Rotorua is filled with supremely talented young athletes ready to make their mark on the world. We've already produced world beaters such as Buck Shelford, Steven Adams, Sarah Walker and Susan Devoy. All of these athletes started somewhere and in this feature we look at what the next generation of sporting superstars must do to follow in their footsteps. We speak to experts in athlete development and nutrition, coaches, scouts and parents as well as highlight some of the young men and women already on the pathway to success, who will be profiled in more detail in the coming weeks.
For an athlete to make it to the top of their chosen sport, the need for talent is obvious.
However, Sport Bay of Plenty coaching and sport development team leader Dave Clarke says when it comes to the attributes necessary for sporting success, talent is sixth on the list.
While his current role focuses on developing coaches, Clarke has 30 years of experience as a professional coach in the United Kingdom originally and then in New Zealand as the national squash coach. In that time he has worked with nine world champions and eight Commonwealth Games medallists.
He said on the list of attributes he would look for in a young athlete, talent came after self-responsibility, self-awareness, a performance mindset, ability to learn and be coachable, and an obsessive work ethic.
"There are loads of talented athletes who don't get far at all because they don't have the things that you actually need to be successful. To be successful at the top level now, you need to be very special. Only a small percentage actually make it.
"They need to have these traits to give them a chance of being successful, talent is just your price of entry."
Clarke tells a story of a young man who came into the national squash system as a 13-year-old and was easily the least naturally gifted player there.
"When I was national squash coach, I sent this information out to the coaches about the things I was looking for in young athletes. A guy came back to me and said 'look, there's this kid over in Greymouth who has some of these traits but he's not that good at the moment'.
"I said, send him along so he came to the national selection squad and I got loads of crap from people saying 'what's this kid doing here?'
"At that camp, he worked his butt off and literally improved session by session. As part of it we sat each of them down for one-on-ones and I asked him why he should be selected in the national squad. He said 'I know I'm the worst player here at the moment but I guarantee I'll work harder than anyone else.
"So, I put him in and he ended up playing for New Zealand at the World Junior Championships where they came fifth, he played No 2 there. At 19 I selected him in the national senior team."
That 13-year-old was Paul Coll, New Zealand's top men's squash player and currently ranked sixth in the world. Last year, at the Commonwealth Games, he claimed silver in the men's singles and bronze in the mixed doubles. He is living proof that it takes more than just talent to succeed.
The Sport New Zealand Talent Plan 2016-20 focuses on "growing the capability of the competitive sporting system to better prepare athletes for high performance through quality sporting experiences in the development phase".
The overarching goal is to encourage more young people and adults to remain active in competitive sporting pathways, strengthening local, regional and national competitions.
They need to have these traits to give them a chance of being successful, talent is just your price of entry.
Clarke said when building a house, you can't put the roof on until the walls are up. It's the same with young athletes - without a solid foundation you will not get far.
"The key focus with young athletes is you're developing them to realise their potential in sport and life. It's about winning in the long run, not about winning next week.
"You don't need to be the best player right now. That's why I think it's important to make sure we're including as many as we can and developing young people for as long as we can."
Clarke had several pieces of advice he would give to young athletes with lofty ambitions.
"One is to make sure you have a good environment where you can be happy at training, you have the right facilities around you. They don't have to be flash, just appropriate.
"You need to have a good coach and a team around you. One who either has a track record or is constantly looking to develop themselves, preferably both. If you're working with a coach who is doing no self development, that would be a red flag because the coach has to grow with their athlete at an equal speed, otherwise the athlete will start to supersede the coach quite quickly.
"They also need a good team in terms of their parents being supportive, a good physio and other support when they need it. You don't necessarily need an army but you need people around you who really care about you, people you can trust.
"You should ideally be aligned with the governing body for your sport to a certain extent. Operating outside of that sphere is going to make things incredibly difficult for you. You want to look to have good connections with your national sporting body, what support they can offer you and what competition options are available for you."
Be a team player
Luisa Avaiki is a New Zealand rugby league legend and was part of the inaugural Kiwi Ferns side in 1995. She is now the Warriors Women's NRL team head coach and the NZRL development/wellbeing manager.
This week she was in Rotorua checking out some of the girls in action at the North Island Districts League Tournament. She told the Rotorua Daily Post about some of the things she looks for when looking at young league players.
"In rugby league specifically there are a few things. Physique helps and it doesn't necessarily have to be the biggest person, a lot of rugby league is around strength and speed, good balance and good ball skills.
"Also, just an awareness, spatial awareness, about where they can evade players and a bit of vision. I especially look for girls and young women who compete, have a go and back themselves, even if they're a smaller player."
She also looked closely at how players interacted with their teammates.
"As you get to a higher level in your code, coaches don't necessarily always look for the player who is the most outstanding. Attitude and character is massive for me.
