Wide and wonderful world of sport

In the wide and wonderful world of sport, there’s always something kicking off. That’s certainly the case for our sport and exercise ākonga, who have been involved in no shortage of exciting action in 2023.

The Bachelor of Applied Science programme at Otago Polytechnic |Te Pūkenga is opening learners’ eyes to a wide range of career possibilities.

Armed with a powerful suite of knowledge, including theory and current research, our ākonga are given golden opportunities to put all that into practice, working with teams, communities and industry partners in real-world situations.

The programme’s academics may be largely based at the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health (ISEH) in Dunedin’s student area, yet the ripple effects of all that expertise flow widely.

Each year new opportunities present themselves. For example, 2023 saw ākonga from our Bachelor’s (and post-grad) programmes complete learning hours analysing opposition for the Silver Ferns team during their Netball World Cup campaign – all done from our facilities in Dunedin (connected through sports analysis website “Hudl”).

Many of these students had just completed a season with the Southern Steel netball team and have now begun assisting the Otago Rugby NPC team, and can be seen flying drones and working cameras, as well as collecting GPS data.

“Experience tells us that it won’t be long before most of them will be working in roles across New Zealand in various professional team sports,” says Hayden Croft, Head of Otago Polytechnic’s Institute of Sports, Exercise and Health.

“Some will end up involved in international roles, working in competitions such as Japan Rugby League One or Major League Rugby in the United States.

“Even the All Blacks have one of our graduates, Hayden Chapman, working as a performance analyst for the Rugby World Cup in France.”

Stretching high

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On the subject of World Cups, Tessa Nicol, a third-year Bachelor of Applied Sport learner, has had her passion for her favourite code, football, well-stoked through involvement in a range of top-shelf events.

And they don’t come much better than the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

A goalkeeping coach, Tessa was invited to a closed training session with the Switzerland team while it was based in Dunedin for the sporting spectacular.

Then she headed to Festival 23, an eight-day “football-for-good” event in Sydney, which coincided with the quarter-final stages of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

One of 70 women from around the world to participate in the Sydney leadership workshop, Tessa says Festival 23 was “the icing on the cake” in a year that also included her heading to Fiji to help the New Zealand Under-20 women's team.

“I was goalkeeper coach for the NZ Under-20 team, which was amazing. We qualified for the World Cup in Columbia in 2024!”

Despite all this high-level action, Tessa also has her feet firmly on the ground. In fact, her key plan after graduating is to set up a goalkeeper coaching clinic to help build depth at a local level.

“I enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Science because I want to have a role in football of some kind. The programme initially appealed to me because of the variety of classes.

“I have learned more – and had more opportunities — than I thought I ever would.”

The value of volunteering

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Self-confessed football fanatics Reece Burtenshaw and Jack Gee also had a part to play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The duo were volunteers for the top-shelf event, which enabled them to combine study with an enduring interest in the sport.

Both are in the first year of the three-year Bachelor of Applied Science, Reece moving to Dunedin from Timaru, and Jack from Gore, to begin their tertiary journey.

“I chose this programme because I enjoy sports, the gym and coaching people,” Reece says, adding: “I am hoping to work in a sporting/gym setting to promote or assist physical activity in different ways.

“Volunteering for the World Cup connected to my studies at Otago Polytechnic – as we have to complete a certain amount of hours in the community, including helping out at sport-related activities.”

Likewise, Jack got amongst the action at the prestigious tournament.

“I was a pre-ceremonies team leader, among other things.

“The event connected to my studies by giving me a chance to experience the sporting community as a volunteer.”

On the ground – in Tonga

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Roughly 3000kms from Dunedin, our sports and exercise experts were hard at work in Tonga, helping prepare the Tongan national men’s team for the Rugby World Cup.

Matthew Blair, Principal Lecturer and Academic Leader of ISEH’s post-grad programme in Strength and Conditioning, worked closely with the Tongan team, fine-tuning their physicality in the build-up to the international sporting event, which kicked off in France in September.

Mat was joined in Tonga by two locals, Koliniusi (Loa) Lepa and Isikeli Vite, both of whom are in the third year of a Bachelor of Applied Science.

As interns, the pair worked with Mat, analysing the Tongan players’ fitness, including measuring their strength and cardio-vascular fitness, then developing specific programmes to ensure the players were at their peak for the Rugby World Cup.

Koliniusi and Isikeli, who have enjoyed a mix of online and on-campus learning, returned to Tonga in the second semester, having spent the first semester of this year at our Dunedin Campus.

“I enjoyed every bit of it of my time in Dunedin,” Koliniusi reflects, adding: “Trying to adapt to the changes – both environmentally and academically – was a great experience.

“I love sport and physical activity, which is why I chose to enrol in the Bachelor of Applied Science at Otago Polytechnic. In addition, I’ve wanted to contribute to sport in Tonga, especially rugby.”

Although study commitments meant the training grounds of Tonga were as close as Koliniusi and Isikeli got to the Rugby World Cup, they were with the team in spirit.

And both have big plans to lift the code on the Pacific Island nation.

“After completing my studies, I hope to return to Tonga and help build rugby here,” Koliniusi says. “I’d like to start a business where I can train teams and promote the right principles of training to help local players reach the national team.”

Isikeli: “I’d like to be involved in managing Tongan rugby’s high-performance programme.”


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For some, the option of post-graduate study offers other twists and turns, including academic pathways that intersect with key industry players.

A good example is the experience of Dunedin twins Sam and Hudson James-Everton, who have had box seats for the world’s most prestigious sporting events.

Completing a Master of Applied Science, Sam and Hudson have combined can-do attitude with academic expertise in performance analysis, which has led to them working as graphics operators for cutting-edge Dunedin firm Animation Research Ltd.

Sam and Hudson both completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Science (specialising in sports performance analysis) in 2022 and quickly immersed themselves in the opportunities the programme offered, including doing video work with the Highlanders (rugby) and Southern Steel (netball) matches, analysing players’ performance, as well as working with their other classmates on projects.

Self-confessed “sports geeks”, Sam and Hudson also gained a scholarship, created specifically by Animation Research Ltd for Otago Polytechnic learners.

Essentially, the opportunity is to be trained in aspects of the sport animation production, building graphics for courses, loading animations live during sports matches, setting up and using technology to make it all work.

Published on 04 Oct 2023