports sector we’re not just talking about the coaches, the referees, the organisations, we’re also talking at junior levels what role do parents have, what role do volunteers have.  I suppose when we look at things we look at that dynamic because it’s all of those people working together that will create a child safe organisation.

Interviewer: Yeah, that kind of definition of abuse as well, what’s the Royal Commission dealt with the kind of sexual abuse kind of issues but abuse is very broad, isn’t it?

Kerryn: Yes.  I mean the Royal Commission has also looked at physical abuse but obviously it’s Terms of Reference are around sexual abuse.  Certainly, there’s a recognition in NSW and most of the other States that it’s hard often to distinguish between low level grooming, physical assault. The higher end of the spectrum on sexual assault is a bit more obvious but there is a spectrum in there.  I think one of the most difficult areas that people find, certainly most of the questions that we get asked about are in relation to grooming behaviours and I suppose in sport the nature of the activity lends itself to environments where grooming could happen.  Grooming really is about not just grooming a child, it’s about grooming a family, it’s about grooming parents, it’s about getting those people to trust you and once you’ve gained trust then it can lead to other things.  Those early signs are very difficult to distinguish between what is just normal perhaps enthusiasm in relation to a particular strength a child has versus how does it go further, so they’re the kinds of questions that we get asked a lot about.

Interviewer: Yeah, it’s difficult, isn’t it?

Kerryn: It’s very difficult.

Interviewer: For sports, they’re not experts in these fields and yet we know this is occurring within sports, so it’s a real challenge.

Kerryn: It’s a real challenge everywhere and absolutely it’s a challenge in sport but it is a very challenging area and often when you speak to people about it it will be after the event when they’re looking back that they can see of course this is what happened.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s exactly right.  Before we sign off, maybe one more point towards the resources that are on your website.  Of course, we have plenty on Play by the Rules as well, including the child protection online course.  There are online learning and the principles as well, where would people find that?

Kerryn: If they go to our website which is kidsguardian.nsw.gov.au, click on child safe organisations and you’ll find an enormous amount of material there.  All of our material is absolutely able to be downloaded, taken, it’s free, we encourage people to use it, copy it, duplicate it, just recognise us at the bottom.  The E-learning in particular, I think this signals a really big change in the way that we here in our office want to do work.  We’ve spent a lot of time on face-to-face training or on webinars, training people with I suppose a one size child safe training kit and we think we’ve probably got a saturation level now.  We’ve got kind of a base level of understanding about what child safe is and we need to take it up to the next step which is giving people specifics about what they can do in their particular organisations to keep kids safe, so the E-learning is all part of that change direction for the office and what we’re encouraging people to do is go online and it’s in five modules about what and how you can create a child safe organisation and we’re going to link that E learning together with our tailored training. 

What we’ll be offering people is more tailored, if you like, consultation services where we’ll sit around with a particular sport, for example and we’ll say, “well here’s the E-learning, how does that translate into your workplace?” and we’ll help actually design a child safe system or framework which they can go out and trial and play around with and see what works and what doesn’t work and we can come back and we can fine tune that.  That goes hand in glove with a lot of material that we’ve developed actually for children because I think what we say is, if there’s something not quite right happening in an organisation a child will raise the alarm first.  They might not raise it directly but they’ll raise it as a point of distress or they might raise it in anger and what we say about that is that that’s when you have your first opportunity to find out if there’s something not right in the organisation and you need to ask some more questions.  What we’ve also developed is a range of tools for kids, story books and so forth which help them identify when they don’t feel comfortable and who they should talk to and we’re just developing one in relation to kids that are up to about 11 years old, so that’s in the pipeline at the moment and we’ll keep you posted.  Then for the older kids, have something a bit more straightforward.

Interviewer: Excellent, they’re quite unique really in terms of the sorts of tools from a kid’s perspective that sports could easily adapt and modify for their own use.

Kerryn: Yes, absolutely.

Interviewer: As usual a great pleasure to meet up with you Kerryn, so thank you very much.

Kerryn: Thank you.

Sporting Schools a 'success story'

Sporting Schools - a 'success story'

Girl: My favourite sport is netball because you get to learn good skills like teamwork and you get to learn lots of new things and keep fit.

Boy: Well I love playing footy because I’ve met so many friends through it and all my friends play it, so I never used to play it so I played it because of them.

Interviewer: The Australian Government’s $160 million Sporting Schools Program is a success story for the Australian Sports Commission.  Delivered in partnership with more than 30 sporting organisations Sporting Schools is helping children to be more active and healthy.  The program has expanded rapidly since launching in July 2015 and, so far, has operated in over 70% of Australia’s primary schools across all States and Territories.  As with any major program it’s important to evaluate and understand what’s working well and what could be improved so in 2016 the Sports Commission engaged ARENA Research to conduct an independent evaluation of Sporting Schools.  Today we are talking with the Australian Sports Commission’s Director of Community Connections, Andrew Hamilton to find out what the evaluation revealed about the program.  Andrew, firstly can you tell us briefly about the Sport School’s Program and why was it established?

Andrew: Yeah thanks Karen.  I think most people would understand that Australians are living increasingly sedentary lives and this is having an impact on all of our wellbeing and health.  Obviously, we’re interested in addressing this and what better way to do that than through children.  Really at the heart of it, Sporting Schools is about delivering more sport to children through schools.

Interviewer: And what did the Sports Commission hope to discover through the evaluation process?

Andrew: Like any new program there’s always going to be things that work well and those things that require a bit of tweaking.  So, the evaluation process was put in place to give us a reflective view of how the program met our objectives and how the people who are using the program experienced it.

Interviewer: And how extensive was the evaluation?

Andrew: It’s been a very extensive evaluation, an independent process undertaken by ORIMA Research.  It started in 2016 with the results coming out in 2017.  We’ve interviewed an enormous range of people, not only in terms of the quantity of people but also a diversity of users ranging from school principals right through to teachers and coaches.  We also used a methodology that enabled us to leverage a range of other pieces of information that the Commission captured including our National AusPlay Survey and Deliverer Survey.  So, it gave us a really complete understanding of the participation landscape as it related to children and schools.

Interviewer: So let’s get to the nitty gritty, what was the overall feedback about the program?

Andrew: Oh look, pleasing, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, in fact, over 89% of people strongly endorsed the Sporting Schools Program and have indicated really high levels of ongoing commitment if the program were to continue.  What was really interesting is that the school staff in particular reported very high levels of satisfaction with the programs quality design and flexibility and they really appreciated the way the program could be delivered and offered in class time.

Interviewer: What has the feedback revealed about the role of Sporting Schools?

Andrew: Again, really pleasingly we received so much positive feedback it was really hard to narrow down the key features that we would continue to rollout but the two that seemed to be most consistent relate to how the program supported schools and teachers to complement their existing health and physical education curriculum. The other one was again relating to the flexibility of the program, you know we’ve designed the initiative in a way that enables schools and teachers to choose what sport they deliver, the type of coach that the utilise, the program length, even the time of delivery.  So naturally it’s able to be customised to suit a whole range of different needs.

Interviewer: Andrew, did the evaluation reveal anything new or surprising about children’s experiences with Sporting Schools?

Andrew: Nothing too surprising.  It’s clear that sport is really valued for its broader social outcomes and the feedback indicated that there’s a perception that sport is under emphasised in the schoolyard.  There’s a quote from one of the principals that I really enjoyed and the principal commented about how the value of the program went way beyond sport and he went on to say that the program or sport engaged children and that engaged children were so much easier to teach.  I guess in summarising all of the respondents through the survey tools have indicated that there’s a real need for a program like Sporting Schools that enables children to have the access to sport.

Interviewer: The research also highlighted some opportunities for the program, what can you tell us about any planned changes or potential developments?

Andrew: I guess the evaluation has affirmed areas in which changes could be made that would offer more consistency for participants.  We were aware of some of the issues the evaluation discovered, for example we utilised an online booking system to engage coaches at school and being a piece of technology, a new piece of technology it requires a bit of tweaking to make that process a bit simpler to utilise and a bit quicker.  So, we’ve certainly been investing in that over the last little while.  The other finding related to access to sport in regional and remote locations and particularly being able to access a range of skilled coaches across a diversity of sports.  As you would appreciate the more remote a town the less number of sports there are coaches for so that’s something we need to work with our partners on over time.

Interviewer: Thanks Andrew.  Two years into the program and already across Australia around 300,000 children are enjoying the Sporting Schools Program each term.  Following the program’s success in primary schools a number of secondary schools have been targeted to introduce the program to students in Years 7 and 8.  If you would like to find out more head to sportingschools.gov.au.


FTEM: Elite and Mastery

FTEM Elite Master

Cobi: "I would say my biggest highlight from the Games themselves would be just the atmosphere when you’re playing and wheeling into that stadium and having thousands and thousands of people there and your family, you can see your family and friends there.  I think that’s pretty amazing to be able to play in front of that sort of crowd and also having people back in Australia and around the world watching you on television.  I think that’s – yeah, it was pretty amazing."

Interviewer: That’s the Gliders Wheelchair Basketballer Cobi Crispin talking about her experience at the Rio Paralympics.  Whether you do sport for pleasure, leisure, competition or career, each choice requires a pathway.  We’re talking about the AIS FTEM Framework.  FTEM stands for Foundations, Talent, Elite and Mastery and in this episode AIS Athlete Pathways Development Expert, Dr Juanita Weissensteiner is discussing the elite and mastery pathways.  Juanita, just to recap briefly what is FTEM and who is it for?

Juanita: Yes, FTEM is an operational framework, so it’s a real complement of best practice coordinated strategies for enhancing the whole of the athlete pathway, from foundation all the way up to our podium level athletes.  We use this framework primarily to communicate, educate and connect all stakeholders, whether that’s parents and coaches from the grass roots, to State sporting organisations, to National sporting organisations, to the Australian Sports Commission and the AIS at a system level.

Interviewer: Juanita, at this elite and mastery stage, you’re now utilising worldwide evidence-based research and your own research with past and current elite athletes which gives us a really good profile of what it takes to get to the elite and mastery stages.  Can you talk us through that?

