Keeping cyclists’ minds on track

Warrick Wood (third from the right) and members of the Men’s team pursuit, following the final race.

Warrick Wood from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition has recently returned from Italy, where he was working with the U19 New Zealand Track Cycling Team, as mental skills coach.

Mr Wood has been working with Cycling New Zealand for the past four years, culminating in him attending the UCI Junior World Track Cycling Championships in Montichiari last month.

His role was to work with the team throughout their build-up, lead the development of team culture, assisting with planning and preparation, and overseeing mental preparation and performance while in Italy.

“Essentially, I help the athletes prepare as best as they can, getting to the start of each race with a sense of belief that they can be successful and then enjoying the moment of racing.  My approach with this team has been that every day, whether training or racing, is an opportunity to do something cool. So on race day, it’s just a matter of going out and following our normal processes, but having a blast as well,” Mr Wood says.

“It’s quite a challenging role where balance needs to be maintained between providing tips and support to enhance belief, but not becoming a distraction or a source of doubt by asking ‘are you okay?’ etcetera. It’s about trying to remind athletes to follow certain protocols, but also establishing a sense of ownership and confidence, so they feel like they don’t necessarily need someone there with them at an event, to be successful going forward.”

Mr Wood says their programme focuses on individuals and relationships before anything else. “I strongly believe that to do anything special, athletes and staff need to feel valued and connected with those around them. We talk regularly about creating a culture where each individual on the team can be the best version of themselves, and how we each contribute to that. The athletes are involved just as much as the staff in developing and leading the culture of the team, and I believe this has been one of the key factors in the programme’s success in recent times.”

He says he is very fortunate to work with a great team of staff within the junior high-performance programme, where individuals trust each other and work effectively together. “The autonomy I enjoy in my role is something that I really value and, I believe, is actually quite rare in a mental skills space.”

The 11-strong New Zealand team finished with four medals led by gold (and a World Record) to Ellesse Andrews in the individual pursuit along with silver and bronze medals by the female and male team pursuits respectively, and a bronze in the men’s kilo time trial.

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