Shaping the Future – TriStar’s Focus on wellbeing

GNZ AdminShaping Gymnastics

While Gymnastics NZ has been delivering projects at a national level to address different elements of the ‘Shaping the Future’ work plan, many clubs across the country have been pro-active in reviewing how they operate and making changes in response to the findings of the Independent Review.

Over the coming months we will be highlighting a range of clubs and the different approaches they’ve taken to promote the safety and wellbeing of gymnastics participants and those who deliver the sport.

Our first feature club is Auckland’s Tri Star Gymnastics where changes to how they operate has placed wellbeing at the heart of their programme. 

The club is focused on understanding what success really looks like for a sports club. 
After the recent shift in gymnastics, Tri Star has been proactively addressing some of the underlying challenges on a club level. 

Read the full story below

Auckland’s Tri Star Gymnastics places wellbeing at heart of performance programme
What does success really look like for a sports club?
That question is at the heart of a new approach to developing great gymnasts adopted by Auckland’s
Tri Star Gymnastics Club.
Most people who love sports will have heard the quote: “winning isn’t everything – it’s the only
It’s a catchy phrase. It’s snappy. Cool. It speaks to the part of us that prizes the pursuit of athletic
excellence, and the dedication and commitment it takes to achieve our goals.
But it’s also, well, ancient – being attributed to UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell (“Red”)
Sanders as far back as the 1930s.
Almost a century later, times have changed. Winning is nice, but it sure isn’t the only thing.
“Gymnastics at its core is an amazing chance to develop your body’s potential,” says Tri Star general
manager David Phillips.
Gymnastics, says Phillips, should appeal to everyone at all levels.
“We need to show people that it is not just little girls in leotards doing amazing things with their
Gymnastics globally is undergoing a seismic shift to tackle athlete wellbeing issues encountered in
the likes of the United States, Great Britain and here in New Zealand.
While Gymnastics New Zealand is tasked with leading wide-ranging reform based on
recommendations contained in the Shaping the Future of Gymnastics in Aotearoa, Tri Star has been
proactive in addressing some of the sport’s underlying challenges at club level.
The cultural and structural changes being implemented at Tri Star are a case of evolution rather than
It formed an Athlete Wellbeing Advisory Group that included parents, coaches, a physiotherapist
and sports psychologist. It created an athlete wellbeing coordinator role on the club’s staff, and
developed an age and stage resource using the Māori health model Te Whare Tapa Wha.
This model embeds the four pillars of wellbeing – physical, social/emotional, cognitive and
environmental – and Tri Star have used this framework to develop plans that support athletes, staff
and parents says Phillips.
The club also began surveying its participants to capture athletes’ views and track progress, and has
appointed athlete representatives to its board of directors.
One of the main areas the club wanted to address was kids doing too much training too young.
Gymnasts in many disciplines now peak in their mid to late 20s so “there is no really sound argument
for rushing things when they are young”, says Phillips.
“Effectively, all of the work around wellbeing for us has been centred around ‘what are the things
that we can do to make the athlete experience a quality one’? If they are enjoying themselves then
they will stay.”
The club made some immediate changes to its programmes.
It re-defined its pathways into regional competitive which is a lower training hours opportunity, and
national competitive which has a base level of training hours, with options to extend for those on an
international pathway. This provides training hours to now suit all levels of interest rather than a one
size fits all approach.
They also delayed entry into the competitive programme from 5 years to 7 years at a minimum to
promote a participation focus for younger gymnasts, and by extension increased the minimum age
athletes will then be exposed to the national championships to 11 years.
The club also set the age for performance pathway increases in training to 13 years– basing the
approach on evidence published in the Australian Journal of Medicine.
Tri Star has also adopted changes to cater better for gymnasts with differing motivations, who may
wish to switch between pathways at different stages of their lives. They now offer lower training
hours opportunities in men’s and women’s artistic, trampoline, and tumbling and freestyle
gymnastics giving athletes options if they are wishing to shift their focus.
While some athletes were motivated by the prospect of international representation and medals,
others might be involved to be with their mates, or so they can master cool tricks, says Phillips.
“Our sport does not have a good track record of retaining athletes for the long term, or managing
athletes in a change of trajectory,” he says.
“Athletes have tended to do one pathway and then when they can’t keep up or lose interest they
stop. We have started regularly talking with our athletes about why they are doing the sport – and
from there they can figure out how much they should do. By having these conversations earlier, we
are able to propose alternatives to quitting. We have found that athletes who own their
participation are more likely to stay involved.” says Phillips.
The club was also keen to decrease the focus on results at national championships for younger
gymnasts – historically a major driver for coaches, parents and kids.
“Yes, winning a championship at Step 5 might be super important to that kid, but our view is the
parents and the coaches and the club should have a different, broader perspective,” says Phillips.
“When athletes, parents and coaches become hyper-focused on seasonal outcomes you can get all
of this really unhelpful behaviour and human responses to this high-pressure situation. The [kids]
then sometimes develop blocks and stresses and anxieties that don’t need to be there. By taking a
step back and building in some of the other things that contribute to a positive sporting experience it
helps diffuse some of the pressure.”
The club’s changes have largely been positively embraced by members and coaches, however some
are more enthusiastic than others.
“When we talk about Sport New Zealands Balance is Better approach some of our competitive
parents roll their eyes at that,” admits Phillips.
“We remind them that what we are doing is ultimately about keeping their kids involved in the sport
that they love, but people love to win! We’re working towards achieving both, but by putting athlete
welfare first the development process can be a little slower.”
Kids surveyed by Tri Star were asked to indicate what motivated them to be involved in the sport. A
large majority indicated they were highly motivated by results, but they also valued the social and
emotional benefits of participation.
“That tells us that they do want to do well,” says Phillips. “It also shows that the communication that
is coming out [to clubs] that you can have performance and wellbeing together – actually there is an
athlete-driven alignment with that.”
“Our athletes don’t want to lose. But they also want to be treated with respect, and own their