The NSW school is running its third consecutive year of the Canobolas High Performance Athletes’ Program (CHPA), and the current student cohort is 41. Several students have competed in their sports at state and national level including in basketball, softball, athletics, AFL, touch and lawn bowls.

One student is the national record holder in discus and three others have represented Australia at international level.

Last year, the program took out the NSW Education Foundation’s ‘Most Innovative School Initiative Award’ beating hundreds of contenders.

The school is continually fielding requests from other NSW schools for insights into how the program operates.

CHPA Director Mark Skein, heads PDHPE at the school and is responsible for setting up the program.

“We found that over a number of years many of the students who were successful in particular, or many sports, found it difficult to develop the skills by themselves to manage their time, lives and get proper and professional assistance to develop their physical abilities and have the guidance and direction to support them in their representative pathways,” he says.

“CHPA is for students who demonstrate pre-elite representative ability, that is higher than club or school level, in particular sport[s] and demonstrate positive attitudes, highly developed work habits, and respectful and responsible behaviour.”

The school funds the program and athletes are supported by a school-based management team.

It offers professional support to students through a partnership with Charles Sturt University (CSU) School of Exercise Science, Sport and Health, and local sports-related industry professionals.

They include PhyzX exercise physiologists, physiotherapists, Pilates instructors and a nutritionist.

Athletes not only get training, physical development and performance help, but receive support with academic studies – in planning assessment tasks, organisation, and time management.

Each week they take part in prescribed exercise training programs and strength and conditioning, fitness and Pilates classes, along with workshops learning about organisational strategies, nutrition consultations and recovery strategies.

They also get to experience elite sporting environments and events.

“The training is about safely developing the students’ physical capacity to perform at a pre-elite level and reduce the risk of injury,” Skein says.

Year 8 student Lilly Mitchell has shown promise in netball and athletics and has made it to the Western Region level last year.

“Being in the program has really improved my fitness and agility, which has been great for netball, as we’re always changing direction.

“It’s also coached us to be more professional such as with the media and communicate more effectively,” she says.

At the start of the program, the athletes developed their own CHPA culture. It’s based on values of attitude, dedication, professionalism and leadership and it continues to endure.

“If they don’t adhere to the culture of the program or show the level of dedication required, they will be placed on review and supported to conform to it. If not, they’re out of the program,” Skein says.

Lilly’s brother, Kane, who is in Year 11, has been in the program since its inception and demonstrates the CHPA culture.

“The program has helped nurture my natural ability for sport and academia and helped me get to state two years in a row and I’m going for my third,” he says.

Every year I’m achieving my personal bests for 400m sprint and good results for long jump at state level, too.

“We get heaps of support, but our education is always first – we need to get good grades. The program’s been awesome for us.

“I find I’m making better decisions as a person, such as with what we eat. When I’m out with my mates, they’ll get KFC, but I’ll get something healthier from Subway.”

PhyzX physiotherapist, exercise physiologist and athletics coach Leigh Miller runs four hours of clinics and boot camps, including speed and power training for CHPA students each week during term.

“A lot of these kids do not have any specialist coaching apart from club level or Little Athletics,” Miller says.

The program has inspired nearby Blayney High School to start its own Talented Athlete Program this year.

Those students attend weekly boot camps and workshops on topics such as nutrition, recovery, hydration and post-injury rehab, Paul Hanman, TAP and PDHPE co-ordinator at the school says.

“We have enlisted the support of community members such as personal trainers, a nutritionist and the local community gym to support students ... we want to extend not only the athlete’s personal performance, but give them greater access to elite sporting organisations and opportunities within their specific sports.”