Juanita: Yes, that’s right.  FTEM is informed by contemporary, global research and practice, so we really comb I guess the whole of the globe to look at what’s best practice, but also importantly we do our own research internally primarily through engaging the athlete’s voice, particularly elite and mastery level athletes, so those athletes that have gotten to podium and have done that perennially at the world stage.  We know that they’re an untapped resource and they’re critical providers of experience and expertise.  We do that through our My Sporting Journey Questionnaire, which is an online survey that I actually put together about three or four years ago that is really a conglomerate of lots and lots of questions and themes from global research and it is a survey that chronicles the whole development pathway of an athlete.  For instance, if we were to get a podium level athlete to do it they would fill out a line of questioning from their very early foundations, they’re talking about their parents and their siblings and their early sport experiences through the talent phases, so what their experiences were as an emerging athlete and then what were their experiences, good and bad, at the elite and mastery sort of level.  At this point in time we have 1,500 athletes that have completed the My Sporting Journey Questionnaire and the My Sporting Journey Questionnaire has been really critical evidence for National sporting organisations to glean information about the athletes that are living and breathing their pathway.  We now know through the My Sporting Journey Questionnaire that athlete development is a really chaotic and dynamic phenomenon.  So why is this information critical?  For the AIS, the AIS’s remit through the Australian Winning Edge Strategy is about sustainable international success.  We really want to be able to learn and nurture more elite and mastery level athletes, so if we can learn more about their athlete profile and about their environmental profile and the system context, we can then relay that information down the pathway so we can draw on the foundational commonalities.  What were those catalysts that really enhanced the foundational development and utilise that to enhance current strategies and that’s information we share with the Australian Sports Commission to hone their participation strategies.  We can also use the elite profile to look at and review current talent ID and development strategies so that it’s catering for that holistic athlete profile and also we’re drawing on, well what do we need in terms of environmental support in those emerging levels as well.  Then at the very top it’s all about honing, you know, the case management and prolonging the longevity of our very best athletes in terms of their profile but also the environmental and systems support, so it’s really critical information we use with National sporting organisations in particular to review and hone their current strategies all along the athlete pathway.

I just wanted to share with the listeners some of the commonalities that we’re finding of our very best athletes, the E2 and M levels and what we’re finding is they’ve got very strong family backgrounds.  Their parents have commonly done the journey before in sport, so they’ve competed at a high level.  The parents have really valued sport, they’re very supportive of their child investing in sport - we’re talking about the mums and the dads - and also the parents not only competing in sport, but they’re fantastic volunteers as well, so they’re playing all different roles as well.

We’re also finding that there’s a sibling advantage as well.  A lot of our very best athletes have had siblings that were older, so commonly our podium level athletes are younger born, but these older siblings have competed in the same sport or maybe a different sport and to a high level, so they’ve done the journey before and as a younger sibling you’re actually observing and learning from your parents that have done the journey, but then also a sibling that’s done the journey which is really neat and that’s why we call it a bit of a familial advantage.  Also, those siblings obviously are providing competition in the backyard as well and providing emotional support.

We’re also finding our very best athletes invested in a lot of deliberate play, so a lot of free play. They were dabbling in the backyard a lot and they were using opportunity at school to hone their skills and they were also sampling lots of sports, at least on average 3-4 sports before they specialized.  They were also afforded flexible competition exposure, so if they were ready for a progression in competition levels, they were afforded it by their coach, so they weren’t stuck in age restricted competition so, to enhance their sport specific skills that was really, really key for a lot of them, that they were able to compete against older peers and adults at a younger age compared to the rest of the athletes.  They also had an early taste with success and they had very strong self-belief in their competencies, even very early on had this vision of standing on the podium or getting that premiership medal, so they had very strong intrinsic motivations and they wanted to fulfil that dream.

Interviewer: That’s interesting Juanita that they had a vision of them on the podium and that’s been a strong commonality, has it?

Juanita: I think when you talk to them, there was something very early on where they’ve observed someone at the Olympics excelling and there’s something that’s just resonated with them and they’ve thought, you know, that’s for me and I want to achieve that too, I want to aspire towards that.  They’re certainly driven-focused individuals, nothing is going to stop them.  A lot of our very best athletes have had a lot of setbacks, things that you’d think would derail them from that ultimate journey up but it doesn’t.  They seem to have an interesting psyche where they see it as an opportunity for learning and they’re positive.  It doesn’t derail their campaign. They work on something different to still ultimately get to where they need to get which is really really interesting and that’s where we talk about chance events. Chance events are those events outside of their control but they’ve still been able to work out a strategy to get around it or to use that and transpose it into something positive which is really interesting.

Interviewer: So, what’s an example of a chance event, what’s that look like?

Juanita: It could be a particular injury, so for some talent transfer athletes the injury might have been a precursor for them moving from their prior sport into their main sport, or injury might be an opportunity to focus on their mental training.  Yeah, it’s really interesting, or they see it, that yeah, it was a particular turning point in their career that they were able to reflect and regroup and try a different tact.

So, when we look specifically at the pre-elite development of our very best athletes, again we found some numerous commonalities of these athletes.  They had holistic athlete profiles, they weren’t relying just on physicality to get them to the very top.  They had quite a well-rounded or what we call compensatory athlete profile, so they had great specific sport skills but they also had great psychological skills, as well as good physicality, as well as good neuromuscular robustness.  They were also very good self-regulators, so they were able to draw on training and competition and use it as a learning opportunity, you know, these athletes crave information, they’re eternal scholars, they’re never satisfied, they want to keep learning and learning and tweaking and tweaking.  That self-regulation is key and you do find that they have this really interesting multi-dimensional but complimentary psychological profile.  They’ve got good coping strategies, they’re resilient, but also they’re dabbling in some strategies like visualisation, like imagery, like routines.  Also, they’re able to balance what we call the dual career, so they’re able to effectively balance and be organised and cope with the competing demands or concurrent demands of sport with school or with their job.  They’re good in terms of their load management, so they’re effectively case-managed and they’re not overloading in terms of their training loads.  Then the most important thing is that they’ve partnered with a really great coach, so there’s a really positive match of athlete and coach that’s characterised by strong communication, with shared decision-making, they’re sharing the journey together.  That seems to be those commonalities of our very best athletes in their emerging phases or the talent phases.

Then at the pinnacle of FTEM, so we’re talking about the elite mastery phases and when we’ve looked at our very best athletes we’ve found that they’ve got very strong brain power.  They’ve got that facility of multi-dimensional psychological profile that was very early on in the talent phases but has been refined and honed by the time they’re in that elite sort of level.  This has been really critical because at the elite level a lot of these athletes have to negotiate numerous concurrent stressors, what we call high performance stressors, so a lot of competing demands and stressors on them and those chance events that we talked about.  So, it could be injury, it could de-selection, it could be a loss of a coach, so actually having this strong facilitative psychological profile actually allows them to effectively manage and negotiate those stressors and those chance events and that seems to be really, really key to podium success and perennial podium success.  These athletes have what we call the hunger. Again, they’re so driven, they’re so committed that when they commit to an Olympic Games or a Paralympics, nothing is going to stop them, they’re so driven and committed to that.  They have the right support team around them.  Importantly they’re not doing the journey on their own, they’ve got a carefully selected support team, so the right coach match, access to mentors, so they’re drawing on mentors and learning from them, from role models, their family or partners, their peers, the right practitioners that can help support them as well and a really interesting finding is that they’re very good at innovation and reinventing themselves.  A good example of that is James Tomkins who was a former rower for Australia.  He was a multiple Gold Medalist and through his so many years, I think he went to four or five Olympic Games.  As he was getting older he was able to economise and he actually changed up the different crews or boats that he went in.  That’s a form of being re-inventive, so there seems to be a hallmark of our very, very best athletes.

Interviewer: I was just going to say Juanita that the FTEM Framework really is all about the fact that elite athletes don’t just pop out of nowhere, they’ve actually come from the grassroots and that’s that journey isn’t it, from foundations through to mastery?

Juanita: That’s exactly right and I think we’re a big hitter.  We’ve got such a small populous and we punch above our weight internationally.  It’s phenomenal what we’re able to achieve but I guess working with FTEM and working with stakeholders, there’s opportunities for us to tweak a few things and to actually make such a big difference to our talent pipeline, but also its sustainable international success.


Interviewer: Thanks Juanita.  That’s the final of this three-part series on the FTEM Framework.  We’ll leave you with Rio Olympic Rowing Gold Medalist Kim Brennan and her vision to become an Olympian.

Kim: "I had a moment at the 1992 Olympics watching the flame being lit when I thought that would be pretty cool to go to the Olympics.  At that stage, I didn’t know what sport, I didn’t have a goal setting progression of “this where I’m going to end up” but I knew I loved sport and I knew the Olympics was incredibly special to me.  I think probably a few years down the track when I started doing well at track and field I thought, oh maybe this will happen for me.  I never would have thought that it would be in rowing and I never thought that it would take as long as it took to make it to the top, but it was definitely worth it."


FTEM - the Talent level of sport

FTEM: Talent 

"They were extremely important, you know, I definitely would not be here without them.  They’ve helped me right from the start and even now they still travel around the globe to watch me play which is really special.  I guess their advice was also the same, that I said, you know, making sure that you’re doing it because you love it and as soon you take that away from it then you know that you’re not meant to be there anymore so as long as you’re loving it, having fun, then keep going".

Interviewer: Australian Diamonds Netballer Liz Watson talking about the importance of her parents in her sporting journey and the importance of loving the sport you do.  Whether you do sport for pleasure, leisure, competition or career, each choice requires a pathway.  We’re talking about the AIS FTEM Framework.  FTEM stands for Foundations, Talent, Elite and Mastery and in this episode AIS Athlete Pathways Development Expert, Dr Juanita Weissensteiner is discussing the talent pathway.  Juanita, just to recap briefly, what is FTEM and who is it for?

Juanita: Yes, FTEM is an operational framework, so it’s a real complement of best practice coordinated strategies for enhancing the whole of the athlete pathway, so from foundation all the way up to our podium level athletes. We use this framework primarily to communicate, educate and connect all stakeholders, whether that’s parents and coaches from the grass roots, to State sporting organisations, to National sporting organisations to the Australian Sports Commission and the AIS at a system level.

Interviewer: So we’re at the talent stage, just how critical is this stage?

Juanita: The T phases in FTEM are critical.  It’s a critical feeder into the high performance and senior elite levels.  This is where you have a lot of what we call churn, so drop in, drop out of emerging talent.  It’s very deliberate these four phases because we know from our own research that it has to be flexible.  These phases have to be able to cater for talent transfer athletes, the talent selected athletes, our athletes that have gone from a foundational level and come up through the ranks that way, the athletes with disabilities, but also the nuances of athlete trajectory.  We know from our research that it can be a really chaotic trajectory where there’s a lot of ascent and even descending competition levels to ultimately get to the very top, so this complement of four phases has to be able to cater for all of that.  It didn’t make sense to limit it just to ages because in this mix of four phases we’ve got young gymnasts that are commonly early specialising athletes, but then we’ve got the older late specialising sports and the late bloomers, so we had to be able to cater for that. 

