Youth Sport Development

The Youth Sport Development Research Group focuses on developing innovative independent learners who are agents of change, through facilitating athlete/student-centered learning, by applying theory to practice, being reflective practioners, understanding contextual learning, having self-awareness and valuing ongoing learning.

Research goals

  • To create a thriving postgraduate and research environment that combines academic and industry capability to benefit coach development and education, incorporating performance analysis and skill acquisition
  • To create positive change for sport organisations, coaches and athletes through extensive research and consulting
  • To strongly contribute to the positive culture and aspirations of Sport in NZ, SPRINZ and AUT's School of Sport and Recreation
  • To be known for excellent translation of theory into practice through meaningful collaborations.
  • To establish a dynamic teaching-research nexus
  • To be connected to community needs

Research pillars

  • Coach development and education
  • Athlete centred learning
  • Performance analysis
  • Skill acquisition

Our activities and students


  • New Zealand Rugby Concussion Project, Simon Walters, Sierra Keung
  • Exploring athlete pathways: Players, barriers and facilitators of talent development with Rugby League in New Zealand. Collaboration with Dr Donna O’Connor, Balin Cupples & Dr Stephen Cobley (all from the University of Sydney)
  • New Zealand Rugby League Coach Development resources: First roll out of resources in the first quarter of 2020. Simon Walters, Sierra Keung
  • World Rugby Project – Kirsten Spencer and Andrew Kilding – Performance analysis on injury
  • Touch NZ,(1) Evaluation of the Touch New Zealand’s “Communities Touched” Project, Kirsten Spencer and Tristan Brotherton. (2) The use and integration of the perceived value of performance analysis amongst coaches and players. Kirsten Spencer
  • NZ Warriors – provided performance analysis support for opposition profiling and team performance. Scott Lewis, Kirsten Spencer


  • Netball New Zealand ANZfuture Ferns Junior Coaching Programme, Kirsten Spencer
  • ANZ Netball Umpire Profiling – Kirsten Spencer collaborating with Dr Stuart Mcerlain-Naylor at UCS, England


  • Research investigating work place conditions on Performance Analysts and Strength & Conditioning Coaches in NZ and Australia, Kirsten Spencer in collaboration with Otago Polytechnic
  • NZ Canoe Slalom- Provided Performance Analyst for their training and selection events at Wero centre, Dev Patel, Kirsten Spencer


  • BVI Triathlon - Collaborated on a project ‘The relationship between serious leisure experience, leisure motivation and leisure satisfaction among BVI triathlon participants’. Kirsten Spencer, Richard Wright


  • Enhancing National Athlete Development Pathways and Participation Rates in New Zealand Cricket- Faculty research Investment Project. Simon Walters, Kirsten Spencer, Chris Whatman, Skate Millar, Craig Harrison


  • Ranfurly Trust – collaborated on the project Avenues 2 Independence: Codesigning rehabilitation and wellbeing resources for Contemporary Veterans. Kirsten Spencer, Richard Wright, Carolyn Cairncross, Brendan Wood, Kelly Blyth


  • NZ Hockey- provided performance analyst and GPS services for U18 NZ training camps, Auckland NHL teams and National NHL tournament. Jess Black, Kirsten Spencer


  • NZ Tennis – provided performance analysis support for Micheal Venus re training and competition. Joshua Pereira, Kirsten Spencer


  • Secondary School Sport Academies. Simon Walters, Sierra Keung

Doctoral candidates

  • Tristan Brotherton
    Topic: How can a plus-sport intervention improve positive social change outcomes amongst at-risk youth?
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Simon Walters, Patricia Lucas
  • Amanda B. Lees
    Topic: Ethical review and the research-teaching nexus: A case study of research ethics and the student voice in the scholarship of tertiary healthcare education
    Supervisors: Simon Walters, Rosemary Godbold, Lesley Ferkins
  • Jaylene Pratt
    Topic: Biomechanical performance analysis to improve training programmes in canoe slalom
    Supervisor: Kirsten Spencer
  • Richard Sylvester
    Topic: Sprinting characteristics in youth female athletes across maturation
    Supervisors: Craig Harrison, Rhodri Lloyd, Aaron Uthoff, John Cronin
  • Pip Thomas
    Topic: Understanding transactions in sport; an existential approach
    Supervisors: Tony Oldham, Patricia Lucas
  • Frans Van Der Merwe
    Topic: Assessment and optimisation of running capacity in youth field hockey players
    Supervisors: Craig Harrison, Andrew Kilding

