Athlete Leadership

Special Olympics New Zealand is unleashing leadership potential in athletes, providing opportunities to use their skills and abilities to respond to issues of importance to the community.

Athlete Leaders speak in their community and around New Zealand at seminars and conferences. They address functions and community groups about intellectual disability, Special Olympics and their experiences.

Athlete Leaders influence the community and policymakers on issues of concern to the intellectual disability community and have the confidence and skills to respond positively and proactively around issues important to the intellectual disability community.

​Athletes who have gone through Athlete Leadership training are qualified to apply to be an Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger. Every four years, 10 athletes from around the world are selected to train and serve as International Global Messengers.

Athlete Leadership Programme

The Athlete Leadership Programme (ALP) is designed to provide Special Olympic athletes with personal and professional leadership training and development they can apply to leadership roles in their Clubs, community, and workplace.

Based on the Special Olympics International Athlete Leadership Programme curriculum – the programme provides athletes with core knowledge about leadership behaviours, skills, how to strengthen their personal leadership attributes and identifies opportunities within Special Olympics and beyond.

Core modules include but are not limited to:

Overview of Special Olympics
  • Ensuring our athletes have a clear and indepth understanding of Special Olympics in New Zealand (and to some degree internationally) and what makes it unique.  Ensuring they are equipped with base knowledge to share their and our stories
Defining Athlete Leadership
  • Guiding principles of leadership
  • Leadership behaviours
  • Key leadership skills
  • Identifying and developing their personal leadership attributes
    • Their own strengths and areas for growth
Roles and Opportunities
  • Identifying and developing roles in their communities and clubs
  • Development of their personal leadership attributes and an on-going development / leadership plan

Athlete Selection

Though there are limited positions available each year – any Special Olympic athlete who demonstrates leadership qualities and has the support of their club will be considered for inclusion in the ALP, with the following factors taken into account:

  • Athletes should be actively involved as a Special Olympics athlete, coach or official. The athlete should be involved year-round in competition to ensure they are familiar with the various programmes and competitions within their region.  It is likely that the athlete will have already been involved on their club and/or committee in some capacity as an athlete leader.  
  • Athletes should be able to communicate effectively. They should demonstrate adequate expressive and receptive language skills.
  • Athletes should demonstrate appropriate social behaviours, which include being able to get along with others, have a positive outlook, be dependable and demonstrate polite behaviour and good sportsmanship with a willingness to help when needed and the ability to motivate others.
  • Athletes will be required to travel to Wellington for a number of full day sessions – the first will be with their mentor and then as part of their development they will travel alone. 
  • One of the sessions will be an overnight stay away from home, so it is important clubs nominate athletes they are comfortable will be able to manage the travel and overnight stay.
  • Each athlete must have a dedicated mentor who is committed to working with them throughout the 9 – 10-month programme, supporting their development, home based work and ensuring they continue to push, challenge and celebrate their development.
  • The greatest indicator of an athlete’s qualification to participate is their genuine interest!

The Mentor Commitment

Athletes who undertake the ALP are wanting to give back and contribute to their clubs and fellow athletes, help to fundraise, and raise awareness of Special Olympics. 

Just as our athletes need sports coaches to help them develop sport skills they also need coaches, mentors and facilitators to help develop their leadership skills. 

The mentor role in the ALP is an immensely important part of the programme and the overall success of our athletes.  Though we don’t want to make the mentor role too onerous – equally we want to ensure mentors understand the commitment and their important on-going role.

Part of the mentor commitment is to:

  • Join the athlete at the first session in the programme in Wellington.  SONZ will cover the cost of flights, ground transport in Wellington, catering and course costs.
  • Complete the Special Olympics International online mentor training module prior to Session One of the ALP

The ongoing mentor’s role is to:

  • Act as presentation coach and make yourself available to support your athlete in all aspects of their training and role an Athlete Leader.
  • Debrief with the athlete after each workshop and provide guidance completing any homework tasks.
  • Help the athlete organise presentation opportunities in their local community and at events; and to assist the athlete prepare and practice their speeches; and to accompany the athlete to those presentations.
  • Be prepared to act as a liaison point with SONZ and your local club committee.
  • Be enthusiastic, encouraging and patient…and have fun!

Athlete Leadership Programme Schedule

Introduction to LeadershipThursday 21 September 2023
Understanding LeadershipMonday 4 & Tuesday 5 December 2023
Advanced Leadership Skill DevelopmentTuesday 2 April
Personal Leadership Journey and GraduationThursday 8 August
Call for nominations for inclusion in the 2025 programmeOctober / November 2024
InterviewsJanuary / February 2025
Confirmation of cohortFebruary / March 2025
ALP SessionsApril / June / August / October Mentors to attend the April session onlyNational Summer Games – December  

NB.  There are no costs to the athlete or mentor to attend the ALP – with all attendance, travel and resource costs covered by SONZ.

Club Development Opportunities

The ALP is only one step in the leadership journey of our athletes, with future opportunities in their clubs and communities a critical part of their ongoing development.

There are many different examples of what leadership development looks like across the Special Olympic Clubs in Aotearoa New Zealand.  The key is for our Clubs to work in partnership with athletes, SONZ and their communities to ensure athletes continue to strengthen their capabilities, can give back to their clubs in a meaningful way and enjoy the benefits of being a leader in their community.

