‘Pre-season’ Preparation: Māori and/or Pacific Island Heritage Players and Their Experiences in Auckland Rugby Academy
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It is no surprise that Māori and Pacific rugby players make up a high percentage of players in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world (Ryan, 2007). As audiences of these athletes, we are given little insights into their experiences and perceptions within a provincial union’s rugby academy. It is in these stories and through their voices that their lived experiences can be heard and honoured. This thesis aims to ‘level the playing field’ for these players, as their stories and anecdotal experiences add to the study of rugby communities and the sport psychology field by exploring rugby players’ experiences within a rugby academy in Aotearoa New Zealand. The 17 participants (ranging from year one to year three academy players as well as the wider Auckland Rugby contender squad) identify as having Māori and/or Pacific Island heritage. The research questions relate to understanding their overall view of the academy and then, more specifically, around what or who influences those experiences and how can they be improved. The research methodology and data collection method used was Talanoa, and the data analysis method was thematic analysis. To honour both Māori and Pacific worldviews and participants, similar underpinning values were chosen from both and used to help guide how the research was practically undertaken. The three key areas of research findings revealed how internal and external relationships impacted the overall experiences of the players; how content and communication went a long way in sustaining relationships; and the importance of understanding the person beyond the player, both from an organisation’s perspective as well as the players’. This research is of significant interest to a wide range of fields in Aotearoa and abroad, and assists existing and future academy staff in learning more about players in a way that can benefit both the players and the organisation in the future. The study also gives a heightened understanding of the multiple identities that rugby players in the academy hold in relation to rugby and the changing makeup of Aotearoa which can help prepare for long-term development.