I’ll just go through the phases.  So T1, (Talent 1) is what we call demonstration of potential, so this could be where they’re spotted at a competition by a coach where the coach thinks that they’ve got the potential, or it could be in a formalised sense where the athlete turns up to a Talent ID testing day.  Importantly, what we advocate to really enhance that initial demonstration of potential is that we’re looking and utilsing with sporting organisations holistic strategies.  We’re looking at talent forecasting in a holistic sense and we know from our research and globally that we can’t just rely on juvenile performance or performance at a young age.  We know that’s a poor predictor to senior elite performance, so it’s all about at the T1 level educating stakeholders and looking at holistic potential talent forecasting of athletes. 

Now, T2 is all about bringing that athlete in, you know, if it’s at a weekend camp or a competition and for that athlete to verify their potential in true training and competitive context.  This is a really great way to really ensure that the athlete has good coachability, they’ve got good psychological skills, they’re robust physically and they’ve got the full suite of skills to verify that they certainly have future high performance potential.  Now the important thing with those two working together will really enhance the predictive power of sporting organisations so that they truly can effectively talent forecast and then from that support the right athletes. 

So, once you’ve identified and you’ve confirmed the talent potential of an athlete, T3 is about then embedding them in the right nurturing talent development environment, so it’s about practicing and achieving.  T1 and T2 are like strategies and events, T3 is a fully fledged developmental phase and some athletes might be spending quite a lot of years in there just honing their skills as an emerging athlete and this is where it’s really important and this is where we work with national sporting organisations and all the stakeholders about effectively case-managing holistically emerging talent and giving them access to competition, whether it’s domestic and international, but this is where talent can be lost because they’re not effectively case-managed or they’re getting injured or there’s constraints to their physical literacy, so it’s a really critical and quite a broad, vast developmental period. 

The fourth T phase is breakthrough and reward.  This is where an athlete is signaling that they’re ready, you know, they’re ready to make that jump, that transition up to the senior elite levels and it could be where they win internationally as a junior level athlete, or it could be where at a senior level they win national championships or they secure a scholarship, so again, like T1 and T2, T4 is a bit of an event too, but it’s where that athlete is really showing great promise and they capture the attention of the national sporting organisation and other system level organisations through their promise and their readiness to go the high performance or senior elite international levels.

Interviewer: What about the parents’ role Juanita at this stage?  Is this where parents need to step back and let the experts step in?

Juanita: At this point, yeah, it’s a hands-off, but certainly you’re playing a very critical support role.  I’ll just reflect back on a recent big project that we were a part of.  It was an Australian Research Council Linkage Project so we had multiple universities in all different domains and we worked with Cricket Australia and at the AFL and Tennis Australia.  Now with the cricket cohort we looked at the developmental histories of our very best female cricketers and our male elite cricketers and what we found which was really interesting was the difference in support between the mums and the dads.  We found that for the female cricketers they really credited the support provided by their fathers.  They said that their fathers were providing multi-dimensional support, so it was financial support, it was emotional support, being encouraging and a sounding board, it was in terms of information, it was in terms of being a competitor and playing out in the backyard and honing those skills and that was a lot more pronounced than for the male cricketers, which was really, really interesting, so there was the gender difference there.  So, parents, while it might not be, you know, directly coaching and being very prescriptive with your children at the T levels, you’re definitely playing a really critical support role.

Interviewer: What’s your advice to parents who think that their child fits the talent pathway?

Juanita: I think it’s to look for opportunities, particularly if your child is really committed and invested and they’ve got a vision, they’ve got a dream to go to the very top in their sport and it’s to approach the respective national sporting organisations and to look for opportunities, so it’s these TID testing days, or it could be particular competitions where there might be recruiters or scouts that are drawing on a recruiter’s eye or coach’s eye, but then also allowing them and supporting them to really grasp that opportunity and really invest in it.

Interviewer: Juanita, recently I had a chat with Matilda’s coach, Alen Stajcic.  It was a bit of a windy day but we got there eventually and I asked him, “What is it he’s looking for that catches his eye when it comes to up and coming talent?”  Let’s have a listen.

Alen: That’s an interesting question.  I guess the things that we always look for in kids is the potential.  They’ve got a good physical presence, they’ve got that good mental toughness and resilience, they want to be coached and then also the technical platform that you know you can build on and work with and develop into a good player.

Juanita: Isn’t that great hearing from Alen.  So just reflecting on what he said, we’ve done research with experienced coaches similar to Alen where it really shows that the experienced coaches really draw on this intuitive level of a coach’s eye.  It’s amazing, they’re able to pick up that X factor in an athlete and they can see the whole gamut of their potential, but the other thing that highlights to me what Alen was talking about was the importance of these athletes having what we call a “compensatory profile”.  They’ve got to have this holistic profile to be able to endure the journey as an emerging talent, but to actually reach the very top.  It’s not just about physicality, it’s about having good psychological skills and attributes, it’s about having good sport specific skills, so that’s in terms of technical, anticipatory, cognitive skills and the complement of those, it’s about being robust as an athlete physically and cognitively.  His reflections really highlight those two critical aspects of the talent phases in FTEM.

Interviewer: I think it was interesting that he said that these kids want to be coached, which is what you touched on earlier when you talked about I think it was T2, that these athletes want to be coached.

Juanita: We know from our research that talented emerging athletes, what they’re characterised by is their very strong intrinsic motivation.  They’re fully invested, they’re fully committed, but also they’re very good self-regulators and they’ve learnt that through exposure and in practice and training and also in terms of their academic development as well, so they’re very good at being organised, very good at self-reflection, self-awareness in terms of problem solving and they’re getting to that point where they’re starting to become autonomous in terms of how they take responsibility and they make decisions and they’re on a continual learning cycle.

Interviewer: The talent pathway within FTEM Juanita, is that also about long term forward planning?

Juanita: Yes, it certainly is.  With the T phases, we’re really looking at the long-term proposition.  We’re looking at the talent pipeline that will feed into the high-performance end eight years out.  This is where we are confident that the complement of T phases as advocated through FTEM is really, really critical to really enhancing the health via current talent pipelines.  We realise in Australia that because we’ve got such a small talent pool compared to the big power houses of sport in the world, such as China and the US, we have to be more sophisticated with our strategies, so that’s where we’re using our evidence to work with these stakeholders to really differentiate and enhance our current talent transfer initiatives and our talent selected initiatives.  We do a lot of educative work with coaches and stakeholders in how to hone those two strategies.  So, for talent transfer we’ve learnt a lot about the importance of managing the dynamics of putting a talent transfer athlete in with athletes that have already been in the sport for quite a while.  Sometimes that can be a little bit contentious, this new kid on the block that’s come in and then embedded with these athletes that have done the long journey, but also we’re getting a better understanding too with some other research with the Scholar Rebecca Dickinson, who’s working with Professor Cliff Mallett up at UQ.  She’s getting a better understanding of the psychological aspects of talent transfer and how important that is too.  Not only does the athlete have to have these strong psychological attributes to start again in a new sport and draw on their prior psychological skills and characteristics, but also the coach has to be fairly robust and strong psychologically as well.  The coach has to partner with the athlete and help manage that talent transfer athlete.

Interviewer: Can you give an example of an athlete who was identified through this process?

Juanita: Yes, a great example of talent transfer is our very own multiple world championship medalist and Paralympian Kathryn Ross who transferred successfully from swimming to rowing.  I had a chat with her recently, let’s have a listen.  Kathryn, can you talk us through the talent transfer process for you?  Why did you want to transfer?

Kathryn: Well, it’s quite an interesting story actually.  Swimming was my passion and that’s what I wanted to do and I wanted to go to the Beijing Games with that, however I went to a Paralympic Talent Search Day where they assessed me in multiple sports, including swimming, and said I did have talent in the swimming, but I did show more talent in rowing and tennis.  At the time rowing was local so I had a go at that and, you know, the rest is history.

Juanita: And so that’s why you chose rowing over tennis?

Kathryn: Yeah, that basically tennis was three hours away in Melbourne and rowing was local and I hooked up with a really cool rowing coach there who was willing to take me on and work through all the steps that we needed to do to get selected into the Australian Team and then onto Games.

Juanita.  Fantastic and what you’ve shared with me before is that it was a pretty quick ascent, you know, once you were identified to actually being recognised on the world stage as a rower, it was quite quick.

Kathryn: Oh yes, it was extremely quick.  I had a very quick turnaround from competing at States six weeks after starting, Nationals eight weeks and then at the Worlds, which was the qualifier for Beijing, eight months out from starting.  At that stage, I was then ranked No. 2 in the world.

Juanita: Wow that’s amazing!  What do you think really underpinned your success, that quick ascent?

Kathryn: I had a lot of support through Rowing Australia for that quick ascent, but also a lot of personal grit and determination and sort of pushing the ball rolling pretty heavily myself, but then once that was all happening a lot of support came my way through the APC and Rowing Australia and then eventually down the line it was the AIS.

Juanita: And were there skills from being a prior elite athlete in swimming that you brought into rowing that helped with the transfer?

Kathryn: Not really, well, swimming I absolutely loved and I’ve done all my life as basically a rehab mechanism and I had recently broken my knee and upon recovery I was doing a lot of swimming and then I started doing ocean swims and found I wasn’t too bad at that and then decided on some new goals and took some swimming up with a local club and then went from there through the talent search system.

Juanita: Were there skills from that exposure and experience as a swimmer that you think you brought in to help you with transferring successfully into rowing?

Kathryn: Yeah definitely, definitely.  The swimming I had to build on my own basically, which took a lot of perseverance and determination and, you know, I was totally accountable on my own and for my own ability in the competitions and things like that, so I think that did heavily transfer across into the rowing.

Juanita: So the psychological skills, like your full psychological profile was a bit of an advantage you think to help you negotiate it?

Kathryn: Definitely, definitely, I think that more so than physical.  I mean the technical side comes with training with good coaches, which we’re lucky to have here in Australia and just the personal grit and determination.

Juanita: Yeah that’s great.  When we’ve spoken to other talent transfer athletes and they’ve been really at the pinnacle of the sport and effectively starting again in another sport, how did you find that, having to start again in a new sport?

Kathryn: It was pretty tough, but I had the goal in my mind and the goal was quite short.  Beijing was 18 months out, but I had to qualify Australia, so to speak, in eight months’ time, so by having the short-term goals made it easier then for those long-term ones.

Juanita: That’s fantastic. So Kat, being a very experienced, very successful exponent of talent transfer, what would you advise for other elite athletes out there thinking about having another bite at the cherry, you know, trying out a different sport?

Kathryn: Be prepared to go backwards before you can go forwards, that’s the biggest one and not be ---

Juanita:  Excuse the pun!

