A new program that many of New Zealand’s top female sailors wanted to see implemented when they were younger is expected to ensure long-term success on the international stage, but also greater connection within the sailing network of this country.
Yachting New Zealand’s Head of Women’s Sailing, Jenny Armstrong, launched the High Performance Women’s Mentorship program in December, pairing six of the world’s top Olympic campaigners with 13 promising female sailors aged 18-23.
It’s an idea born out of Armstrong’s own experience participating in High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Te Haipatanga initiative for the past 18 months when she was appointed as a mentor coach.
Yachting New Zealand’s version proved an instant hit, with mentors and mentees catching up at regular intervals. It focuses on women supporting women, greater connection within the New Zealand sailing landscape and accelerated learning for this country’s next generation of high performance female sailors.
“It’s going great,” Armstrong said. “It has been a great initiative to connect members of the New Zealand Sailing Team with these newcomers and to create more of a downstream community of top sailors.
“The mentors love it too. It was incredibly easy to get them on board and many of them wished there was something like that when they passed. They are all very supportive of volunteering their time.
Double Olympic medalist Polly Powrie is part of the group of mentors, but she is the only one not currently campaigning to compete in the Paris Olympics in 2024. The rest of the group consists of Jo Aleh, Molly Meech, Alex Maloney, Erica Dawson and Justina Kitchen, who have spent much of their time this year in Europe.
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“One of the other benefits that I probably didn’t realize when I set up this program is that a lot of young sailors are overseas with their mentors,” Armstrong said. “It has created a relationship with someone they can lean on when they are abroad, which may have taken longer to establish or may not have happened. at all in the past when they were overseas.”
This has proven invaluable to Annabelle Rennie-Younger, who earlier this year switched from sailing ILCA 6 to mixed 470 due to a troublesome back injury. She has already enjoyed international success, finishing third with Andre Van Dam at the European Junior 470 Championships.
“I found the mentorship program very helpful throughout the year,” said Rennie-Younger, who is mentored by former Olympic silver medalist Alex Maloney. “It made me realize how willing the successful women in our sport are to help the younger ones once they’ve succeeded and the depth of knowledge they need to pass on.
“At the start of the year I was changing classes and it was really helpful to have Alex to talk to throughout the process. She was able to honestly tell me the positives and negatives of double-handed sailing and provided very useful insight to help me make the best decision for me.