Team Behind the Team – Paddle Australia Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Manager Matt Murphy

“Walking around Paddle Australia’s (PA) High Performance National Training Centres, you will regularly hear discussion about our commitment to develop the world’s best paddlers and people. It is this commitment that gets us out of bed of a morning,” said Matt Murphy.

As Paddle Australia’s National Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement Manager, Murphy supports athletes in the Canoe Slalom, Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe teams to maintain high standards on and off the water.  

Murphy’s vital role in PA is to provide support in areas of mental health, career and education, community engagement, conduct and professionalism and personal development. He works closely with the wider AIS and National Institute Networks to provide valuable development opportunities, training and workshops for athletes.

“I’m here as a support service to look after the athletes’ holistic wellbeing,” Murphy said.

“We have a collective role in high performance to look after the person first. That is not to say we are not driving high standards in training – it’s just that we take a wider lens perspective to consider as many factors as we can that add to the jigsaw of managing elite sport and life development,” he said.

Murphy believes the more rounded and grounded the person, the better the athlete they become.

“We want our athletes to succeed in a way that allows them to thrive in all areas of their life. We want them to progress in line with their peers.

“Athlete wellbeing is quickly becoming a competitive edge that the Paddle Australia High Performance Program is embracing, and the results speak for themself. 

“You’re pushing something that they’re ready for and need. They might have that success (on the water), but also want the opportunity to develop other areas of their life,” Murphy said. 

“Curtis McGrath’s story and the way that he portrays himself is hugely inspirational. As the Chair of the Athlete’s Commission he cares deeply for our sport and is a respected figure in all areas.

“Jess Fox is finding her way through her Masters of Business Administration (MBA), she’s passionate about inclusive and sustainable business and the impact she wants to have on the world. 

“Jean van der Westhuyzen is an ambassador for the AIS Mental Fitness Program and really wants to be active in community engagement and helping others. Along with Yale Steinepreis is a champion of the AIS Good Village Problem Solvers Program.

“We have an amazing, inspirational group of athletes who know themselves and they want to give back to the sporting world and inspire the wider community. We’re very lucky that we have this group of athletes,” he said.  

In December 2022, Paddle Australia joined forces with the country’s Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games sporting organisations to launch a national strategy at building success towards the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and beyond. 

Pledging to Win Well, the cohort of sporting groups has committed to balancing ambitious sporting goals with cultures that are safe, fair and supportive. 

Win Well is an evolution of athlete wellbeing and engagement,” Murphy explained. 

“The program developed and gathered pace off the back of the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. While this was an amazing event, it was built on a very narrow performance driven culture and bordered on a win at all costs approach. The system now has moved and adjusted to look after the person first,” he said. 

Looking ahead to Paris 2024, LA 2028 and Brisbane 2032, Murphy said the measure of success would look different. 

“Winning Well at Paddle Australia means we create an environment where athletes are autonomous and feel in control of their own destiny in a supported environment to achieve excellence in all we do,” Murphy said.

“We want to develop that deeper sense of connection and belonging for our athletes and staff to drive success and inspire the Australian community.“

One of the barriers to success that Murphy is acutely aware of, is the ever evolving and changing landscape of sport. From a shortened Olympic and Paralympic cycle, COVID-19 and changes to the PA High Performance Program, athletes and support staff have experienced a tumultuous period. 

“The change management piece is huge in sport, but bigger than ever in this cycle,” Murphy said. 

“While there is no doubt that this has been a hard few years, as a group of staff and athletes we have come together stronger than ever to drive forward to deliver on that commitment for holistic success. 

“This is where the athlete’s voice becomes important, and we have a well embedded Athlete’s Commission within the group that is well connected and respected by our Board.

“Our coaches meet regularly with the athletes, and they encourage athlete opinion and athlete input into training schedules and training programs. This includes their life development and goals. Ultimately, a team approach is fundamental to any athlete wellbeing program. 

“We have a fantastic group of coaches and performance support staff that understand and appreciate the need to allow athletes to do this. 

“Without that we could burn athletes out very quickly. We want to retain our athletes for as long as possible and hopefully allow them to flourish and be successful in and out of sport. 

“It is a privilege to be able to support our athletes in this way” Murphy said.  

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