Below are some examples of what Clubs are doing to continue the leadership journey of our athletes:

Club Athlete Committee
  • Often scheduled alongside the Club Committee meetings, the athlete committee meet to discuss key activity from an athlete perspective and provide feedback and input to Club Board / Committee
Coaching / Assistant Coaching
  • Athletes undertaking coaching and/or assistant coaching roles
Event Coordination and Assistance
  • Working with club leadership and volunteers to organise and deliver events
  • Giving out medals, sports officials
  • Working with club and volunteers to organise, lead and deliver fundraising initiatives and events
School Programme / Club Transition
  • Assisting SONZ RSC’s in school programme delivery opportunities
Presentations / Speaking Opportunities
  • Lions Foundation, Rotary Clubs, Potential Sponsors and Grant Funders
Employment and Community Volunteer Opportunities

Club Development Opportunities

Outward Bound Horizons Course
  • In partnership with Outward Bound – an annual opportunity for 12 athletes to attend an Horizons Course 
    • Applications Open               March
    • Course                                      August/September
Athlete Input Council
  • Developed to provide athletes a platform to provide input, insights and advice to guide SONZ in their programme development, decision making and strategic direction
    • One athlete is selected every two years by each Regional Council to represent their region’s athletes
    • Clubs/regional councils will support the athlete in gathering ideas from other athletes in the region
    • Additional athletes may attend Council meetings to share their learnings with the council eg. Health Ambassadors, SONZ Asia Pacific Representatives, Athlete Board / Committee Representative
    • The chair of the AIC will sit on the SONZ board for the duration they are chair
International Opportunity

On occasion a number of opportunities do become available to our athlete leaders through Special Olympics Asia Pacific and Special Olympics International.  These are generally on an ad hoc basis and will be communicated to clubs as detail is provided.

Athlete Leadership Graduates

Class of 2022

Back row, from left: David Sullivan (class mentor), Natasha Chang (Howick-Pakuranga), Amani Matthews-Mulipola (Canterbury), Tamati Matene (Marlborough), Bella Ansell (facilitator).
Front row, from left: Andy Daly (Whangarei), Jarrod Gilbert (Te Awamutu)

Class of 2020

From left: Morgan Smith, Shanae Dean, David Sullivan, Chrissa Pearce.

Class of 2019

From left: Ben Oaten, Tegan Crotty, Sarah Dalton, Sean Tremlett.

Class of 2018

From top left: Carolyn Young (Special Olympics New Zealand CEO), Wade Ledingham, Oscar Stace, Liz King (Special Olympics New Zealand), Hilary Bryan (The Training Practice), Shonagh Clarke, Ryan Stewart, Monique Irvine, Alice Robb.

Class of 2017

From top left: Rachel Harvie, Stephen Waite, Gary Albright, James Wilson, Toby Adams, Catherine Boyle, Grace Payne, Portia Johnson, Laura Davis.

Class of 2016

From top left: James Farrell, Michael Banner, Lisa Donald, Daniel Casbolt, Alex Johnsen, Mohit Chand, Rochelle Waters, James Bott.

Class of 2015

From top left: Emma Holderness (The Training Practice), August Landrebe, Sam Donaldson, Martin Joyce, Lois Aitkenhead (Special Olympics Nelson), Julia Sanson (Special Olympics New Zealand), Rachell Prestidge, Conrad Ryan, Vicki Pere, Hamish Hurst, Stacey Parker.

Class of 2014

From back left: Troy Rangi, Kyle Harpur, Philip Lomas, Scot Jackson, Ryan Smith, Lois Aitkenhead (Special Olympics Nelson), Julia Sanson (Special Olympics New Zealand), Kathy Gibson (Special Olympics New Zealand), Anthony Doak, Matthew Smith, Nicky Wagner (MP).

Class of 2013

From back left: Andrew Oswin, Eru Whakatihi, Hayley Long, Jacob Osborne, Jason Ewens, Josie Noble, Naomi Jackson, Paul Hunter and Stephanie Davis.

Class of 2012

From front left: Chelsea Thorn, Craig Torrance, Joshua Fergusson, Melissa Donoghue, Nigel Simmons, Raymond Smith, Teresa Nicol, Thomas Loftus and William Burr.

Class of 2011

From back left: Athol Tipene, Charlie Smith, Chris Rielly, Chris Tilley, Ella Sharples, Frank Green, Grant McKenzie, Jason Donovan, Judith Porter, Kym O’Grady, Michael Conder and Thomas van der Lugt

Class of 2010

From front left: Andrew Boyce, Chris Linnell, Chrystal Frethey, Dale Smit, Fiona Strong, Graeme Porter, Hamish Taverner, Matt Aitken, Michael Holdsworth and Rebecca Heath

Ideas for Being an Effective Committee or Regional Council Member
Ideas for Supporting Athletes in Leadership Roles
Keys to Working with Athletes as Committee Members
Keys to Working with Athletes as Regional Council Members
Building Inclusive Committees, Regional Councils and Boards
Athlete Representative on Club Committee
Athlete Representative on Regional Council
NZ Athletes in Governance

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