Image: Tayla Bruce, New Zealand Blackjack
Bowls New Zealand has overhauled its high performance structure following an extensive review of its 2018 Commonwealth Games campaign.
The Blackjacks returned from the Gold Coast with two medals, a gold and a silver, well short of its target of four or five.
A thorough debrief ensued, with all players and support staff giving feedback, resulting in an 86-page document.
From the findings, Bowls NZ high performance and coach manager Kaushik Patel and CEO Mark Cameron embarked on a consultancy process with 100+ bowls personnel and a number of other sporting organisations, both regional and national, before developing a long-term high performance plan.
“One of the key findings was that the previous plan afforded very little time and resource to actually coach players. We don’t develop players long term…they get very little hands on coaching,” Patel said.
“It’s great to try and win medals, but the reality is we need to prepare these athletes for the long-term.
“So that’s when we decided to move from a campaign plan to a high performance plan.
“We’re looking at a long-term picture, not just event by event.”
Patel will manage the new high performance programme with support from John Quinn and New Zealand bowls legend Peter Belliss.
Quinn, who currently works as the Crusaders’ mental skills coach, has been contracted as a high performance consultant and will offer mentoring and advice on all current HP tools and strategies, while Belliss will lend his considerable bowls expertise and will be the figurehead of the programme.
“I haven’t got the bowls knowledge and I’m certainly not the be-all and end-all with high performance so we’ve got Peter with the bowls knowledge on one side of me and then we’ve got John Quinn who is the high performance consultant,” Patel said.
“Between the three of us we’ll complement each other.”
Belliss will serve as the head coach and is also on the selection panel, alongside Marlene Castle and Philip Skoglund, but they won’t do any hands on coaching with the high performance or talent ID squads.
That will be left to seven national coaches: Evan Roberts, Nathaniel Lucas, Graeme Rees, Rachel Curtin, Sharon Sims, Gayle Melrose and Richard Girvan, who will report directly to Kaushik Patel.
Previously the Blackjacks had one fulltime head coach and three assistants, who were part time.
“One head coach was trying to look after 23/24 players and that was just too many,” Patel said.
“It was a fault of the structure, not the personnel.”
“The new high performance plan is not only to develop world class players, but to develop world class coaches.”
With seven national coaches the workload will be shared and each “will be working with four players maximum”.
It is also significant that the selection and coaching roles have been split.
“Part of the Commonwealth Games review was that players felt vulnerable going to coaches who were also selectors.
“[They were saying] ‘how can I talk to you about what my concerns are when you’re a selector?’.
“Coaches can [now] start building relationships with players, which they were [previously] unable to do.”
In addition the review found players, particularly experienced and successful ones, needed a voice in the high performance programme and this has been addressed by establishing a player leadership group.
Decorated Blackjacks Jo Edwards, Ali Forsyth and Shannon McIlroy make up the inaugural leadership trio and they have already had an input in the appointment of the coaches.
A collection of sport science specialists will also be contracted to assist in areas such as nutrition, strength and conditioning and game analysis.
Bowls New Zealand will have a reduced budget to implement the high performance plan after HPSNZ reduced its 2019 funding from $250,000 to $200,000.
“We’ve had to cut back in certain areas…, but we feel confident we can still make this plan work,” Patel said.
“We are not going to be become world class coaches and become world class players overnight.
“We’re talking about a two to four year plan, it will take time.”
The plan will start to take shape in a fortnight, when the selectors attend the Summerset National Singles and Pairs in Auckland.
From there the selection panel will meet with the seven national coaches before finalising the high performance and talent ID squads at the end of January.
The coaches will then work with the players and sports science team in the lead-up to the Asia-Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast in June.
Image: The support structure for the high performance programme