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Refreshed Talent Program getting positive reviews

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 | Athletics Australia



2018 has seen fantastic performances from Australian senior and U20 athletes on the international stage. It has also been a good year for the development of future champions with Athletics Australia’s refreshed local Target Talent Program (TTP) positively received by athletes and coaches around the country.

Athletes and coaches who have shared their thoughts with us include: Aliya Canepa who is a multiple national champion thrower from Victoria; 800m runner Jack Gould from New South Wales, who drives five hours each way with his dad to attend every session; U20 relay national champion sprinter Bec Kovacic from Tasmania and her TTP coach Wayne Mason OAM; and four-time Olympian and distance great, now coach, Benita Willis in Queensland.

The aim of this program is to encourage and develop the best young athletes around the country by providing them with an opportunity to train with other talented athletes, learn from professionals in a training environment and to interact with their personal coach and State TTP coaches. Education sessions on a wide variety of topics are also included, with all elements sitting under a national curriculum.

“The Target Talent Program is a nationally-lead, state driven program and a very important part of our national pathway,” AA National Junior High Performance Manager Sara Heasly said.

“Together we have refreshed the offerings in 2018 with a national event specific coaching curriculum overseen by the National Junior Coaches and common education themes presented with the support of our SIS/SAS partners, for athletes, parents and personal coaches throughout the country.

“It is great to see our athletic talent, both athletes and personal coaches working together in this vibrant program.”

The feedback from athletes and coaches on the improved program is very positive not only in terms of improved performance but also with the expected increased longevity in the sport as a flow-on that comes with increased enjoyment, inclusion and motivation.

The national pathway for athletes was revised due to the IAAF moving away from the U18 World Championships. AA instigated extensive consultation with the AIS, State Performance Coordinators, National Junior Coaches, National Coaching leads, State Target Talent Coaches, personal coaches and athletes. The result was the removal of the National U17 squad and more resources were allocated to allow a reinvigoration of the TTP for emerging athletes. We meet some of these athletes and coaches below.

Victorian thrower Aliyah Canepa

Aliyah Canepa started Little Athletics in under 6s and has always loved the sport. The 16-year-old was invited on the TTP program after great success at the Australian Junior Championships in March. Over a few days in Sydney she won the U17 hammer throw (3kg), achieved bronze in the discus and was fifth in the shot put. She was also fourth in the U20 hammer with the heavier implement.

Coached by her dad Fernando, she does seven sessions a week on technical, strength and speed work. Aliyah has attended all TTP sessions in Victoria and has big plans for the future.

What benefits have you experienced from the TTP in terms of training?

“I have benefited from the different coaches, showing me different techniques and different drills. I stay open minded about my training and try to get the most out of what I am being taught.”

Which education session did you get the most out of?

“I got the most out of the Flexibility Session, it showed me different ways to stretch that I can use in everyday training sessions.”

What are your goals for the summer season and beyond?

“This season I would like to hit 60+ meters in the Hammer. I would like to win the National title again, making it a hat trick.

“I am aiming to qualify for the next Oceania Games for the Hammer Throw and also to qualify for the Youth Olympics both in 2020. Looking further I am aiming to represent Australia at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games in 2022 and 2024 respectively.”

Jack Gould, NSW Middle Distance Runner

Jack Gould lives in the Riverina region in southern New South Wales and was invited to be part of the TTP sessions in NSW after finishing fourth in the U16 800m at the Australian Junior Championships in March. This was his second consecutive year finishing just off the podium.

He is highly motivated and a great talent, who caught the eye of Olympian Lisa Corrigan at a cross-country event in Sydney’s Centennial Park a few years ago. Lisa has continued to provide guidance for his training.

Jack and his dad Jamie drive five hours each way to attend the TTP sessions in Sydney and are very engaged in the training and education sessions. They both couldn’t speak highly enough of these sessions, which is very encouraging when you consider the 10 hours of travel every month!

Jack trains four to five times a week, often with his younger siblings. He is targeting the Australian All Schools in Cairns in December to get his summer off to a strong start and he continues to learn and improve.

What benefits have you experienced from the TTP in terms of training?

“We have been doing lots of new drills and sessions we’ve never done before, which we can implement into our training program at home,” Jack said, after completing a core session in the shed with the temperature a chilly five degrees.

What topics have you covered in education sessions and what was the most memorable?

“We have covered injury prevention, mental health, strength and conditioning and recovery. I found the mental health session to be one of the most important, learning that the brain is the control centre of the body and its impact on performance.”

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Bec Kovacic, Tasmanian Sprinter

After only starting training seriously last pre-season, 18-year-old sprinter Bec Kovacic and her 4x100m relay teammates, Jane Hickie, Kiani Allen and Kysha Hill, won the under-20 women’s 4x100m relay national title in a Tasmanian record of 47.27 seconds.

After the 2017 Australian All Schools in Adelaide, the relay squad with plenty of depth, “thought we could do pretty well if we actually got some training in with our changes,” Kovacic explained.

“We thought we would be a chance of placing but could never imagine walking away with a gold medal around our necks.”

For the girls who had all come through Little Athletics, they had all had to wait until U20 to get their first taste of success at the national level.