"If they're a good teammate and just by their conduct, the things they say and how they treat their teammates, for me, I watch a lot of that. It shows me what kind of person they are. On the field, particularly in rugby league, it's not just your role which is important, it's how you interact with those around you. That is a skill and that shows leadership. That's important.
"Willingness to learn is important too. You might have an athlete who thinks they are really talented and everyone tells them they're really talented, they start to think there is nothing else to learn. That's a really hard person to coach," Avaiki said.
Fuel your body
For any athlete reaching for the stars, regular training is a given. It is therefore essential they learn how to fuel their bodies effectively as soon as possible, says Sport Bay of Plenty health team leader Larissa Cuff.
"It's really important and I think the key thing for young athletes to focus on is what I would call getting the basics right. What I mean by that is learning the timing of when to eat - that's probably the most important thing.
"Making sure they're fuelling for their training or competition and then recovering with good nutrition afterwards."
She said if athletes could learn to fuel themselves effectively early on in life, it would be beneficial as adults.
"Like anything else, it puts good habits in place so they don't have to relearn when things get more serious. If they're doing lots of training on multiple days, their body needs really good fuel to keep performing.
"Also be organised is what I would say to a young athlete. If they have school then training, what do they need to pack in their bag to make sure they have the food they need to get them through that time."
Make the most of your opportunities
In New Zealand, sports such as rugby and netball have clear pathways to the top. Many secondary school students go straight into professional environments.
For other sports, the pathway is not as obvious and often requires time spent overseas.
Western Heights High School have won multiple national titles in the last decade but head of volleyball Eugene Bogun said young volleyballers who wanted to make a career in the sport often had to head overseas, usually on scholarships to the US.
The players are encouraged to reach out to American colleges and send them footage of themselves playing in the hopes of catching the eye. Some even hire agents to help them.
"They have to learn about the academic side of things as well, where they need to be at. The scouts ask us about them and who they are as people. In New Zealand there's no pathway besides playing club volleyball unless you are at Olympic level like the O'Dea brothers.
"There is a pathway in the US and that can lead to professional careers. We had a former student who played professional volleyball in Lebanon. There are opportunities out there.
When deciding which students should be encouraged to chase an overseas scholarship, Bogun said there were several qualities he looked for.
"Someone who can live a balanced lifestyle and cope with the training. It's a professional environment basically, training two or three times a day, so they have to be able to balance that with academic work as well. There's also being mature enough to handle living away from home, in a different country.
"The boys who have gone have done really well academically. I've coached them since they were about 14 years old so to see them as young men now, making their own paths, that's really cool to see."
Zane Winslade, who runs a private mental performance coaching business called FlowSport works with individuals, local schools and organisations such as Bay of Plenty Rugby Union.
While his clients range in age between 10 and 60, his main focus is youth sport, running resilience programmes for youth to give kids an insight into how to train the mind and improve their mental toughness.
In a general sense, Winslade helps people overcome obstacles that get in the way of them being their best self on the sports field.
"Someone might be struggling to get confidence back after a serious injury, have trouble performing under pressure or dealing with emotions such as anger. They might come see me for a long period of time or just a few sessions but ultimately it's not always about me giving them the tools as much as it is about being someone that can listen to them from a neutral perspective and help them find their own answers to the issues they may be facing," Winslade said.
Most importantly love your child for who they are, not how they perform and really think about what you reinforce with them after each competition if celebrate moments of maximum effort and persistence rather than moments of winning.
He says hard work is inevitable but it needs to be driven from within and not be forced upon someone.
"So it takes real self-motivation, they have be engaged and loving the relentless process of growing and getting better and get their satisfaction from that, rather than just doing it for the outcomes or accolades they receive as a result and from the mental side of things a lot of the top athletes have also had the experiences and support necessary to develop the resilience, or the mental skills to be able to cope with the failures and setbacks which are inevitable in any sport."
For any young athlete wanting to pursue a professional sporting career, Winslade says they should put less focus on where they want to be and instead keep their eyes on what they can control and how to get better.
"I try to get athletes to really focus on the personal qualities they bring to the table and who they want to be when they perform rather than what you want to get out of it. That takes your focus to the future and off the outcomes that we can't fully control.
"I talk a lot about giving rather than getting. Like, what can you give to each moment - from a unique place of who you are, rather than what you want to get out of it in more of that outcome sense."
For parents, backing off a bit will help.
"Most importantly love your child for who they are, not how they perform and really think about what you reinforce with them after each competition. Celebrate moments of maximum effort and persistence rather than moments of winning."
Winslade says it is more than likely a child will not make a career out of sport, so it's important to make sure sport is more about them learning life lessons through working hard at a craft and persevering rather than wanting them to be the next big superstar.