Kathryn: ---yeah, don’t be too disappointed with that.  Unfortunately, we’ve got to crawl before we can walk and then run, but surrounding yourself with the right networks and the right people to help you get through those steps to get back up to the elite side, that’s crucial and then having organisational skills plays a big role in that.  I mean, you’ve got to be completely organised and know what’s happening, when, where and how and putting everything in place to make those steps a little bit easier.  The biggest one is definitely surrounding yourself with the right types of people.

Juanita: Look Kat thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Kathryn: You’re welcome, thanks for having me.

Interviewer: Thanks Juanita.  Next week we’ll be discussing the elite and mastery components to the FTEM Framework.  If you would like to find out more about the AIS FTEM Framework, head to the Australian Sports Commission’s website at ausport.gov.au and before we go let’s go back to Matilda’s coach, Alen Stajcic and hear his take on the pathways.

Alen: "Careers can take many paths and there are official pathways in every sport, but it’s never a linear progression, there’s always ups and downs and left turns and right turns that you expect or don’t expect and parents and players need to have that resilience and toughness to know that as they progress from being a kid, a 6 or 7-year-old engaging in sport for fun to that moment where they decide that this is their passion and dream and one they one to exploit at the elite level.  Obviously, the more awareness you’ve got of the pathway is a big asset, but I think the most important thing is really having that resilience to overcome the good and bad times because I think they’re often factors in kids dropping out of sport.  There are lots of factors in kids’ sport and pathways that every sport needs to consider and really look after the kids on an individual basis because in Australia our biggest issue is that our athletes are spread across so many sports, you know, we’re almost competing for each other in some respect for getting the best athletes so there’s so many factors in each of the pathways I guess in every sport in Australia."

FTEM - the Foundation level of sport

FTEM Foundation

Favourite memory? I don’t know – I think I have too many memories. I think just being able to play sport in school, you know, you get to make so many friends and it’s a fun environment, it’s a lot more fun that just sitting down and having chats at lunchtime, get up, have a go, kick a ball around, have a race. Go get a ball and shoot some hoops. Just getting involved in any sport is so much fun.

That’s Women’s’ Rugby Sevens Gold Medalist Ellia Green talking about her favourite memory of sport at school, those foundation years. Whether you do sport for pleasure, leisure, competition or career, each choice requires a pathway. To explain how this works is the AIS Athlete Pathways Development Expert. Dr Juanita Weissensteiner.

Interviewer: Juanita, this is all about the AIS Foundation’s Talent Elite and Mastery Framework more commonly referred to as the FTEM framework. Briefly, what is that?

Juanita: Yes, it’s a practicable evidence-based but easily understood framework that we utilise at the AIS and it’s inclusive of all sport outcomes, so it’s early participation all the way up to lifelong engagement in sport, whether that’s an active lifestyle or in recreational sport but also covers off the high performance pathway as well so we’re all about further understanding and developing holistic, sustainably successful, resilient and adaptable sport participants and athletes. FTEM is about promoting happy, fulfilled engagement in all different outcomes of sport.

Interviewer: So, who can benefit from the framework? Who is it for specifically?

Juanita: All those critical stakeholders that support participant development and athlete development, so we’re talking about from the grassroots, the really important stakeholders there, so the parents and the clubs and the coaches, all the way up to sporting organisations, so State sporting organisations and National sporting organisations.

Interviewer: It’s sounding like it’s the Bible for sport!

Juanita: Yeah, oh look it came about in 2011. It’s still early days but I’m very confident with the framework. It seems to be a great fit. It seems to cater and be flexible and adaptable for all sports, all sub-disciplines. It’s getting exciting because we’re starting to work with Paralympic sports as well so it seems to be a great fit, but the great thing is too and that’s probably where our research bit comes out, it’s an evolving piece, so with our accrued evidence we’re comfortable to take this action research approach where we’re really refining and honing the framework but really working with sports to help them to empower sports to put together their own sport-specific FTEM models and FTEM frameworks.

Interviewer: So, if you’re a sporting organisation or a coach or a parent, you could look at this FTEM framework and work out where you sit in it or where your child sits in it?

Juanita: Absolutely, yes that’s right so you can use that. Basketball Australia are doing a fantastic job at the moment. They’re looking at putting a poster together. I think that’s going to feature in all stadiums which will be a representation of FTEM and a descriptor of what you look like at each level so that parents and athletes can go, see the poster and go, “Alright, I’m a F3 – Foundational 3 athlete” so at the base of the FTEM model – so there are 10 developmental phases, we have three foundational phases and within each of those levels we have key things that we think are important to promote the healthy and happy lifelong engagement of all sports’ participants within the three outcomes of sport so within active lifestyle, within recreational sport in terms of the high-performance pathway. To put them together we utilise what we consider best practice domestically so within Australia and from our learnings across the AIS and the Commission but also internationally as well. Why we had to put particular importance on those foundations was that we were getting compelling evidence from sports participants, from athletes, from looking at the sporting pathway of an organisation that there were real issues in our foundational levels. Issues that if we don’t start addressing it now it’s going to be really detrimental to lifelong engagement in sport, healthy, happy and resilient sports participants and athletes.

Interviewer: But what are those issues?

Juanita: Yeah so there is compelling evidence showing the marked decline in fundamental movement skills, in the neuromuscular fitness and strength and the physical literacy of our children so you’re getting sports participants that have these constraints on their development in the holistic sense. We’re
seeing these issues even up the pathway with talented athletes where they’re being compromised. They are compromised in terms of physical literacy and it’s leading to injury and dropout and burnout.

Interviewer: Are you saying that we’re becoming an uncoordinated nation?

Juanita: Potentially and obese and really you know there’s a lot more emphasis now on screen-time for children. We’ve got diminishing backyards, a decline in deliberate play so there’s a real decline in unstructured play of children because of rules and restrictions.

Interviewer: Dare I say it, helicopter parents?

Juanita: Yes, that’s right and that’s an issue where helicopter parents, that’s an interesting one. I think there seems to be now rather than unstructured sport formats because parents are becoming more and more time poor, they’re putting their children earlier into structured sport, organised sport formats rather than letting them go out and play in the backyard.

Interviewer: So, they’re doing the right thing by putting them into structured sport but the problem with that is that the kids are missing out in as you say, the unstructured sport which is where they lose all the creativity.

Juanita: That’s exactly right and that’s where we advocate when we go through the foundational stages, we advocate the complement of the two so you have your structured sport formats but you marry that up and have the unstructured practice and play component and you really need the two to really foster skill development and skill refinement and as you say you’re missing potentially innovative, creative element to skill development.

Also, importantly we know from research internationally and it was certainly addressed at the IOC, if you’re specialising your children earlier into structured sport formats it is leading to not only a lack of sporting skill potential but also injury and dropout and burnout.

Other issues we’ve got is the decline in sports sampling where we know from our research that to help a sport participant or athlete be versatile and adaptable and even potentially look at talent transfer down the track they need to be sampling lots of sports but because of again a few factors in terms of accessibility or time there’s a restriction on sport sampling.

Interviewer: Okay, so let’s now break down the foundation elements.

Juanita: So right down the bottom we have F1 so F1 is about the learning and acquisition of basic movement so the focus in this phase is about learning, executing and acquiring a full repertoire of fundamental movement skills and we consider this to be an essential precursor to lifelong physical literacy. What we advocate is that children from very very early on until the ages of five or six, they’re dabbling in their locomotive skills so running and hopping and jumping. They’re doing a bit of object control skills so trying to hit and catch a ball. They’re doing aquatic skills and they’re doing a bit of body control so gymnastics are great in promoting that spatial awareness and whole body coordination through body control so at this level the critical support providers are parents but also caregivers and early childhood educators so F1 also caters for athletes that have an acquired disability so F1 talks about the reacquiring of fundamental movement skills so if a child or an adult gets an acquired injury they have to relearn some semblance of fundamental movement skill so F1 really caters for both able-bodied sports participants but also sports participants with an acquired disability.

So the F2 phase – it’s all about the extension and refinement of movement. What we advocate in terms of best practice is about promoting the complement of deliberate play. There’s unstructured sport formats with structured sport formats but also in this level it’s really critical about the promotion of a better partnership between schools and sporting organisations and clubs and a great exemplar of that is the Australian Sports Commission Sporting Schools Program. That’s a perfect fit in the F2 space because it’s evidence based. It features these age-modified formats and it’s promoting sports sampling and then up the top of the foundational macro stage we call it so the F3 phase, so this is a phase that covers off early sports participation of kids but also adult participation in sport and lifelong participation in sport so while it might look in the pathway linear and the same size as F1 and F2 it’s actually a huge developmental period so in the F3 phase it’s all about commitment to sport and an active lifestyle. We also advocate the importance of having flexible competitive formats to cater for the differences in maturation of sports participants but also to allow talented young athletes the ability to play up levels against older peers or against adults. So that’s why we really push about looking at the flexibility of competitive formats that they’re not necessarily very age-restrictive, that there’s some flexibility to allow these talented athletes to go up an age group if appropriate, if they’re ready to really continue to help their progression.

It’s about having the right fit of coach and the right coaching curriculum and the coach delivery. The coach needs to have a good understanding of injury prevention and management about the dynamic of getting the best out of the coach and athlete dynamic so they’ve got to be strong in terms of interpersonal skills. They’ve got to have some psychological skill and nous and a coach at the F3 level needs to have a good understanding of what it takes to be a good athlete so the whole gamut about nutrition, what’s the right recovery strategies, about the importance of hydration; what’s the right strength and conditioning principles, what are the Olympic values about respect and integrity so at the F3 we put a lot of onus on coaches to really help athletes to understand and take on and be educated in all those facets and then finally within the F3 phase, we really foster the need for a very strong and effective alliance between schools, between Universities, the National Comm Network and State and National sporting organisations to really help develop these foundational athletes but also help transition these gifted early athletes into the high performance pathway so into the next phase of the FTEM which is the talent stages.

Interviewer: Juanita, one of our favourite ASC initiatives is ‘No time for never’ and the men and women who talk us through why they do sport at their impressive age and it’s really inspirational. Let’s hear what they have to say.

Speaker: You get in the water and if you’ve got any problems you just swim along and they all disappear.

Speaker: We both cut each other’s throat to try and win the points and get the trophy for the year.

Speaker: I don’t think I am competitive. It wouldn’t matter whether we won or not.

Speaker: I am.

Speaker: I have a good image of myself. Self-belief you might call it and I train hard to win.


