High Performance New Zealand : Athlete Performance Support

Text : Giannis Psarelis. Following our interview with Mrs. Sue Eden who is the Senior Advisor Media and Communications for High Performance New Zealand we present the services they provide to their athletes.

Strength & Conditioning
The High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) Strength and Conditioning department aims to develop and enhance the physical capability of every New Zealand carded athlete. We work with the athlete and coach to develop a strength and conditioning programme that targets the physical needs of the athlete. This typically involves gym-based training designed to improve total body power, as well as conditioning training designed to enhance cardiovascular performance, running acceleration, speed, change of direction and elevation as appropriate.

Ways we deliver -We want to ensure all New Zealand carded athletes experience fewer injuries. Our system screens all athletes to determine their movement competency and power profile to ensure a programme which appropriately challenges their abilities. The athlete is closely monitored to ensure that improvements in power and cardiovascular fitness contribute to performance and not to injury. The strength and conditioning department is committed to working closely with the athlete’s support service team to ensure the best physical enhancement programme.

Power

Our vision is that in five years’ time the power profiling and monitoring system at HPSNZ will be recognised as world leading and best practice for strength and conditioning. In addition, the Power Zone research lab at AUT Millennium will be a world leading centre for applied high performance research in power development.

Ways we deliver – We lead and deliver the power profiling strategy to enhance performance in a variety of national sport programmes, with the priority being targeted athletes in Athletics, Bike, Kayak, Sailing, Rowing, Rugby Union and Netball. Power profiling involves benchmarking muscular power characteristics of athletes, as well as identifying strengths and weaknesses using tests that are specific to the sport.  We lead applied research, testing and project implementation and coordinate the power strategy delivery for relevant high performance programmes.

 

We work closely with Strength and Conditioning in using power profiling and monitoring to influence the design and delivery of conditioning programmes. We help sports, coaches and world class athletes to improve performance through the creation of a knowledge base for power development. The Power Scientist manages the power profiling and presents the analysis back to the sports, assisted by an agreed support person.

Nutrition

The HPSNZ Nutrition Programme provides world-class nutrition support to carded athletes. HPSNZ has a team of highly qualified and skilled nutritionists whose role it is to ensure carded athletes adopt the best nutritional strategies for performance on the world stage.

Ways we deliver- The wide range of services provided by the HPSNZ Nutrition team includes:

 

  1. dietary assessment – evaluation of an athlete’s current food intake to identify deficiencies and areas for development
  2. nutrition planning – individualised food plans to support training, promote recovery, maximise performance and achieve weight manipulation, for travel and for special environments
  3. clinical nutrition and dietetics – to support athletes with health and medical issues
  4. menu planning – for teams on tour
  5. education and skill development – cooking classes, supermarket tours, nutrition seminars and workshops
  6. supplement advice – personalised supplement plans.

Mental Skills & sports psychology 

What makes the difference between winners and losers on the world stage?  Common answers include “mental toughness”, “the top two inches”, “determination and perseverance” etc.  It is the role of performance psychologists to work with both coaches and athletes to develop their ability to excel in high performance environments. Performance psychologists help develop the psychological, technical and tactical competencies required to be competitive.

This includes skills not only for the day of competition but for the day-to-day demands of a high performance lifestyle: “To help normal individuals cope with abnormal environments”.

Generally, psychology will help individuals develop an understanding of their mental blocks that are a result of their personalities, experience and psychological development. It helps them develop strategies to prevent these from interfering with the achievement of their goals.

 

Ways we deliver- “Mental skills training” is only one area where psychology can be of use. Psychology can also be used to help people deal with issues relating to sleep, stress management and personal functioning, such as conflict resolution, relationship and mental health issues. Psychologists can also help coaches to structure trainings to assist with learning and improve understandings, to be an effective “change agent” for athletes, to develop winning team cultures and present feedback to athletes.

 

Psychological support accessed through HPSNZ includes three major areas: mental skills training; psychological support; and clinical psychology support. Clinical psychology will be used when athletes are suspected of having mental health issues that are outside the competence of a general psychologist. Psychology is about changing people’s behaviour, and so has a role in any area where people need to make some behavioural shift.

