By LUCY WORMALD
Godfather of Queenstown football, Jamie Whitmarsh, is forging pathways into professional football for local emerging players through a new partnership with the Wellington Phoenix.
Early this month, The Whitmarsh Academy (TWA) announced an official pre-academy partnership with New Zealand’s only professional football team — a relationship Whitmarsh says will give TWA ‘‘direct access’’ to the Phoenix’s internal training programmes.
Not just session plans, the partnership offers players and coaches access to ‘‘everything football-related’’, from nutrition to psychology, and will help put Queenstown football on the map, he says.
‘‘I think when you live in places like Queenstown, and the further south you go, you’re not really on the radar of professional football … so us creating that partnership with the Wellington Phoenix means that our players have got a clear pathway and an opportunity to showcase their ability on a level that means someone like Wellington Phoenix might be interested in picking them up.’’
Established in 2019, TWA identifies local kids aged 8-13 with a passion for football and
invites them to year-round training programmes aimed at developing skills and ability.
‘‘From an advanced point of view, it’s the potential and possibility of kids furthering their
football careers [that I love].
‘‘Nothing pleases me more than to know that some of them are going to move on, and I’ve done what I need to do to be part of their journey.’’
Whitmarsh says his involvement in several of the resort’s football institutions, including
coaching Wakatipu High School’s girls’ team and Queenstown men’s premier team, supports a pathway to ongoing player development.
‘‘I’ve always wanted to put our football on the map, so if I’m involved in a high percentage of those individual pathways, then it helps me facilitate the kids going on to whatever level football they want.’’
As well as academy training, TWA runs after-school programmes and holiday training
camps to develop football for kids who are driven.
Whitmarsh says the aim’s to provide as many opportunities for football-minded people as possible.
‘‘Sport provides you with lots of things … learning, fun, social development, communication … we’re trying to create a culture, whether it’s in our advanced academy or our after school programmes, where a couple of things are really important … the
kids want to be there and they are happy.’’