Juanita: I absolutely love this video and that’s where FTEM is a fit to that is promoting those early foundations but leading into that lifelong engagement to the point that you’re a Masters athlete. They were fortunate to live in a time where there wasn’t so many societal constraints on foundational sporting development like there is for our kids now but you can see how because of that healthy investment earlier in their generations that it’s led to this healthy older population. You know, they’re healthy, they’re with it, they’re happy to share a personal anecdote with you. My father, he’s been a cyclist, a road cyclist all his life. Now he’s clocking 80 soon – sorry Dad but you’re close to that but he’s an avid road cyclist. He’s had two hip replacements but if he didn’t have cycling; if he didn’t have those jaunts down to the local coffee shop and catching up with his mates after a 60k ride everyday he just wouldn’t be the same man. He enjoys the love of the sport so much at that age. It keeps him fit, healthy and happy but also, it’s that social engagement, that connect with his friends down at the local coffee shop. It’s just so important and that’s why I particularly love the Australian Sports Commission’s video on that. It’s such a wonderful message so I think that really is testament to why having the early foundations and the physical literacy, that’s why it’s so important that we need to address it at a system level within the AIS and the Sports Commission in partnership with all our gamut of National sporting organisations. We really need to address the foundational levels and really try and stop this issue in the decline of the fundamental movement skills and the physical literacy of our kids.

Interviewer: Thanks Juanita. Next week we’ll be discussing the talent component to the FTEM framework and if you would like to find out more about the AIS FTEM framework, head to the Australian Sports Commission’s website at ausport.gov.au and finally let’s hear some more from those inspiring Masters who have a talent for sport.

Speaker: We both cut each other’s throat to try and win the points and get the trophy for the year.

Speaker: Lightning is the only thing that would stop me. It really is.

Speaker: With table tennis, there’s no limit to the age and even if we get into a wheelchair eventually we can still play.

Speaker: Jim, doesn’t have many tricks.

Speaker: I’m aiming to play the Over 100 World Singles Title. There is every chance I’ll win because they’ll all be dead and I’ll be still alive.

Speaker: And I hope I’m there watching and playing because I’m only 95. Bring it on!

Speaker: We actually had a song but I don’t know if we can remember it!

We’re aged to perfection,
Just a few wobbly knees.
A scattering of wrinkles
And things you don’t see.

Speaker: That’s the reason why we play hockey and we’re not in the local choir!

Talent Identification

Talent Identification Workshop

Some of Australia’s leading high-performance managers and talent identification experts convened at the AIS recently to discuss the pre elite and elite pathways for athletes. Joining the experts was Professor Johan Pion from HAN University of Applied Sciences. He’s had years of experience in education, research and services at three Flemish Universities. He is talking to AIS expert in Talent Pathways, Doctor Juanita Weissensteiner.

Juanita: Hi Johan. Look, it was an absolute pleasure to have you as our first International keynote speaker at our Winning Pathways Workshop and there’s a good reason why you were our first International speaker because I was so impressed with your work out there in the literature and what you’re doing in the foundational levels and the pre-elite levels through your Sport Compass Project. So, would you be able to talk about your Sport Compass Project and unpack that with your ‘I like, I can and I do’ components?

Johan: Yes, thank you Juanita for this because you invited me here in Australia. Sports Compass – I rolled into the Sports Compass at a certain moment. The project started in Ghent. I was doing something completely different and I started with (1.29) and at the moment that we started with this project I told him it will take at least 10 years to scan all these sports and to find out how we will connect all these sports and to find out some generic things in all these sports, so Sports Compass is we looked at the literature, which kind of tests we needed to orient children towards different sports. It means that you have to find some generic characteristics into each of these sports so that took a lot of time.

We had 10 PhD students that were working on different sports at the same time and meanwhile we had the opportunity to test in schools and also in the elite sport schools where we have 16 different disciplines so we made one test battery. We started with 63 tests. It was a bit too much but in the second year it was 42 and then it came to 16 tests which were really possible to use for orientation in those different sports and while the choice of the test is one thing, the most important thing afterwards was to find out which kind of analytics we had to use to really orient towards this sport. We started with the normal statistics to descriptive things and then afterwards the statistics where you compare between sports and then of course predictions of sports and in the end, it was linear predictions and non-linear predictions so it became more and more and more difficult and we tried to work together with all those colleagues.

Juanita: What I loved about it is it’s such a diligent project. I mean you were locked away seven or eight years to get it right and what I loved was the motor coordination tests that you’ve got in there gauging I guess the movement competencies; where a child is at in terms of their motor coordination so can you speak to that a bit Johan?

Johan: Yeah because normally in all those sports what you see is that people measure the actual competence. They measure physical characteristics. It gives you some idea of who is good and who is bad in a certain sport or in a certain physical characteristic but it’s not enough. With the motor capacity, you see more who is the better mover and knowing who is the better mover gives you more an idea of who is going to survive in this sport because the better movers will last longer in the sports.

Juanita: So, you’re saying really that’s the key foundations is their movement competency and then you build on that with the sport-specific skills and that it’s important for lifelong engagement in sport as well as high performance sport?

Johan: It is because you are a good mover from the beginning and you stay to be a good mover so once you’re a good mover it’s like that for the rest of your life. For example, the father of my wife is sailing. He’s 87 years old. He’s sailing a laser boat so he is a good mover. He was a good mover as a child but he’s still sailing so that’s not possible if you don’t have these qualities from the beginning so it’s a little bit genetic. It’s more related to the genes than to the nurture that you have in different sports so if you start with an assessment where you measure what is your potential, before you start with the normal talent identification systems that we have in all the different sports then you already know – you have a lot of information of who is going to be the next champion for example.

We have nice examples of that because in volleyball we use these kinds of tests and they’re not really volleyball-related and it was difficult to convince trainers to do these kinds of tests.

Juanita: I remember you sharing this, yes, they weren’t convinced because you were using the KTK Movement Coordination Test and they were saying – what you said to me ---

Johan: It’s not volleyball.

Juanita: That’s right. How does this relate to volleyball?

Johan: It’s not relating to volleyball and that’s the strength of these kinds of tests and it’s not relating to tai kwon do and it’s not relating to skiing or what else but we found champions in ski and in tai kwon do and in volleyball and all those sports who are the better movers.

Juanita: And you shared with me, yes them working on these movement coordination tests and abilities actually enhance them as a volleyballer or a tai kwon do athlete.

Johan: It is.

Juanita: And it was the base for them to then build their sport-specific skills in volleyball and tai kwon do.

Johan: Yeah, well one of those skills; one of those tests is for example balancing backwards on a small beam. You can imagine if you’re a volleyball player you are told your centre of gravity is higher than most people. If you look at their results and you compare it with gymnasts, of course they will have weaker scores than the gymnasts because the gymnasts, they don’t fall off the beam.

Juanita: Mm, lower centre of mass.

Johan: Yeah of course and they are trained on these kinds of skills on the beam so that they get the maximum score but for volleyball players if you apply these kinds of tests you see the difference between those who will be the champions and those who are very good volleyball players and we tested them in the elite sport schools when they were junior so they all were tall, they all jumped high, they all kicked very hard in the ball and the only thing that was different was their motor coordination and those that won the medal, they had the better motor coordination. It was so special to find this because ---

Juanita: You’ve given me the answer as to why I didn’t excel as a volleyballer because I was hopeless with my motor coordinations and you’ve given me the answer after all these years which is fantastic and while we’re interested, we’re very invested in Australia and the Australian Sports Commission with looking at what we can do at a system level in terms of physical literacy so we know from our own evidence that physical literacy is on the decline so hence that’s why we’re very interested in the work you’re doing and how you’re assessing motor coordination and then promoting motor coordination as that key foundation.

Johan: Yeah, well what we also do is that we try to combine the things that happen in the schools and in the clubs because those are two different worlds so in schools the PE teachers have some data on their children on what they can do. They know that some of them can be very good sportsmen and in the clubs, they would like to have this information from the schools so that’s very difficult to combine this but with the system that we build we have some tests that we can give to the PE teacher, he can look for the better movers. Afterwards you have the second step with the ‘I like’, in the Sports Compass and the ‘I do’ model in the Sports Compass and you have an orientation towards different sports and more important than this that we know from the clubs to do some programs where they’re not only working on tai kwon do but maybe on badminton, tai kwon do and something else; combined sports clubs where you have similarities in the characteristics that you will train and where you have differences and of course we know that probably you will be a tai kwon do-ist but in the bend you have the broad development and we fund those clubs that work with this kind of program.

Juanita: So that’s a great thing with promoting sports sampling in children in those diversified environments in those clubs but also you talked about the linkage with talent transfer.

Johan: Yeah, that’s for talent transfer and the strange thing is that we started with the Sports Compass as a tool to orient children towards a sport so the first thing that you can think is probably this child has to do this sport and we have to train him as soon as possible. We have to specialise him as soon as possible and that’s not what we want because we had another project where we did the broad development and we combined those two but I think you need to know as soon as possible which are your best characteristics so that you know that probably in these and these and these sports you can do something.

Juanita: Sample sports that are fit and compatible?

Johan: Yeah.

Juanita: And what I love too with your program and we saw some great videos and you were showing how based on where a child is assessed for their movement competencies you had these really fun creative skills and tasks for the kids with balloons. You got really creative with balloons and racquets but you had a progression and the challenge was specific to where that child was in their movement competency and they were having fun. I could see that. They were really enjoying it.

Johan: Yes, well that’s one of the programs that we are running in Holland with our team of researchers who are at the same time lecturers and they are working on a program – it’s a bit derived from the Athletics Skills model where you have combinations of things but most of all it’s for fun that we try to make things difficult for some of the children and make it easier for other children because if you look at their development you always see that children develop okay in a straight way and we are always looking at the average child so as a PE teacher you look at the average of your class; you give your exercises to the average child and sometimes you think about the weaker child and you try to connect them with the average child. What’s a pity is that the better child – you don’t look at it because okay it’s already ---

Juanita: Yeah, you’re missing out on challenging them for them to then continue to progress and enjoy.

Johan: Yeah so we make three groups now and we give the education in three groups for this model at the moment.

Juanita: Mm, I loved it.

Johan: And you see that the better children are moving faster and the average – okay, we know how they progress and we see that the weaker children, they don’t progress. Their results are weaker than the year before because they’re not interested anymore so you really have to divide the children into different groups.

Juanita: But what I loved about it, it was very inclusive and catering for the different levels of movement competency and what I love from your work in Belgium you could see it’s a whole system commitment from the grassroots all the way up for that favourable outcome whether it be lifelong participation in sport but even high-performance outcomes and that’s why I love your work so much that it caters for the whole spectrum of sport participation. Johan, I was looking at the great videos you showed of the kids with the different challenging tasks and they really seem to be enjoying themselves so how have you found implementing the program? How are the kids finding it and the parents?

