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Northern Arena's Race Academy Making A Splash

Northern Arena win SCTNZ Innovation Award for Race Academy Initiative


Northern Arena, the home of Coast Swim Club, was the recipient of the Innovative Swim School Award for 1001+ Pupils category at the recent Swim Coaches and Teachers New Zealand (SCTNZ) annual awards.


The Swim School received this award for their Race Academy initiative. The Race Academy was developed in 2014 with the intention to provide an opportunity for Learn to Swim students from Northern Arena to have a go at swim races in a safe, engaging, and fun environment surrounded by their peers. The idea was to create a full-service hassle-free pathway catering for any level, from 3-month-old baby lessons right through to those who aspire to swim at the Olympic Games. This aligned with one of founding goals for Northern Arena.


At the end of each school term, the pre-club groups at Northern Arena were selected into the Race Academy, and hype was built up around being a member of this group. The selection process for the Race Academy included a phone call to the parents of the swimmer, with the swimmer gifted a t-shirt and race academy swim cap to wear around the facility and to race meets. These Race Academy members were also signed up to Coast Swim Club, to allow for quick progression from Northern Arena’s learn to swim programme into the programme delivered by the club.


After the skill development session, each Race Academy member gets the opportunity to swim in two individual events and one team relay. The event has spot prizes, music and an MC, and is completed within 60 minutes so it's short and sharp.


Over the years the Race Academy has evolved to include quick-fire monthly events that focus on skill development delivered by both the Coast Swim Club coaching team and the Coach Swim Club Elite Squad, which includes Olympian Helena Gasson and Commonwealth Games Bronze Medallist Cameron Gray.


A large portion of current Coast Swim Club members, particularly in the age group programme, were cultivated as part of the Northern Arena Race Academy over the years and thank the introduction that this concept in helping them find passion in the sport of swimming.


Head Coach of Coast Swim Club, Michael Weston, has been really impressed with how this initiative has helped grow the club and its connection to the swim school.

"The challenge of getting people into our sport is real, and the Race Academy has been a less intimidating way for our learn to swimmers to "have a go" at our sport in an environment that is engaging and fun. We have seen massive success in this initiative in gaining and retaining those who may have never tried or stayed in the sport, and are at the point where our top Coast Swim Club age groupers - those who went to World Juniors and Youth Commonwealth Games in 2023, were part of our original years - proving its success"

The Race Academy was the brought to life by the brains trust of Matthew Saunders (Director), Mark Saunders (Director of Swimming), Dean Kent (COO), Michael Weston (Head Coach), John Gatfield (Associate Head Coach), and Steven Kent (previous Head Coach). The initiative is sponsored by Manuka Doctor.


Thanks to the collaboration of Northern Arena and Coast Swim Club for this initiative and those involved in bringing this initiative to life. We believe this concept is something that could be hugely beneficial for other Swim Schools and clubs around the country. We encourage your club to give this some consideration for 2024.

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