“It is particularly special for all of us considering Tasmania isn't really known for quality sprinters, and we are all so close with one another as we see each other almost every day of the week, it was special to share it as a team instead of individually.”

It was a momentous occasion and one that combined with the TTP program has provided Kovacic with extra motivation for future success. Here are some of her insights after joining the TTP program after Nationals.

How involved have you been with the TTP this year?

“I have been in attendance at all training sessions, education sessions and forums provided and have found them to all be very insightful.”

What benefits have you experienced from the TTP in terms of training?

“As Wayne (Mason) is the TTP sprints coach, and my own personal coach, I feel as though the training we do is very similar to what we both do on a regular basis. But I believe TTP allows both my coach and I to learn new styles and ways in which I can improve.”

Which education session did you get the most out of and why?

Personally, I got the most out of the Sport Psychology session as it gave information on strategies we can use when we compete throughout the season but also when things don't always go to plan such as injuries or don't perform as well as we would have liked.”

Wayne Mason OAM, Tasmanian Sprints Coach

Wayne Mason has coached many great sprinters including Jack Hale and was awarded an OAM in 2011 for his services to athletics. Wayne shares his thoughts on the refreshed TTP program.

How involved have you been with the TTP program this year?

“I am the TTP sprint coach this year after taking a break from the program last year. This year there are two athletes with disabilities within the sprint squad and they have been fully included in the coaching sessions. I haven’t worked with athletes with disabilities previously and I am really enjoying the opportunity.”

What are the positives you are seeing from the refreshed TTP initiatives?

“I am very positive about the refreshed TTP initiatives. Having worked on the TTP program in the past it is good to now have a template to base sessions around and reassuring that I have largely been on the right track in the past. The curriculum ensures a consistency in approach across the board. The education sessions to date have been excellent. Bringing in experts in specific areas to present to the athletes, personal coaches and parents has been a bonus not just from the content but it has also taken the pressure off the event coaches to prepare and undertake their own education sessions.”

Do you see long-term benefits for athletes and personal coaches from the TTP program?

“For the athlete, the TTP program provides recognition and encouragement to continue within the sport. One of the positive outcomes locally has been the participation of one of the athletes and her personal coach in additional sessions outside of the TTP sessions. This collaboration can only have a longer-term benefit in the development of both the athlete and coach, and the sport in general. In an ideal world this type of approach would happen as a matter of course rather than be a rarity. The TTP program has directly contributed to this. As a personal coach the ongoing development opportunity through the education sessions has also been a positive.”

Benita Willis QLD Distance Coach

Four-time Olympian and Australian Marathon Record Holder Benita Willis is heavily involved in the TTP program in Queensland. She sees great benefits in the refreshed national curriculum for athletes and coaches in terms of training sessions, collaboration, fostering talent and friendships.

How involved have you had with the TTP program this year?

“I have been involved working with the distance squad this year (also with Peter Bock) and also in 2017. My involvement in the program is to set training for the group well in advance so all individual coaches know what we are planning to work in (where they can) with their own plan for their athlete/s in TTP.

“I also get around to QA/ State and National competitions to watch individual athletes compete and chat to their coaches at various stages throughout the year. Some personal coaches also come to TTP and I do like to chat to them about why I’m setting a specific session and how they can use certain things I’ve learnt as an athlete for their group and athletes.

“Sessions I set and talks I do to the group vary with the seasons and what phase of training/ racing the athletes are currently in. It’s also great to get good guidance from the National curriculum from Paul Pearce at AA so we can take our TTP program in Qld on a similar path to what is done in other states.

What are the positives you are seeing from the refreshed TTP initiatives?

“Collaboration between coaches is huge and with a country as small as Australia, it is so important that coaches get together and share ideas/ experiences, so they can learn from each other.

“We have so much talent in Australia and this is a good way to help foster it beyond the high school level into senior teams/ success. I like being given communication from Paul at AA regarding feedback into the program and also having a good idea of where it is headed from a national perspective.

“Having a national curriculum means consistency across the country in what we’re trying to teach our developing athletes, which makes setting training easier. I see our contribution in Qld as part of this overall plan and at the end of the day it benefits our athletes – these results have been seen in major competitions in Australia and international already this year.

Do you see long-term benefits for athletes and personal coaches from the TPP program?

“Yes, for sure. Tessa Storey (Qld State Performance Co-ordinator) and Ben Groth (Coaching & Performance Pathways Manager, QA) organise different people to speak to the TTP group (athletes and coaches) each session before training. These people include past athletes, psychologists, nutritionists, strength and conditioning specialists etc. They always have important messages to share to the group. I feel that not only athletes, but coaches and parents benefit from these talks.

“Also, from the distance group, long term friendships are made within the TTP group. As Qld is a big state, TTP enables country, city and all in-between (athletes and coaches) to mix with each other and form friendships which I have seen continue to develop. This support network is so important to have outside “organised” TTP sessions or teams traveling away.”

There are around 400 athletes taking part in TTP across Australia. National Junior Coaches are attending the state TTP sessions to link the work done at state level to the national coaches. Reviewing the program is ongoing to ensure improvements keep coming to benefit current and future participants. It will be great to follow the progress of these athletes over the summer and years to come.

Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia

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