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Growing Athletes

More than 100 secondary school students from across Hawke’s Bay have been given inspirational pep talks – and reality checks – by some of our greatest sporting athletes.


The students were chosen by their schools to attend the inaugural Growing Athletes event hosted by the Woodford House Sports Academy on Tuesday 24 May.

Growing Athletes is an initiative to bring young athletes together for a series of engaging presentations on mental skills, strength and conditioning, nutrition, talent spotting, sports scholarships in the United States of America and leadership.

Guest speakers including Hawke’s Bay Magpies assistant coach Danny Lee and Hawke’s Bay Rugby Academy manager Joe Payton, NZ U20 women’s football coach Leon Birnie, Indigo Hawks veteran and academy co-head Paora Winitana, Netball NZ high performance coach Charissa Barham and recently retired All White Ben Sigmund shared stories of hard work, resilience, vision and self-belief.

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Sigmund let down his guard and opened up about the gut-wrenching feeling of coming home from the 2009 World Cup in South Africa without having stepped on the field.

“I played every minute of every game leading up to the World Cup … but I was put on the bench. My World Cup dream was coming to an end,” Sigmund said.

“It cut me up and that will probably hurt until I die. I was so ripped up, I thought I would give up football, but then something clicked inside me.”

That something was resilience, he said.

Sigmund set himself a goal to prove to his coaches that he should have been playing at the World Cup. His goal was to get Player of the Year for the Wellington Phoenix.

That year he focussed on improving his weakness. He worked hard and he did not give up. As a result, he not only got Player of the Year, but three other awards too.

He said building resilience was crucial in sport as setbacks and disappointments come with the territory. As a retired professional footballer Sigmund still needs to be resilient as he comes to terms with not playing football again.

Karamu High school student Abbey Kilkolly said it was powerful to learn from people who had been at the coalface of professional sport.

Woodford House student Sarah Kean said the presentations helped her realise “perseverance is key and to keep going with your goals to the best of your ability”.

Woodford House Director of Sport Chris McIvor, a former Rovers national league footballer, said sport is a vehicle to be a better person.

“It was for me and I want to ensure our young people receive all the help they can get no matter if they are currently national ranked or simply showing talent and a willingness to work hard. I can only imagine how this stuff would have helped me when I was their age. If sport is what keeps young people going then, as educators, we need to be sure to help them no matter what their talent is.”

The event also included presentations from Life NZ Leadership coach Robert Miller, Hawke’s Bay United strength and conditioning coach Brandon Campbell and US scholarships coordinator Katie Sleeman.

Chloe Johnson, Communications and Development Manager