AS manager of SBS Bank Academy Southland, Jason McKenzie works daily with young athletes trying to make it on to the world stage from Southland barrier to success.
McKenzie will be part of the New Zealand Olympic staff in Tokyo, working as part of a team providing psychological support before, during and after the Games.
It was a vital role, and one McKenzie was proud to have been selected for as a Southlander.
The role would see him immersed across many aspects of New Zealand’s campaigns for the summer Olympics in Tokyo, the winter Olympics in Beijing and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
“That’s a reflection of the need to navigate these challenging times,” he said.
“It’s a well-being approach with a mental skills flavour to it. Athletes will be supported wider than the Games experience.
“Given what’s happening with the world, it’s becoming more important because there are so many more unknowns.”
McKenzie had extensive experience working across an array of sporting codes from his time leading SBS Bank Academy Southland and working with netball and rugby players and referees.
In the past, he provided psychological support at the Youth Olympic level and would be tasked with helping to create a performance-focused environment, including crisis management, counselling, proactive and reactive work.
Since being appointed, McKenzie had connected with athletes around the world, who had been dealing with significant disruptions to their sport everywhere from Uzbekistan to the United States, Australia and Europe.
“Our kiwi athletes are spread all over the world. For them, it has been about having to process challenges which have emerged and the uncertainty of what it means for their sport and their careers,” he said.
“For athletes outside the funded system, they have battled for the past year because they have had to put their lives on hold again when the Games were postponed.”
McKenzie wasn’t fazed by the challenges looming. In fact, quite the opposite.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to be at a different Games. It’s going to be cool. Yes, it’s going to be massively restricted but who has ever done something like this before? I love that unknown,” he said.
McKenzie believed the well-being approach was as important as the performance aspect.
“It’s recognising you can’t have the performance without the person.
“If that person is in a good space, then the performance will take care of itself. If they aren’t feeling good about themselves, the performance will absolutely be impacted,” he said.
For McKenzie, the ability to do everything from Southland is special.
“I haven’t gone anywhere else and that’s testament to the support, the initiatives and the facilities we have right here in Southland like ILT Stadium and the Mike Piper Training Centre.
“Our community funders like ILT, ILT Foundation and Community Trust South provide opportunities for Southlanders to take on the world and I certainly hope we will have some athletes from our Academy Southland programme at the Games as well, so it will be pretty special to link with them.”