With a grant from the Auckland Airport Community Trust, Athletics NZs #throwlikeagirl programme, which aims to support young women and coaches develop skills, has been launched. We find out more about the innovative programme with the help of its founder and ANZ High Performance Programme Coach for Throws Kirsten Hellier.
After more than 15 years working in the secondary school sector, Kirsten Hellier, a former sports co-ordinator at Macleans College and ex-Director of Sport at Howick College, had become alarmed at the decline in sport participation rates, particularly with girls.
The decline in physical activity in the young coupled with increasing obesity rates concerned Kirsten, and so marrying her background in athletics with a desire to boost physical activity in girls formed the genesis of her #throwlikeagirl programme.
“The decline in girls and young women playing sport was when I started to think about a more targeted approach,” explains Kirsten, who formerly coached Dame Valerie Adams and is currently guiding former World U20 shot champion Jacko Gill.
“My passion and involvement has been with many sports but predominantly with track and field. Having worked with some special athletes who have achieved some amazing results I wanted to share the opportunity to experience the throwing disciplines with more athletes and coaches Athletics NZ met the #throwlikeagirl idea with a lot of enthusiasm and that is how it all started.”
What’s in a name
Kirsten, the 1994 Commonwealth javelin silver medallist, was also the creator of the programme title #throwlikeagirl and as she explains there is an interesting rationale behind selecting the phrase.
“It is deliberately confronting because it challenges stereotypes,” adds Kirsten. “The first thing some people might think when hearing the phrase “throw like a girl” is a young girl hurling a ball 10m with a limp wrist yet when I think of the phrase, I think of Dame Valerie Adams, Maddison Wesche (the world U20 shot champion) and Val Young (the former Commonwealth shot and discus gold medallist), all women who can throw well. My long term vision when people hear the phrase “throw like a girl” is the picture that comes into their mind is of strong, capable athletic women who can throw far.”
Targeting girls aged 11 to 18 and their coaches, the programme will offer event specific training for hammer, discus, shot and javelin.
Athlete development will be the primary focus with Kirsten adding: “We teach the fundamentals of athletics capability and competencies around running, jumping and throwing correctly. We are keen to teach these good habits.
“We also develop the mental, social and leadership skills and run some emphasis on nutrition and endocrinology and how it can affect sport and performance.”
Kirsten also says they’ll be a social and spiritual component, which will be chiefly led by the participants.
“Bring some music along and have some fun,” she explains. “And when I say spiritual, it is not a church or a faith but making sure we meet the needs of who they are as people.”
The expectation from Athletics NZ is the programme will help identify and nurture the potential future female throwing international athletes of the future – a desire whole-heartedly supported by Kirsten.
“There is no denying our hope is we’ll have some stars come out of this, but it will also be fantastic to have some top coaches or even people interested in other areas such as biomechanics emerge from the programme.”
Kirsten also says she cannot understate the importance of the coaching component of the programme.
“There is only one of me and the more coaches who can take information back to their environment is where this programme will reach its full potential ,” she says.
Free #throwlikeagirl sessions take place on Mondays (4-6pm) with Athletics NZ High Performance Programme Throws Coach John Eden at Papakura Athletics Track in Auckland and on Tuesdays (4.30-6.30pm) with Kirsten at Pakuranga Athletics Track in Auckland.
Long-term, the vision is to expand the programme nationwide and Kirsten insists the programme has wide-reaching appeal.
“Any girl with a desire to improve their throwing, plus any coach who wants to learn more about coaching young women will benefit from the programme. Ultimately, we want to help our athletes and coaches deliver our sport.”