Chart displaying the different pathway steps for Para athletes: explore, engage, extend, prepare and perform

The journey from initial involvement in Para sport to winning a Paralympic gold medal involves a number of different stages. For new Para athletes, the road ahead may seem like an adventure into the unknown. To help alleviate this uncertainty, this section describes the various phases of Para athlete development and introduces the various programmes of support available at each stage.

Explore phase

Individuals in the Explore phase are sampling Para sport for the first time or participating in Para sport on a casual and occasional basis. The focus is on providing an introduction to Para sport, the development of fundamental movement skills, and healthy living through sport and recreation. Para sport opportunities in the Explore phase are generally provided by family and friends, schools, regional Parafed organisations, Halberg Foundation, and/or National Disability Sporting Organisations such as Blind Sport New Zealand.

A Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) Classification is not necessary for participants in the Explore phase.

Engage phase

In the Engage phase, individuals are participating in Para sport on a regular basis at a recreational or competitive level. The focus is on the development of sport specific skills and preparation for competition. Participants in the Engage phase participate in regular training sessions with a coach and/or training group, and many will compete in local, regional and occasionally, national events. Para sport opportunities in the Engage phase are typically provided by schools, regional Parafed organisations, and local sporting clubs.

Participants in the Engage phase are encouraged to obtain a PNZ Provisional Classification for each sport they are training for.

Extend phase

For those with Paralympic aspirations, the Extend phase represents entry to the High Performance Para Athlete Development Pathway. Individuals displaying interest and early signs of potential for future High Performance involvement may be invited to participate in occasional training camps, activities, and workshops with a National High Performance Athlete Development Programme.

Para athletes in the Extend phase of the Development Pathway train on a regular basis with their school, regional ParaFed, or local sporting club, and participate in local, regional and in most cases, National competitive events.

A PNZ Classification is required for involvement in High Performance Athlete Development Programmes.

For more information on opportunities for selection into National High Performance Athlete Development Programmes, please visit the Talent Identification page.

Prepare phase

Here the focus is on an introduction to High Performance training environments, behaviours and competition. In the Prepare phase, training volume, intensity, and performance expectations increase, and basic Athlete Performance Support is introduced through possible selection to the Sport New Zealand / High Performance Sport New Zealand Pathway to Podium Programme.

Involvement in the National High Performance Athlete Development Programme will increase during this phase, with Para athletes expected to maintain regular contact with the National Development Coach/Coordinator for their sport and attend several training camps per year. Para athletes selected to the Pathway to Podium Programme will also participate in regular development workshops, supervised strength and conditioning sessions, and individual performance support consultations. Para athletes in this phase are expected to participate in regular competition at the local, regional, and national levels, and may be invited to attend international competitions.

International Classification is recommended for Para athletes in the Prepare phase of the Development Pathway.

Perform phase

Para athletes tracking towards podium performance at World Championships and Paralympic Games in approximately 1-4 years may transition to the Perform stage of the Para athlete Development Pathway and be selected for the High Performance Programme for their sport. The focus of this stage of development is on commitment to a High Performance training program and refinement of skills, strategies and behaviours in high performance environments and international competition. Para athletes in the Perform phase will be immersed in a High Performance Daily Training Environment with access to High Performance Coaching and regular Athlete Performance Support.

All Para athletes in the Perform phase will have an International Classification and in most cases, will have a World Ranking for their sport.

More information for High Performance Para athletes is provided in the High Performance section of the website.

Podium phase

First-time or sporadic Podium Performers at World Championships and Paralympic Games are considered to be in the Podium phase of the Para Athlete Development Pathway. The focus for these athletes is the achievement of podium success at major international events. Training and competition experiences for Podium Para athletes are similar to those described above for the Perform phase, however, Podium Para athletes may receive a higher level of Athlete Performance Support and direct athlete assistance.

Excellence phase

From time to time New Zealand will see an exceptional Para athlete who consistently achieves Gold medal results across multiple Paralympic cycles. Para athletes demonstrating sustained podium success who are active Para sport Ambassadors in New Zealand are considered to have reached the pinnacle of the Para athlete Development Pathway, the Excellence phase. It is a rare and difficult feat to achieve Excellence in Para sport, however PNZ strives to provide the processes, programmes and support to give all Para athletes the best possible chance of doing so.

Register your interest now for further information on how to get started or progress in Para sport: