According to wakeboarding champion and University of Waikato alumna Morgan Haakma, a great coach can make all the difference.
The health, sport, and human performance graduate has experienced both sides of the coaching coin. As an amateur world champion wakeboarder, she has been coached by some of the best in the industry. As the founder of wakeboarding school Shreddy NZ, she’s guiding some of New Zealand’s up and coming wakeboarders – and she reckons a good coaching and support network can make or break the sport for budding sportspeople.
“There are some coaches who you just don’t gel with, and then there are ones who intuitively know how to help and bring out the best in you – in my experience, the more intuitive and positive your coach is, the better your experience is going to be,” Morgan says.
Morgan says this is the style of coaching she’s aiming for with Shreddy NZ. From small beginnings, coaching private lessons and running kids camps in the New Zealand summers, word of mouth quickly spread and Morgan has found herself with a full-time summer gig where she now balances coaching with her own competing schedule.
She believes training is most successful when riders have a positive mindset, something she’s learned from years competing in wakeboarding competitions around the world, and from her time as a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar at the University of Waikato.
A love of water
Morgan grew up in New Plymouth in a water sports-mad family, and started wakeboarding and competing at the age of 10.
In 2015 she moved to Hamilton to study at the University of Waikato – first a Bachelor of Health, Sport and Human Performance, followed by a Masters in the same subject. She studied under the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship programme; the University’s most prestigious scholarship where students are supported to achieve their sport, art, or creative passion while completing a qualification.
While studying, Morgan trained and competed extensively. She has several national titles and has represented New Zealand many times overseas, including in the USA, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, where she was the first woman to wakeboard in the country.
She says the support she received from the Hillary programme was crucial in allowing her to balance studying with pursuing her sporting goals.
“The programme is a real immersive experience. As a Hillary scholar, you are surrounded by like-minded people who are all trying to be the best they can be, and it rubs off on you. I found the personal goal-setting work really useful, and the flexibility the scholarship gives you allows you to keep pushing to achieve your goals at a high level.”
Bringing a positive coaching approach back home
In 2018, while on student exchange to the University of North Carolina in the US, Morgan worked as a coach at Shred the Gnar Wake School in Wrightsville Beach. The school’s owner, world champion Kara Austin, helped transform Morgan’s experience and enjoyment of the sport through her supportive coaching approach.
“Kara was so fun and supportive, and helped me land my first invert, something I had been battling with for five years. She tweaked my body position slightly, drove the boat in a way that saved me if I fell, and gave me a whole lot of mental and emotional support, which was the most helpful part for me,” says Morgan.
This supportive, student-led style of coaching is one Morgan has also adopted, and she’s proud to say it’s having remarkable success with her students at Shreddy NZ. “My goal is to give my students the kind of coaching I felt like I needed growing up, by focusing on each person as an individual and empowering them with a positive mindset that works best for their needs.”
As a graduate and now a business owner, Morgan is still connected to the University and fellow Hillary alumni.
Alongside Hillary alumna Kristie Baillie, Morgan helped organise the Conquer Your Own Mountain personal leadership development summit held on campus earlier this year. There, she also took part in an alumni panel of former Step Higher awardees to talk about her experience travelling to the Khumbu Valley in Nepal and raising money for the Himalayan Trust.
She says her Hillary and University network has been useful as she embarks on a life post-study.
“By keeping in touch it’s opened up a great professional network. For example, I was struggling with the accounting side of my business, then I met Steven Rae, another Hillary alum, who has been an amazing help, and that’s something I wouldn’t have found if I wasn’t still connected.”