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Case Study: Pathway to Podium

In this Balance is Better Case Study, we examined the Sport NZ Pathway to Podium program and how it impacted talented Kiwi triathletes, Trent & Ainsley Thorpe.

For the Thorpe family, dinner time is important parenting time – a time when parents Julie and John can focus on supporting and developing their children as balanced people, not just developing triathletes.

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L-R: Trent, Ainsley, John, Julie and Marcel

The Spanish have a word for it: sobremesa.  It translates as ‘over the table’, but what it really means is ‘conversations at mealtime’. Researchers have confirmed what Julie Thorpe knows instinctively – that dinner time is important parenting time.

“We’re a family who eat together,” Julie says. “It’s important. It provides the opportunity to talk about what’s going on for the children: how they are doing and what they might need.” Julie and John Thorpe’s children are the triathletes Ainsley and Trent (and their older brother, Marcel). 

Sport was a big part of Thorpe family life from early on. Marcel was into athletics and so they all went along: Ainsley is no doubt embarrassed that her mother is still telling people how she won her first race, at age two, in nappies. At school, the children were into any sport that was on offer: softball, cricket, netball, rugby, touch.  When Trent was 10, at a swim meet, Julie and John were told he’d just achieved the qualifying time for the nationals.

“It became obvious early that they were good,” says Julie, “We’ve always encouraged them to do their best and be competitive in whatever they are doing, but it’s always up to them what they do and how far they want to go.

Our role is to provide support and, if necessary, we help them reassess. When Ainsley broke her shoulder last year, I said to her, ‘if you don’t want to do this anymore, that’s absolutely fine with us. It’s your decision.’”

“When they became part of the Sport New Zealand Pathway to Podium programme, that helped us a lot. It meant we could step back from supporting their development as athletes and leave that to Bruce, Jan and Jana* who have the expertise in the different disciplines and who take responsibility for their strength and conditioning. Our role became providing everything else they need:  financial support, emotional support, help with planning and organisation and above all, perhaps providing a stable base.  With their development as athletes taken care of, our focus as parents is their development as people.” 

“When they are home, and we sit down together as a family for a meal,” says Julie, “it’s about much more than topping up their food intake. That’s when we can talk about how they are coping, what help they need and how to prioritise. Something we’ve discussed has been their life after tri. As a result, Ainsley and Trent are both studying at AUT: apart from having something to go on to later, they need something other than triathlon to think about now.”

It’s not unusual in New Zealand for sport to be part of the sobremesa: the conversation over the dinner table. In a select few households, however, sport becomes a much more important conversation.  When children become high performance athletes, their parents are required to become high performance parents.

In those families, as the Italians would say, “la vita è una combinazione di magia e pasta”: life is a combination of magic…and pasta.

Find out more about our Talent Plan here.

Image Credit: Simon Conellan

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