Master's candidates

  • Sam Casey
    Topic: Investigating the relationship between the dynamics of passing and unstable game states in competitive U23 regional football games
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Sarah-Kate Millar
  • Johno Gee
    Topic: How well is road cycling satisfying the motivational needs of youth male cyclists?
    Supervisors: Craig Harrison, Kylie Thompson
  • Damian Hewitt
    Topic: Assessing Coach-Player Perceptions and Reliability of Contact Workload in Men's Rugby Union: A Comparative Analysis
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Brett Smith
  • Tom Lowe
    Topic: How the transition from an event-based selection process to a system-based selection process impacts the internal and external stakeholders within a National High-Performance Sport Programme
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Gaye Bryham
  • Tayla Robinson
    Topic: The Pasifika youth sporting experience: Pressure, opportunities and gaining an understanding through a coaching lens.
    Supervisors: Tony Oldham

PhD students

  • Luigi Bercades (2023)
    Topic: Using Ecological Dynamics to Explore Expertise-appropriate Practice Pedagogies for the Taekwondo Roundhouse Kick
    Supervisors: Tony Oldham, Sarah-Kate Miller, Kelly Sheerin

Master's students

  • Holly Gray (2024)
    Topic: Understanding what constitutes a successful performance for trampoline using video analysis
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Paul McAlpine
  • Jessica Chittenden (2023)
    Topic: Quantifying contact workloads in professional male rugby union by implementing an action design research framework
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Brett Smith
  • Jonathon Graham (2023)
    Topic: External focus of attention and cricket batting performance
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Tony Oldham
  • Kieran McMinn (2023)
    Topic: The Training Effects Of Lower-Body Wearable Resistance In A Small-Sided Game Approach On Strength, Speed and Change Of Direction Performance In Semi-Elite Soccer Players
    Supervisor: Craig Harrison
  • Eoin Murray (2023)
    Topic: Technology enhanced, interactive remote training and teaching for handball coaches
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Blake Bennett
  • Sally Soper (2023)
    Topic: Parents of Snow Sports New Zealand athletes’ perceptions of the developmental environment
    Supervisor: Craig Harrison
  • Gary Connell (2022)
    Topic: Exploring the association between performance indicators of football performance and match outcome
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Stafford Murray
  • Rodrigo Costa (2022)
    Topic: New Zealand secondary school rugby players’ perception of a concussion management pathway; a qualitative descriptive study
    Supervisor: Simon Walters
  • Tia Winikerei (2022)
    Topic: Understanding the relationship between expert coach perception and quantitative agility variables in elite netball
    Supervisors: Kirsten Spencer, Sarah-Kate Millar

AUT Coach Development Centre

Sport New Zealand's coaching mission is to inspire and enable coaches to provide athletes with the coaching they need. The Coach Development Centre will help to achieve this goal by bringing coaches together to share ideas, develop and discuss all aspects of coaching and connect with like-minded people.

  • A partnership between AUT and Aktive - Auckland Sport & Recreation
  • Based at AUT Millennium
  • Brings together a dedicated network of organisations and people who want to share best practice and research opportunities with schools and clubs, other universities, regional and national sporting organisations
  • A venue for coaches, students, academics and sporting organisations to work together for the advancement of athlete-centred coaching in New Zealand
  • Access to current resources including a specialised technology resource room with software for performance analysis, individual athlete feedback and consultation