Johan: Well the first thing in sport is that you have fun and if it’s on a low level or a high level you always have to have fun. I was a gymnastic trainer ---

Juanita: I know, I’ve seen the videos and the pictures.

Johan: Well and the problem is with gymnastic trainers we only see gymnastics and we only think gymnastics and some trainers are not having fun because they only want to progress and they want to perform and I was always laughing with my athletes and sometimes I got remarks on the way that I worked with my athletes because we had fun so this is really strange because that’s the aim of sports that you have fun so if you give some exercises to those children in the schools why shouldn’t you give something that they have fun.

Juanita: And I bet you, they’re the ones that have continued the journey with you too because you were both having fun together?

Johan: It is – well they’re still friends. The big problem is that they drink my wine now and that’s a big problem!

Juanita: That’s a classic so look in just wrapping up, we asked a few people at the Winning Pathways Workshop their thoughts on your take about talent development. First up is Clint Fyfe, Tennis Australia’s Queensland Talent Development Manager. Let’s have a listen.

Clint: I found the way they were correcting some of their talent ID testing for physical maturity levels is really interesting. I think we often hit early maturity in sports and we have to be systematic in the way that we look at kids more based on their biological age rather than just their chronological age. One thing I really liked was they were doing talent testing to allocate kids or suggest kids to play certain sports so rather than using it as eliminating kids it was actually to try and guide them in the right direction and to assist their parents in making better decisions or assist coaches making better decisions about where kids’ potential might truly lie. Just applying it to my own sport tennis, whether we can use some of this stuff to just tweak things in terms of how we coach for them and long-term game style development so you know, they’re going to be showing qualities in certain areas or indicating certain heights or different skills that might bias them towards them playing certain game styles which is probably not – we’re always doing it with our coaches but being a little bit more systematic about it and it looked like they were doing some balance based tests and your postural control stuff so I haven’t seen all the tests. It would be really interesting to see how they did perception-based tests – you know, lining up your ball tracking whether it’s catching or throwing or striking skills, so without seeing the full battery of tests I would be quite interested to find out some more about his presentation.

Hugh: Hugh Carpenter – Talent Development Coordinator with the Australian Rugby Sevens. I was really impressed and interested to learn more about the way they look at the maturation of athletes but also the identification of the athlete that is suited to certain sports. In particular, motor coordination was something that I know I don’t think I’ve even heard of it getting done in Australia. We do (17.54) commentary, we do our physical testing but we just don’t look at coordination. The sport that I’m involved in particularly Rugby Sevens, you’ve got to be such an athlete and so coordinated with your movement that it’s something we really need to embrace and think about. We’ve got ruby players that are very strong and fast and have got a huge aerobic base but struggle to move almost like from a balance point of view like that natural athlete. Maybe if we could be better at identifying players earlier that we think might be more suited to sevens, it’s about getting yourself through and beyond contact, into space as well as being able to do the core skills of catch fast tactics so that’s why it interests me so much.

The main rugby game in Australia or format is 15-a-side. We look at players for their size and strength because it’s so easy because we have certain positions in rugby that need that but I think the way forward from a sevens point of view is definitely starting to identify players for different reasons. That’s what we’re saying so different maturations for different athletic abilities.

Identifying players that we think are suitable for world class levels, it’s not – I wouldn’t say it’s easy but we’re doing okay there. I think what I’d like to do is expose more players or more athletes from both men and women to be able to have a go at sevens and that’s an area we need to work on so I think the foundation of grassroots of sevens needs a lot of work. That’s an area that we need to concentrate more on.

Stacy: I’m Stacy West and I’m a General Manager of a high-performance pathway for Netball Australia. What we understand or what I took to understand from the presentation was just this incredibly simplistic but highly complex way in which they assess athlete progression and talent promoted from a rudimentary level so there’s layers and layers of complexity but the way he presented it was in a really simplistic format to share with us that it can be done and his message in around small steps to then build something like bigger and greater that definitely resonated with me so I was really excited to hear something so massive can start from within our systems here in Australia. I have a lot of confidence in that space. Netball has come from a place where we have relied upon sport-specific skill only so we teach how to catch, how to throw, how to shoot, how to defend and what we’ve done in the last 8-10 years is transition our thinking into well, what does a complete athlete look like and from a young age what are the building blocks of movement and skill and movement efficiency that will enable them to be one day a Diamond so we’ve gone right back to understand landing positions, running techniques and some really fundamental balance coordination because that underpins the whole lot.

We’ve got a current program in the market at the moment called the Knee Program which teaches children from age five upwards to land appropriately, to understand the mechanics of landing to avoid the injury that we have in our sport so it’s really exciting for us so just trying to address some of the strength deficiencies in some of our younger players and also teaching our coaches about what they’re looking for as well in the way in which they help detect and correct landing technique should and will with time address all of the limitations in our injury rates at the moment so we’ve really grown in the way in which we provide a more sophisticated approach to talent development so we’ve been quite again fortunate. We’ve had such a huge population of participation so we have 1.4 million plus people play netball around the country so we’ve got a massive pool of players so that allows us to be able to select some really good talent through a really tight pipeline. I don’t see that changing. I do see competing sports. We are very aware of that and we don’t see them as competitors though. We see them as add-ons in terms of the way we collaborate with other female sports has been really exciting for us and we’re enjoying the opportunity to share and learn and grow from the Football Federation Australia, from Cricket Australia and from AFL and from the other sports that are now emerging into female sports space so it’s very exciting.

Michael: Michael Cook – National Talent Pathway Manager for Hockey Australia. I think it was a very interesting way of looking at the development of young athletes and some of the metrics you can get around them early on in their development and see if we can predict some performances in the future from them. I think most sports have observed over time with the lack of physical activity for our youth today, it’s something which has certainly decayed with our young athletes over time and it’s something which we’re all very conscious of and regardless of the talent outcomes for us just the general health and wellbeing of better athlete development for our young kids is a priority for most sports.

For us, being a team sport it’s very much around decision making so the ability for our athletes to be able to interact with each other on the field and make smart decisions, understand where each other are in the field of play as well as being absolutely expertised in the execution of their skills so for us it’s not just the ability to be able to run all day or to be running faster than your opposition or your team mates; it’s more the application of the technical and the tactical attributes that we’re looking for. The nature of all these sports these days requires a whole level of dedication, sacrifice, resilience etc and these are all attributes that are as equally as important as what they’re doing from a skill perspective out in the field.

Juanita: So Johan, I’m really curious, why have sport in your life?

Johan: It was not always sport. It was playing. I am playing always with everything I am doing so I started to play and I’m still playing with numbers now. It’s not sport any more.

Juanita: We love the numbers don’t we Johan?

Johan: Yeah but it’s always fun. If you don’t have fun in whatever you do then you have a problem so for me when I was young I was always moving and it was normal that I played with a ball and the gymnastics and I did sample sports and I never made a good choice and I had coaches from left that asked me to come to them and other coaches from the other side to go to the handball or to gymnastics and I couldn’t decide what to do in the end so maybe Sports Compass could give me some good reasons to choose.

Juanita: That’s fantastic. Thank you, Johan.

Johan: You are welcome.

AusPlay: active parents

Ausplay

Karen: On any given day children are playing sport across the country but did you know that one of the biggest influential factors in getting children to play sport are parents.  The Australian Sports Commission’s latest research findings from its Ausplay survey is all about the influence of families and to talk us through the findings is ASC’s Deputy General Manager of Sports Insights Paul Fairweather.  Paul, before we delve into the key findings, let’s give our listeners a quick overview about Ausplay; what’s it about and what’s it for?

Paul: Thanks Karen.  Ausplay is a comprehensive survey about sport and physical activity.  We talk to a lot of people.  We talk to about 20,000 adults in a year and we get information on about 3,800 kids a year through their parents so it basically tells us all about how and why people participate in sport and physical activity.  We talk to people pretty much 350 days a year so we kind of make sure we get the seasonality of sport which is obviously really important as well.

Karen: So this is really valuable information isn’t it?

Paul: Yeah, it’s great information because it actually allows us to track what’s happening to Australian adults and kids and we’ve never had information on parents and their kids at the same time before.

Karen: What’s the latest research from Ausplay?

Paul: The latest research shows us there’s a clear link between parents’ activity levels and their children and put simply if you’re an active parent you’re more likely to have active children.  What we’ve found for kids under 15 years of age, if their parents are active in some way, whether it’s sport or just physical activity then 72% of kids will be active.  Now, if a parent isn’t active at all then the kids’ participation rate falls from 73 to 52% so that’s a big difference. 

Karen: How important is engagement from parents even if they don’t do sport?

Paul: Look, the more engaged a parent is the higher the participation rate is going to be for their kids.  We’ve had a look where parents are active in some way, as in physically active, but when they’re with a club in some form, whether they’re a coach or admin or cut up the oranges then children’s participation rises to nearly 90%.  That’s really high, so really engaged parents really engage children but even if you’re just playing and not involved with the club, we see that participation rates are also quite high and even if you just volunteer, not playing at all, again, the participation rate of your child is much higher than would normally be the case. 

Karen: What about the role of sporting clubs?  Was this a key factor in the latest findings from this Ausplay research?

Paul: Yes, it was.  I mean we’re getting information about what kids are doing in organised sport and physical activity outside school hours and what we find is that the dominant mechanism for kids playing sport is through clubs so what we’re finding is that children’s fundamental movement skills, their physical literacy is being driven and developed by clubs throughout Australia. 

Karen: So what’s the advice for parents?

Paul: The advice to parents is “look, you should remember that you’re actually quite influential in a child’s behaviour”.  We know the decision to play sport or physical activity for a child is influenced by that parent but it is also influenced by the child so “you are important.  You’re a role model and I’d suggest that look if you haven’t been active for a while since you were a kid but you’ve been thinking about it then go ahead and actually get involved in sport or some sort of physical activity because not only will you get a whole heap of benefits from that but your child will and you’ll set them up with some really good habits for life.”

Karen: Thanks for the guilt trip Paul.  Appreciate it!!  Now look, talking about parents, I had a chat with Rebecca who’s a mum of four boys and her family lives and breathes sport.  Let’s have a listen to Rebecca’s story.

Rebecca: I have four boys. They’re seven, eight, nine and 11.  They all go to the same school at the moment.  In summer, we play Oztag and cricket and a bit of BMXing.  In winter, all four of them do Rugby League so I have all four of them training on Tuesday and a Thursday but they all train together which is great.  I’m there for an hour and a half.  They can all train.  One drop-off, one pick-up.  It could be someone else dropping them off and myself dropping other kids home so that all works out well.  Soccer, all played together on Saturday.  No training which is fantastic and then one of my sons has decided to do Aussie Rules because he doesn’t play soccer anymore so we’ve decided to do Aussie Rules as well.

