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Developing future athletes through tertiary partnership

Rebecca Robinson —

As the strength and conditioning trainer for the St Paul’s 1st XV rugby team, TJ Pieters is preparing these boys for sport beyond school life.

Equipped with a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science from Hamilton’s Wintec, TJ began working at St Paul’s in 2017 while completing his honours.

The arrangement is part of the relationship between St Paul’s and Wintec’s Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance, which sees postgraduate students complete a practical component at the school, putting their theory into practice.

Specialising in exercise physiology and strength and conditioning, TJ spent his practical time at St Paul’s observing and assisting with classes, learning more about youth athlete development.

His love of rugby saw him spend most of his time working with the senior St Paul’s rugby boys and as a result, he was offered the role of strength and conditioning trainer this year.

“I am responsible for training the boys, making sure they are fit and strong, but also teaching them valuable techniques that they can take with them when they move on from school rugby,” says TJ.

Now working towards his masters, TJ is also undertaking an internship with Waikato Rugby, where he is upskilling his strength and conditioning knowledge through monitoring and analysing players' GPS data.

“GPS player tracking involves putting GPS trackers on the players to track their movements at training and during games. This information allows us to create and compare training programmes and to monitor their performance,” he says.

GPS player tracking is predominantly used at the professional rugby level. However as his research evolves, it is something TJ will be using with the St Paul’s players. “It is a great way to see how much they are working on the field and to base their training programmes off that.”

TJ’s exposure to GPS player tracking began last year when he was given the opportunity to travel to Japan to work with athletes over there using GPS units.

Born in South Africa, TJ moved to New Zealand in 2009 and attended Hamilton Boys High School. While his sport growing up was long distance running, he always loved rugby and knew he wanted to do something in the sporting arena – leading him to the Wintec sport science programme.

Now working in a strength and conditioning role with St Paul’s, TJ is using his science knowledge to help develop their programmes.

“Youth athlete development is important to me, as that is where it all starts. I want to help them develop good habits, how to structure their programmes so they don’t burn out and how to move correctly and to the best of their ability to avoid injury,” he says.

“If they can take what they’ve learnt here at school and be able to do it on their own when they move on – then I’ll feel like I’ve added to their development.”