Coaching team eyes Olympic gold

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Helping their athletes win Olympic medals has been a game changer for the Wanaka-based New Zealand High Performance Park and Pipe Coaching Team, says head coach Tom Willmott, of Wanaka.

They were the team behind Nico Porteous and Zoi Sadowski Synnott winning bronze at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

Sean Thompson is the lead for snowboarding, assisted by Mitch Brown. Mike Hanley is the freeski specialist.

Hamish McDougall coaches freeskier Finn Bilous and Tommy Pyatt manages brothers Miguel and Nico Porteous.

Bruce Wells manages “Team Wells”: the award-winning team of his sons Jossi, Byron, Beau-James and Jackson Wells.

Snowboarding pioneer Bud Keene, who led the US snowboarding team to Olympic gold, is also part of the team.

The team recently won the Coach of the Year award at the Otago Sports Awards, and Mr Willmott said it was already focusing on raising the bar even higher, to take their Olympic athletes to gold, and develop the next generation of Olympic athletes.

During the winter games, all coaches worked together as a team, Mr Willmott said.

“In PyeongChang we had a team of eight coaches for twelve athletes, which is a very high ratio, but it enabled us to really have focused support for each individual.”

A ‘triad’ arrangement was established for each athlete: one coach stayed with the athlete for one-on-one support, and two coaches provided feedback, including information on performance, weather conditions, how the ground was looking, nutrition and what the field was doing, Mr Willmott said.

A wireless video relay system was used to provide instant access replay of all runs.

“I was able to immediately watch the run, ascertain whether they had landed successfully, be able to check out any of those environmental factors like the wind or the surface conditions of the snow.”

As all of the coaches had access to this replay, they could assess performance and feed back information constantly.

“Some of the other teams that don’t employ a team-coaching approach potentially miss out because, in the environment, part of the time is performing, going down the hill, and then you get in the chairlift for seven or eight minutes to get yourself back up to the top.

“We can have a coach in that one-on-one scenario, where the coach can actually ride the course with an athlete, and hop on the chairlift with them, talking with them and reviewing and reflecting, sucking the learning out of that previous run and planning for the next run.”

At the same time, the other coaches were in constant radio contact, and could funnel lessons through to the lead coach, Mr Willmott said.

The Winter Olympics might be over but there was no slowing down: the team was planning its strategy for winning gold, he said.

“We’ve got two thirds. Obviously the next step is to win, and if we are targeting winning and something goes a bit wrong, then we may well still end up on the podium. So that’s our mindset. Rather than trying to get to third, we want to get to the top.

“So that’s the focus of our elite programme. And now we also want to be able to have a programme that’s sustainable beyond the upcoming Olympics to the one down the track, so we’ve got an eight-year rolling strategy.”

That meant developing the next generation, he said.

“”Nico and Zoi, aged 16, Olympic medallists, they were already progressing towards that at the age of 12. So we’re looking at our next group of 12- to 16-year-olds that are our future Olympic medallists.”