Karen: So you’ve got a rogue element in there!

Rebecca: Yes, well, friendships influence is a big one in schools.  He had a group of friends who were very much into Aussie Rules and that’s just what he wanted to be a part of so I think it’s really important for kids to not only play sport but to make it very social so with friends that’s very helpful.

Karen: Do you ever get a break?

Rebecca: (laughs) I’ve got to work it in a way that I tend to pick the sports that, one, they can all train and do it together or it’s a sport that doesn’t have any training connected to it.

Karen: Just roughly, how many hours a week do you reckon you put into sport with the kids?

Rebecca: Probably 4-8 hours depending on the children, so with Rugby League I take them all together on a Tuesday and Thursday. Oh, they also do judo by the way, but judo’s another sport like when you’ve got four children you tend to pick sports that, one, they can do together, so judo they can all go along to the same class so that works out really well.  Rugby League even on the Sunday they play separately so that’s perhaps four hours on a Sunday, the fact that they can train together on a Tuesday and Thursday was really appealing so I guess with a big family you’ve got to choose those sports that really fit into your lifestyle so it’s either a sport that has no training or a sport that the kids can all train together at the same time.  All up between the four children maybe 10 hours and four of those would purely be because on a Sunday they need to play at different times whereas the training side of it is altogether which is great.

Karen: And that’s the thing isn’t it about being a parent in this position, logistics comes into it with sport too doesn’t it, getting to and from sports, the sports that they choose.  You may end up choosing a sport that your kid doesn’t necessarily want to do but logistics dictates it.  Does that happen?

Rebecca: Absolutely, yes, look I’ve got a couple of boys who started BMX and I love BMX, a great sport, great for bike skills, it just happens to fall on a wrong day, the equipment is expensive, even though we bought secondhand bikes to get them started, as much as they want to do it, logistically we just can’t get around to doing it.  I’m for the kids doing whatever they can but if it doesn’t fit in they just have to understand that it’s just not going to happen but it’s not to say it won’t happen during summer or next year but for now it’s just not going to fit into our schedule.

Karen: Before you had children to what extent was sport a part of your life?

Rebecca: Look, I enjoyed playing sport.  I used to go to the gym probably three or four times a week.  I used to hang out with friends and try and do the social and exercise thing together.  I played a bit of everything, like nothing, very social but if someone needed a player for a team I would put my hand up.

Karen: And what about your family life as a kid, did you come from a sporting family?

Rebecca: Sport in the sense that we were always encouraged to do something.  We were from a country town and we did Little Athletics so again there was myself and my brother and sister and it was I guess a sport that you could all do together so you’d go down on a Saturday morning you could all compete and do a number of events so Little Athletics was a really good thing to start out in.

Karen: So let’s talk about influence because that’s part of what the results of the Ausplay research has come up with, that parents are influential with their kids in sport.  How influential do you think you’ve been with your kids?

Rebecca: Oh, very!  Look, I strongly encourage it and so does my husband to do sport.  I’m not really someone who likes to sit down a lot and I know that it really is up to myself and my husband that if the kids are to play sport we have to ensure and commit that we can get them, one, to training, two, we always seek to get friends included so if they’ve got friends at school who don’t play sport we try and encourage them to play because it makes it so much more social and the kids love it.  They like going to training then and so if they want to go to training, it encourages me to make sure I get them there, so that’s always useful.

Karen: So, you’re even taking that parental role to that community level as well?

Rebecca: Yes, absolutely.  Look, we have a number of kids in our Rugby League teams who are looked after by their grandparents so we definitely have a community feel so that if kids can’t get to training there’s always someone to take them.  Likewise, if I can’t get my child to a game, someone else picks them up and for me that’s a massive role in sport, you know, you need to find a sport that suits you and your lifestyle and also there’s a community spirit about other parents and other family members who are willing to help out by not only coaching and managing but just getting kids to games and getting kids to training so, yeah, it’s really important. 

Karen: Yes, because there’d be a lot of sport, if you don’t have a team you don’t have a game!

Rebecca: Exactly, that happened with my Under 10’s this year, like they lost their team last year and we had to go and just try and seek kids to come and play because I didn’t want him not to be the only one who didn’t play so we had to go out and recruit at Oztag and just get other kids from the school to come and play which was a really good experience to go out there and just get other new kids onto the field and onto teams.  It was worthwhile.

Karen: So Rebecca, your commitment to sport, what sports do you play and how important do you think that is when it comes to your kids?

Rebecca: Since having kids I played indoor netball.  I played touch.  I played a bit of Oztag, anything really that I can have a go at.  I’m now doing a bit of mountain biking so now the kids are really keen to come out mountain biking which is awesome.  If I could do it with them then that’s great and I guess when they come out with me I can challenge them that little bit further.  Yeah, my sport definitely influences the fact that they are active themselves.  My husband has always done Judo.  He still coaches Judo so that influences the kids in their Judo so he takes them along on a Monday and they’re part of his training which is great so that’s the influence on that side.  I’m pretty sure that if Mark wasn’t into Judo they probably wouldn’t do Judo.

Karen: When it came to choosing sports for your children did you and your husband think that you wanted your kids to do the sort of sports that you were interested in or did you want the kids to pick their own sports?  How did that work?

Rebecca:  I had a rugby union husband and I was raised in an Aussie Rules environment so all the boys have always played Rugby League and do Judo because dad would love them to play rugby union one day whereas when our child came to me and said “oh mum, can I play Aussie Rules?” that was fantastic.  My husband didn’t want a bar of it but I was prepared to say “yeah, absolutely.  It’s playing with your friends and we know the coach so go for it”.

Karen: Can you describe for me your love of sport as a family?  Is it that, as you say you’ve influenced your boys or do they also influence you as parents to get into sport?

Rebecca: Yeah, I think the main influence came from ourselves but the more that they get into it and they love being a part of the team they definitely influence us.  Like I’m not going to the gym as much as what I used to but I try and go down to their trainings and instead of sitting on the sideline and watching them I might go for a run or I might go for a ride and try and use that time in doing something so I thought if they’re out there doing it they sort of encourage me to try and get a bit active myself if I can.

Karen: So do you see yourself as a role model for your kids when it comes to sport?  Do you feel the pressure that you need to be fit and active for your kids or do you think it’s just something that they don’t really pay much attention to what you do as a parent, they’re happy doing what they do?

Rebecca: Sometimes.  I would like to be a good role model and if I’m asking them to challenge themselves and try and use sport, sometimes I feel as though I should be doing the same, which is really good.  I think it’s a positive thing but I don’t feel the pressure.  I think it’s within me that I want to do that and be that for them so, one, that I understand what they’re going through because we tend to forget that if you try something and you fail at it, how it feels because you haven’t done it for so long.  So, to be able to pick up a new sport or to try something new, like I picked up Oztag because all the boys were playing Rugby League and I didn’t know a thing about football so I thought “well I’ll just go out and I’ll play myself and learn to do what they’re doing so at least I can have that conversation with them” so, yeah, it was fun.

Karen: They don’t laugh at you?

Rebecca: They do!  (laughs) They can’t understand why I can’t pass the ball properly but it’s all a learning lesson.

Karen: But you learn off each other then, don’t you?

Rebecca: We do.  I love the fact that I can go to them and ask them to teach me how to do something, so “how do I pass the ball properly?” “where should I be running?” It’s good.  It means I can have that conversation without really knowing the sport.

Karen: Do you think as a parent that you’ve got your child helping you to do a skill. They’re the ones that are empowered. Do you think that helps you as a parent?

Rebecca: Absolutely, yeah. I think it’s great that it’s not just one way.  I’ve always thought that.  Even with their schoolwork and everything as well, if they can feel as though they can teach you and also hopefully when they’re older they can go into coaching or refereeing to earn pocket money I think it’s a really good thing for them.

Karen: Can you imagine life without sport?

Rebecca: No, but I wish sometimes that kids could do a little bit more physical activity without organised sport.  As much as I love sport I tend to find you get to school holidays and if something’s not organised they don’t know what to do with themselves and because of that I wish there was more going back to the parks and playing football, you know, in the parks on a Sunday where you do a barbecue.  I just remember growing up and, you know, riding to school, all that, I love the kids to do that.  Our kids do it when it’s a good day and it works out for us, but just, you know, being able to go for walks or the kids to go down to the skate park.  I mean that’s fantastic because they do that because they want to do it at the times that they want to do it.  It’s not planned and organised so I think it’s really good to have a balance of both, so the physical activity, non-organised and the organised sports as well.

Karen: It’s developing that creativity, isn’t it?

Rebecca: Absolutely, like if they’re in the backyard kicking around they’ve got no one coaching them, it’s fantastic, or down at the park.  No one is saying “no, don’t do it that way, you’re doing it wrong”.  It’s great.  They just do whatever they want and I think it’s really important.  Your child might not be a professional footballer or professional athlete when they’re older but it’s really good for creativity in all forms of life, through work or whatever they may be doing.

Karen: What’s your advice to other parents about physical activity and sport?

Rebecca: I think it takes a lot of commitment from parents and dedication.  It really does.  It’s like if you commit to going to the gym on a Thursday and Saturday morning, that’s the same sort of effort you need to put into kids.  You need to plan it and like every week if you can’t do it then use your contacts within your organisation to ensure your child gets there.  It’s not the child’s fault if they can’t so it’s really nice to think that you should be in an environment or in a sport where you can reach out to other families and get help and then likewise, when you need help, you can receive it back.  That for me is really important.

Karen: Thank you very much for talking to us about your sporting family.  Why have sport in your life?

Rebecca: For health of the body and mind, like I definitely believe that when I see the kids running around, not only are they physically active but I think mentally.  It’s just something different than sitting on an iPad and being focused in on one thing.  It’s nice to see them having fun and interacting with other kids and learning a whole heap of skills that I think you’d miss out on if you didn’t play sport.








Smart Talk: Periodisation altitude

Smart Talk: Periodisation Altitude

It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr Philo Saunders.  Philo was actually part of the original cohort of PhD’s when the PhD scheme first kicked into action and it’s quite an alumni in that original cohort that have gone on and done some really good things including Philo himself not only a scientist but also a coach at both a Paralympic and Olympic level.  No better person to talk about this topic today which is about periodization in relation to altitude so would you welcome Philo.

Philo: Thanks a lot Tim.  So, the way I was going to go today is just to talk on I suppose my journey since I’ve been in Canberra on different studies and training camps with altitudes that I’ve been involved in and how that shaped how I think about periodising training and where to use altitude in a competition and training year. 