Physiology

Our purpose is to improve performance by implementing coach-driven physiological research and to monitor physiological and performance-related variables to assess training effectiveness.

 Ways we deliver- By becoming immersed in high performance sports, we uncover questions about sport performance and training practice that guide physiological research. The answers to these research questions guide practice and ultimately improve sport performance.

One of the main services we perform includes the day-to-day monitoring/testing of numerous physiological variables (i.e., training pace, heart rate, power output, sleep). This routine monitoring/testing helps coaches determine the effectiveness of their coaching practice.

We’ve made a difference by:

  1.  using progressive exercise tests to monitor changes in athlete fitness
  2. using morning resting heart rate variability measurements to assess recovery status and training impact
  3. using knowledge of menstrual cycle phases and hormonal status to guide training
  4. examining strength training methods to improve running economy in triathletes and runners
  5. using cold water immersion to improve recovery from hard training.

Performance & Technique Analysis Unit 

Our aim is to improve the understanding of athlete and team performance through the use of video analysis, statistical and data mining tools and biomechanical techniques.

 Ways we deliver- We provide coaches and athletes with a sound understanding of performance via:

  1.  Biomechanics – a discipline used by coaches in order to gain a greater understanding of performance in athletic events through modelling, simulation and measurement
  2. Performance Analysis – the notational and statistical analysis of performance
  3. Technology support – strategies to gain maximum advantage of technology resources.

 

Rehabillation 

Our aim is to provide timely, effective and responsive assessment and management of athlete injuries and so ensure a return to sport as quickly as possible.  The ultimate aim is to have athletes performing on the world stage who are injury-free.

 

Ways we deliver- The four main professional groups in the rehabilitation team are physiotherapists, massage therapists, osteopaths and chiropractors. Their services are available through HPSNZ rehab centres.

  1.  Physiotherapists provide assessment and management of conditions relating to the neuromusculoskeletal system. This may involve screening and physical rehabilitation via pain management, soft tissue management, mobilisation, manipulation and exercises.
  2.  Osteopaths focus on preventative medicine and caring for the musculoskeletal system. Their approach combines joint mobilisation and manipulation, work on muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues as well as gentle work on visceral structures.
  3.  Chiropractors also provide skills in assessment and management of conditions relating to the neuromusculoskeletal system. These are clearly related to the skills of mobilisation and manipulation to the spine and peripheral joints.
  4.  Massage therapists provide soft tissue assessment and management. Their skills enhance injury management and are also used in prevention via regular soft tissue recovery, and pre- and post-training massage.

Medicine 

The Sports Physician is a Specialist in Sports Medicine. They are experienced medical practitioners with a wide knowledge of all aspects of medicine and of human behaviour. They have a broad understanding of physiology, medicine, anatomy, psychology, psychiatry, pathology and can take a holistic overview of the athlete. They contribute through overall management of medical issues, and are primarily responsible for injury diagnosis, leading injury treatment, prevention and rehabilitation.

Sports Doctors are General Practitioners with a post-graduate diploma in Sports Medicine, and may have a strong role in the Health Team, with expertise in illnesses and general medical care of the athlete.

 

Ways we deliver- Sports physicians’ key roles are in establishing an accurate diagnosis, planning the appropriate investigations and imaging, instigating the treatment plan for the athlete, excluding other pathologies, and deciding on appropriate interventions such as surgical referral, physiotherapy, podiatry, nutrition, or psychology etc. The broad training of Sports Medicine practitioners allows them to assess the athlete overall, being aware of issues such as stress fractures, tumours, psychiatric conditions, systemic illnesses, or infections that may present as simple muscular or tendon injuries.

 

Sports Medicine practitioners will generally screen athletes on a yearly basis and identify medical conditions affecting performance, and conditions which need ongoing monitoring (such as anaemia, asthma or diabetes), and will arrange appropriate follow-up through the year.