"I think parents are often quick to try and stop their son or daughter experiencing difficult and challenging times also, but those are the ones that help give kids the mental resilience that lasts a lifetime so although it's hard letting kids experience adversity whilst maintaining a supportive environment is key."
Learn from those who have already made it
Rotorua mountain biker Connor Johnston is the current under-19 national champion in cross-country mountain biking.
The 18-year-old is in his last year at Western Heights High School and if he wants to ride for a living, his best bet is to secure sponsorship in Europe.
Earlier this year he spent two months racing in Europe with Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sam Gaze, a trip crucial to his development.
"We were racing most weekends, mostly in UCI events trying to get qualifying points for World Champs. It's pretty hard over in Europe but it's all learning and trying to get experience racing with that many people.
"Sam told me it's massive over there and it would be a good experience, even for next year's racing. I learned more about riding with that many people, in New Zealand you just don't have those numbers, there was 100-150 people in each race."
Connor's dad Carl Johnston said he had always encouraged his children to have "some sort of sporting outlet".
"It's just good healthy living and I think they can learn a lot of life skills out of it as well, a good work ethic and stuff like that. That was the main motivation."
He said, as a parent, it was exciting to see Connor and his brothers start to realise their potential and he had always encouraged them to aim high.
"[Racing overseas] is obviously a dream, whether they get that far or not is another thing, but certainly aim for the moon. You do need a balanced life though because if you're only focused on one thing and that isn't kind of going right, everything's not going right. It is good to have other things in your life to keep you balanced."
Rotorua's Rising Stars:
Rotorua Boys' High School
Autumn Karatau-Te Kuru, Year 13, Softball.
Achievements: Under-18 and under-19 New Zealand representative, Manawatu under-13, under-15 and under-17 representative, Waikato under-17 and under-18 representative.
Nabil Kone, Year 13, Basketball.
Achievements: Rotorua boys' High School senior A team, selected to attend the 2019 Steven Adams High School Invitational.
John Paul College
Henry Booker, Year 11 – Rock climbing.
Achievements: 2nd overall in the under-16 division at the 2019 Australian Rock Climbing Youth Championship.
Dillon Tillemans, Year 13 – Clay shooting.
Achievements: Member of the 2019 under-21 ISSF Trap Shooting team at the 2019 Australian Nationals.
Western Heights High School
Cole Gillespie, Year 12 – Volleyball.
Achievements: 2018 New Zealand Secondary School Beach Volleyball champion, 2019 New Zealand Secondary School Indoor Volleyball champion, New Zealand beach volleyball representative, Bay of Plenty indoor volleyball representative.
Connor Johnston, Year 13 – Mountain biking.
Achievements: 2018 MTB National Performance Hub, 2019 North Island Cross Country U19 champion, 2019 South Island Cross Country U19 champion, 2019 New Zealand Cross Country U19 champion.
Rotorua Girls' High School
Natalia Healey-Forde, Year 13 – Netball.
Achievements: Rotorua Girls' High School Premier team, Waikato/Bay of Plenty Level 2 Performance Squad.
Khobi Paretoa, Year 12 – Waka ama.
Achievements: A combined four gold medals and four silvers at 2019 Waka Ama Sprint Nationals, National Secondary School Waka Ama Championships, Air Tahiti Nui Aotearoa Aito and Long Distance Nationals.
Rotorua Lakes High School
Ruby Ryan, Year 13 – Mountain biking.
Achievements: 4th in the 2019 Under-19 New Zealand Cross-Country Championships, third in the 2019 under-19 Oceania Cross Country Championships.
River Mutton, Year 13 - Kayaking.
Achievements: 2018 Under-18 bronze medallist at the Canoe Slalom Junior World Championships, 2019 under-23 New Zealand team training for world championships.
Tips for young athletes with big ambitions
Have a good team: Surround yourself with people who care about you and who you trust.
Be a team player: Particularly in team sports, remember you are one of many cogs in the machine.
Be proactive: Serch for opportunities and make contact with people in positions to help you make the right moves.
Be willing to learn: An athlete who thinks they already know everything is hard to coach.
Fuel your body: Learn as early as possible how to eat and drink the right things before and after training to get the most out of your body.
Develop good habits early: As your sporting career progresses and becomes more serious, the more aspects of athlete life that are already ingrained, the easier it will be.
Have a positive attitude: Be able to take criticism, make the most of it and recover from set-backs.
Don't be narrow minded: Everything you do is about winning in the long run, not about winning next week.
Tips for parents:
Back off a bit.
Love your children for who they are and not how they perform.
Drive them around and support them without being too tough.
Celebrate moments of maximum effort and persistence rather than moments of winning.
Make sure sport is about learning life lessons through working hard at a craft and perservering.
Don't stop children from experiencing difficult and challenging times as it helps give kids mental resilience.
Let kids experience adversity while maintaining a supportive environment.