How do we go about engaging more effectively with new generations of sporting talent, with new attitudes, cultures, behaviours and expectations? That was the topic being explored at a Sport NI and UK Sport-organised Pathway Symposium event that took place today at the National Football Stadium in Belfast.

The event, which focused on the theme “Generation Z – Who is Populating Your Pathway”, brought together representatives from Northern Ireland’s performance community and experts whose research and practice has helped to better understand and engage with young people, both in and out of the sporting environment.

Delegates, which included primarily coaches, practitioners and those leading and coordinating pathways activity across a broad range of sports enjoyed a keynote speech from Chloe Combi, writer of ‘Generation Z: Their voices, Their Lives’ and columnist for the Times Educational Supplement. Chloe, a much sought-after expert on youth issues, provided a fascinating insight into the ways in which young people communicate and learn, their motivations and view of society.

The other keynote of the day came from Steven Tigg, High Performance Coach at Stirling University, who presented on his work within Stirling University and British and Scottish Swimming. Steven shared his experience of working with Generation Z athletes populating the GB swimming pathway, and particularly his work to developing a performance culture within this group to produce medal-winning performances.

As well as keynote speeches, delegates also had the opportunity to participate in workshops. The first of these was led by Andy Skehan (Director of Rugby at St Michaels College Dublin), and focused on systems and structures he set up in school to get the best out of 15-18 year olds and how he has helped transition school boy rugby talent into the professional game. The second workshop, delivered by Hannah Whyte Smyth (Director at Ipsos MORI) provided an opportunity for delegates to consider recent research findings, conducted on behalf of the BBC, into the values and priorities of Generation Z, and how these findings could be factored into the way performance pathways are managed and led here in Northern Ireland.

These sessions were complemented by a direct insight into the views and experiences of teenage sporting talent, courtesy of NI Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Rhys McClenaghan. The gymnast, together with his coach Luke Carson took part in a Q& A session which provided a window into the coach-athlete experience and the collaborative approach they have taken towards achieving Gold medal success.

The Pathways Symposium, which followed on from the Performance Pathway Conference in March 2018, is the latest event in Sport NI and UK Sport’s collaboration through Project Connect which aims to align Pathway and People Development activity from Home Nations right through to World Class.

Pictured above (left to right): Elaine Grant (Sport NI), Peter McCabe (Sport NI), Hannah Whyte-Smith, Chris Moore (Sport NI), Chloe Combi, Steven Tigg, Antoinette McKeown, Luke Carson, Rhys McClenaghan and Andy Skehan