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Para Swimming Pathways in NZ

A review of the development of pathways for Para athletes.

In accordance with the 300% growth over a five year period, clarity has evolved around what is needed for – and of – swimmers competing in Virtus and World Para Swimming S14 pathways within New Zealand. This has formed a pathway built on the basis of support, opportunity, and performance.

This basis acknowledges the tailored needs and challenges these swimmers face in daily life and is an attempt to normalise their impairment/s – the key piece being within a supportive environment.

Another foundation of the para swimming pathway is competing at regional/national competitions similar to Olympic/Paralympic pathway swimmers – i.e. club/regional/zonal competitions, NZSSC, NAGS, NZSC, NZ Championships.

Since 2022, where SNZ committed to a bespoke pathway pilot for development swimmers with a Virtus eligible classification, this pathway has been proven as the right approach.

Swimmers inside this pathway are often identified via additional medical information within their membership, and/or coaches who have approached SNZ’s Disability and Para swimming

Participation Manager – Paralympic Gold medallist Cameron Leslie.

PNZ Minimal Impairment Criteria for Eligibility to compete in Para sport, and Virtus competitions is:

  • Significant impairment in intellectual functioning.

  • Significant limitations in adaptive behaviour as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills.

  • Significant impairment in intellectual functioning and significant additional functional impairment (Virtus competitions)

  • Intellectual impairment must be evident during the developmental period, which is from conception to 22 years of age.

  • Diagnosis of Autism

Those who fall into the criteria above – or their coaches/parents – and have not been classified should contact Cameron to seek classification advice.

If a swimmers falls into these classifications, swimmers’ times are compared to the standards of entry level Virtus events and a plan is formulated. From there, swimmers will be invited into Virtus pathway camps once their performance justifies it.

The style of these camps – usually three per year – varies depending on what support service

learning is identified. Examples of support services are sports psychology, nutrition, strength and conditioning, general swim conditioning, Drug Free Sport NZ education, and/or team familiarisation.

The environment is tailored to the swimmers’ care and learning needs. Within this environment an attitude of growing independence is evident as management offer opportunities which require swimmers to step forward when they’re comfortable.

The results from this bespoke pathway spoke volumes after the OA Games in Brisbane 2022:

  • Having OA Games as a target improved motivation and daily training environment by 100%

  • Improved times from pinnacle national comp: 61/82 =

o With 3% from pinnacle national comp: 18/21

  • Personal bests: 42 out of 76 swims = 55% total

  • New Zealand Records: 19 Open, 13 Age Group

The future of bespoke camps was solidified when this evidence was considered. However, this was only the start as SNZ made the call to introduce new classifications within national competitions for S18/II2 and S19/II3 swimmers. This was seen as a positive contribution to help develop potential, current, and future NZ representatives.

From the 2023 Apollo Projects NZ Short Course Swimming Championships, additional classifications at national events – excluding National Age Group Championships – have been introduced to align with opportunities available internationally.

These opportunities include other swimming competitions around the world – such as Virtus events and Down Syndrome World Champs.

While the Virtus pathway will be the only one for many, those within the S14/II1 classification are also able to compete at Paralympic Games.

Swimmers within the S14 classification also have the opportunity of being integrated within the High Performance Paralympic Programme – which is a multi-classification group of high performing Para swimmers.

Becoming a part of this group is driven by performance indicators. Para swimmers will be given tasters so they, and support staff, can become familiar with the environment and understand expectations.

Swimming New Zealand looks forward to continue to growing the Para Swimming pathways in the future.


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