When the women's Black Sticks take to the hockey turf in Rio next month, they will have a special advantage.

All their team calls will be in te reo Māori.

"It's words that we understand and other countries don't," said veteran team member Kayla Whitelock, 30.

"I think everyone embraced it. [Player] Piki Hamahona was involved, she could speak fluent Māori so she was kind of creating some of our words.

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"So yeah, it's pretty special, obviously being Māori and to have Māori calls throughout our group and in the way we play," said Whitelock.

It was the team's Australian-born coach, Mark Hager, who introduced elements of te reo into the team after he took the coaching job in 2008.

Whitelock's first Olympics at Athens in 2004, when she was just 18, was also the first Games to incorporate a strong element of te reo Māori.

The late Ngāti Porou kaumātua Amster Reedy guided the NZ team to adopt a Māori cloak for the team's flag-bearer, pounamu (greenstone) pendants for all the athletes and a "mauri stone" carrying the spirit of the ancestors.

"Everyone rubs it and it gives off energy to us," Whitelock said. "You see every day the athletes walking into the main area rubbing this stone as they leave the village."

This year's Māori Language Week theme, Ākina te Reo (Urge on the language), is about using te reo to urge on New Zealand's Olympic athletes with phrases such as Kia kaha e hoa mā (Let's go team).

Whitelock's father, Phillip, comes from a Māori-speaking whānau from the Rangitāne iwi and has taken his children to events at their home marae at Motuiti, on State Highway 1 just north of Foxton.

She and her husband, former Crusaders and All Blacks player George Whitelock - brother of rugby stars Luke and Sam Whitelock - and their 1-year-old daughter, Addison, live next-door to George's parents on the family dairy farm near Palmerston North.

They are close to Trevor Shailer, a former Olympic boxer of Ngāti Hauiti/Ngāti Kauwhata/Ngāti Raukawa descent who is now chief executive of Sport Manawatu and deputy head of the NZ Olympic mission.

"Trevor does a really good job of bringing the culture within the group," said Whitelock.
"At every Games you get a pounamu and at the start of every tournament they have a video of the culture and where the greenstone was made, which is pretty cool.

"There's only 200 athletes or whatever and you each have a part of that culture, which is pretty special."

She will have her whole whānau behind her - assuming she will be named in the Black Sticks women's team for Rio on Thursday for her fourth Olympic Games.

As well as her husband and daughter, her parents, sisters and brother are travelling to Brazil to back her.

The whānau will stay in a hotel while Kayla stays in the Olympic village, but they will keep in touch.

"I think the NZ Olympic Committee has organised a New Zealand House close to the village where you can meet up with everyone."

Piki Hamahona. Photo / Greg Bowker
Piki Hamahona. Photo / Greg Bowker