Optimising Health - The High Performance Medical Team

Health is a prerequisite of successful athletic performance, but intense training and competition can mean that optimal health can be elusive for those Athletes preparing for pinnacle events. 

New Zealand has a long history of supporting the health of its elite athletes, first incorporating medical support into a major games team in 1964. Since that time, being part of the NZ Olympic Team, and helping NZ’s elite athletes perform at their best has been the aspiration of generations of NZ practitioners working in all fields of Sports Medicine. In 2016, the health team supporting the NZ Olympic Team will be over 30 strong and consist of Doctors, Physiotherapists and Massage Therapists.  

Following the London 2012 Olympic Games, there was a seismic shift in the delivery of Sports Medicine services to elite NZ Olympic Athletes, with the centralisation of support delivery to the major High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) hubs.  Centralisation enabled for the first time, the establishment of full time Medical and Rehabilitation Lead positions, which in turn facilitated the development of an approach to health service delivery that ensured that NZ athletes would receive comprehensive and integrated support. 

“Whereas prior to 2012, Medical, Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy support was provided from private practices throughout the country, the centralisation of support provided the opportunity for practitioners to work and be immersed in elite sport for the first time” explains Medical Lead for HPSNZ/NZOC, Dr. Bruce Hamilton.

“Athletes are now able to see their Doctor, Physiotherapist and Massage Therapist under one roof, in a streamlined support process. Furthermore, those same Doctors and Therapists are able to communicate directly and frequently with other performance and technical staff, thereby ensuring optimal and efficient outcomes for Athletes.”

By making a commitment to caring for the elite end of the sporting spectrum, practitioners are now able to develop and refine their skills, relevant to optimising the health and well-being of elite athletes. They are able to specialise within specific sports, understand the nuances of those sports, and have a much greater impact that ever before.  In addition, practitioners are able to build a career in the management of elite sport injury and illness, thereby ensuring the skills of experienced practitioners are retained and passed on to the next generation of practitioners. This ensures the HPSNZ approach to health care is beneficial for NZ Athletes – both now, and in the future.

In 2015, the strategic and operational delivery of HPSNZ Medicine and Rehabilitation support was updated and re-focussed as Performance Health to reflect the growing expertise and experience of its team. The resulting vision incorporated both the traditional elements of injury and illness management, but included expansion into injury and illness prevention, monitoring, planning, performance optimisation and clinically relevant research. 

The evolution of the HPSNZ system has another major advantage over our sporting adversaries. While the majority of countries separate their Olympic and High Performance networks, the integration of HPSNZ and NZOC health leadership ensures the streamlined and consistent delivery of health support from when an athlete is first carded, to their arrival in the Olympic Village. 

As Bruce explains “As with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, all the Health Team members in Rio 2016 have been integral in the preparation of Athletes for Rio, thereby ensuring understanding of both the sport and athlete specific needs”.

“In 2016 HPSNZ Performance Health practitioners will form the bedrock of the NZOC Health team, ensuring the continuity of care for NZ’s Olympic Athletes. Practitioners will be involved in the delivery of Performance Health support as both embedded practitioners within sports and through the centralised NZOC Health services”.  

Facilitated by the collaboration between the NZOC and HPSNZ, the evolution of the Performance Health model of health care is designed to support NZ’s Athletes achieve their Olympic dreams.