Our altitude house was basically just a sectioned off part of the lab.  We got a big tank of liquid nitrogen put in and we had our own mixing chamber so basically vapourise the nitrogen, we mixed the nitrogen with room air and we created our own altitude house so we had not a fully automated control room.  We did our own calibrations and we set each of these rooms and basically the way we tried to use this was Live High, Train Low so we tried to train as normally as we could and we tried to sleep at altitude and one of these initial studies was about 2-4 weeks in duration.  Because they were just set up for sleeping we would spend about 8-10 hours a day and this was based on a lot of the work that Chris and Alan had done with this altitude house before the Sydney Olympics. 

The other way we tried to periodise it just so the athletes would build in is we would quite often have five days during the week at altitude, two days on the weekend they’d be out, so we’d sort of cycle in and we built up the altitude so we might start at somewhere around 1,600 metres to 2,000. By the end of the camp we’d be at 3,000 metres so we just tried to work the athletes in.  Even though it is live high, train low, the altitude stress had a bit of a factor.  It was published about 1 to 1½% improvement using this method, three to four weeks of live high, train low with no real change in haemoglobin mass, red cells or V02 max.

I’ll give a couple of examples of interesting data that I got from using this, so doing my PhD I did factors affecting running economy performance and we saw live high, train low, live moderate, train moderate which was a Falls Creek group and a control group, live high, train low and this is just pre-post oxygen consumption at 14,16, 18kph so this is the average V02 during those three speeds.  You can see pre-post in the live high, train low group we got quite a significant improvement in running economy so that really led me to think something is happening in regards to just increasing red cell mass. 

I suppose the biggest thing I got out of this first study, this is the all-time Australian rankings for 10km, so the three in red all use this altitude training before competition, so we’re using pre-competition altitude, three weeks, five days a week and you can see the times there so we’ve got 10th, 11th, 16th all time.  When they first did the times, they were probably like 6th, 8th and 10th.  I was just talking to one of these guys who works at the AIS and his second fastest time, 30 or 40 slower than that so it was huge improvements in what they’d done.  Obviously training in a group was a big factor, like three guys plus a bunch more training together but the three weeks in the altitude house really seemed to have a positive effect on these guys.  You go by performance.  When you have performance of that nature you think something’s really happening so that really got me into the area of altitude training.

Natural altitudes – so basically in Australia we’ve got I suppose two main locations.  We’ve got Falls Creek in Victoria which is a bit of a hub for distance running in Melbourne and across Australia but Dick Telford who was the coach when I was doing my PhD wanted to investigate use of Perisher Valley, Charlotte Pass, it’s a little bit higher.  Got to track down to 1,000 metres so we can do live high, train low or train low occasionally.  We did a series of studies trying to work on from the altitude house but incorporate some natural training and just learn a bit more about the training at altitudes.  We had a period in the altitude house of I think it was 40 or 50 nights.  We were trying to extend the amount of exposure we had to the athletes and then during the competition season we had 4-5 camps, seven days to two weeks at altitude so we’d go up, get a good training block.  The training was really focused on all the easy running up it 1,800 metres and then we’d go down to Jindabyne and do three hard sessions a week so we tried to keep the quality up.  Basically, zero is the personal best time of the runners going into the camp.  Most of them are below and well below their personal best time so we give them some really good performance over 800, 1500, 3km using this method so a really positive finding.  Not a lot of physiology behind it but basically performances speak for themselves there.  Not too many above the 0% mark but a lot of good performances.

Just a couple of examples here.  Lisa Corrigan broke the mile Australian record during this period using the altitude training, really trying to use the expertise of Dick and I on how to train at altitude and Michael Shelley went on to be one of the best marathon runners for the country based on using this sort of protocol before competition season. 

A couple of studies that I was directly involved with; the first one is with race walkers so AIS has had a big history of race walking hub in Australia.  Had a lot of Olympians, a lot of world championship athletes and Brent Vallance at the time was the AIS coach and he really wanted to work on using altitude more so we did a study where we had three weeks trying to spend 14 hours a day.  We had one group who would get in 3,000 metres, one group who thought they were at 3,000 metres but actually 600 metres and then one group just training normally in Canberra and we had a series of lab tests before and afterwards every week and then we had a series of performance tests.  They were 20km walks.  The first one is just their best time in the last six months.  The second one was an event we had in Canberra and the last one, which was about four weeks later was the trials for the Beijing Olympics. 

The only group that really increased haemoglobin mass was a group who got altitude.  The rest just sort of hovered around the baseline level.  An interesting factor is all of them increased their performance in a treadmill performance test.  We had a big training camp effect and V02 max increased the most in the group who was at altitude, so the altitude was driving the haematological effects but we were getting good performances in the lab in all groups, however four or five of the six athletes who were in the altitude group qualified for the Olympics, did best times four weeks later, so there really seemed to be something extra was happening in the altitude group when you’re looking at that performance in real instance.  The results really shaped the way Brent prepared especially Jared Tallent before all his major championships, so he was really happy with how he went in the altitude house and we modelled that program before Beijing and London where he won medals at a championship so it was 21 days, 3,000 metres, 14 hours a day, really trying to train as normally as possible just having constant monitoring so even though you’re training at 600 metres, the stress of sleeping at 3,000 metres is quite large so just monitoring to make sure the athletes are in an adaptive state during the whole time.

Seven days no altitude and then they had another two 14 days so he tried to get up to five-week period just to try and maximize the response, finish in three days and competing in that three to four-week window where we’ve seen some really good results post-altitude, having enough time to absorb the altitude and get some good training leading up into the major performance.

So following on from some of the work, basically every time I go to altitude and I know Avish has been following on on what we did for this PhD is I’m looking at all these factors going into a camp, so fitness level, you don’t want them out of shape, you want them in good shape but you want them ready to train hard and we’ve been getting them to train hard right from the start so trying to get into that acclimation period straightaway. 

Fatigue levels – this is really important for first timers.  You don’t want them to over-train at altitude so really trying to monitor that training, doing the same at altitude is significantly higher training load.  Basically, everything is a bit harder so you want to try and monitor that.  Iron supplementation is a big one.  Injury and illness.  Travel is a big factor so a lot of the times when we go overseas it’s a 20-hour flight you’ve got to get over and I think if you can, spending a week down at sea level, like in the environment that you’re going to be at is really beneficial so when you get to altitude you’re over all that jetlag and travel fatigue but if not, make sure you get back into a good sleeping pattern, get ready to train hard and then the focus of the training camp, so whether it’s a competition, pre-competition or just a training camp really affects the way you train at altitude.  Obviously, if you’re going to compete straightaway you want to make sure you’ve got high quality training done in the venue that you select is important.

I think I presented this a while ago at a sport forum that we had and it’s basically when I would put in an altitude training camp so we’ve got an early to mid preparation so that can be either done at the altitude house here, overseas at a natural camp and basically the idea of this is 3-4 weeks trying to accelerate all the aerobic fitness gains and trying to finish the camp in better shape than you started.  A lot of the effects from altitude training I believe comes in the period after you come down.  Basically, all your capacities are increased and then that next training period can be some of the best training you’ve ever done so the focus of this camp is really trying to get that fitness up and then have a really good training period where you can capitalize and have that roll into competition.

Talked a bit about the timing, the travel, the height of the venues.  I know this has been a big factor.  I’ve talked to some coaches who’ve been to altitude, the difference between Falls Creek and Flagstaff, like it’s both altitude, one 1,500 metres, 1600 metres, one’s 2,100.  Most people train just about the same at Falls Creek. Nothing’s really changed.  You can hit the same sort of threshold sessions but that extra 500 metres you really have to modify some of those sessions, so recovery, work to rest, the height and I suppose talking to people who have been and trained at those venues successfully is important I think for the first time you go.

And then facilities height – It’s critical I think when you’re getting out of your normal environment to have access to gym, pool, different things you use, tracks and the weather.  You want to be going at the right time of year.

I’ll finish up here.  I’ve just got a few points of what I would take into an altitude training camp.  I think the preparation is the most important thing. You want to know when you’re going, know what the focus of the camp is, make sure you’re in really good shape, make sure if possible you can avoid being sick or injured going into altitude.  I think that’s the most important thing and planning on when you’re going to go. 

The importance of training - I think it’s critical.  Don’t train harder than you’ve ever trained before.  The number of people that go to altitude and think just being at altitude is going to make them a better athlete and they train harder than they’ve ever trained before.  They’re cooked in the first week and they don’t adapt.  I know a lot of people talk about the responders, non-responders but I’ve never seen a non-responder to altitude.  I think the non-response is due to bad preparation or bad training at altitude and it can be changed, so people that don’t respond one time will respond another time.  You don’t get labelled as someone who responds and doesn’t respond to altitude. I don’t believe in that at all. 

Taper going to the race is critical.  A lot of times pretty much Flagstaff we’ve always competed well because we’ve had a specific race period where we taper for.  Sometimes in Australia we’ll train hard for the whole three weeks and it’s a bit hit or miss when you come down.  You can be quite good in the first couple of sessions then you have a real flat period.  I think it’s because you’re just absorbing that hard training so I think that taper in the last week of altitude is critical for training post or competition post so really building that in.  I think it’s the nature of having enough time.  I think you need 4-5 weeks for a really good altitude training camp.  You want a week so you can get into things.  You want three weeks of really good training and then you want a week where you can back it off and dissipate some of the load, so I think training is critical at altitude.  Don’t try to change things too much.  Try to keep your general structure and just work around the work/rest ratio, the type of reps so if you’re an 800 metre runner wanting to do pace work and you do 600 metres, maybe go 400 or 500 metres with a longer recovery, just somewhere where you can hit the pace. You’re still going to get a lot of anaerobic (12:48) and a lot of adaptation of the muscles so don’t try to change things too much. 

I think monitoring is critical.  Since I’ve been going to Flagstaff working in with Ben Raysmith that’s been a critical part of having good history on monitoring so you know what loads athletes can cope with so when you’re at altitude you can see warning signs, if athletes are pushing it pretty hard, like they’re going to fall over soon because you’ve seen it before so I think training load is critical and knowing what loads different athletes can take because it is different. 

The cumulative exposure is critical so altitude I don’t think is about one camp.  I think it’s about how much you go during your career so with athletes that I coach and look after, one a year would be a minimum.  If I can get one to three a year it’s good but I think one to two good altitude stints a year is going to make you a better athlete long term with the adaptations and progression and every time you go to altitude it’s just that much easier to get into training and to train at a higher level because I think there’s one thing you get from spending time with lifelong residents like in Kenya is how hard they can train at altitude so the more you go the more you potentially become like that.

Tim: Thank Philo for his presentation.


Specialising: burn out injuries


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