High-performance trainer infusing sport psychology with mātauranga Māori

The psychology of sport isn't new, but Māori concepts in this space are proving a game-changer for up-and-coming sports stars. 

Mental skills coach Luke Rowe (Ngāti Raukawa, Tūwharetoa) is a clinical psychologist changing up the field of high-performance sports training. 

He coaches players through the psychological challenges of injury or not making the squad. 

"Being able to separate out your identity from what you do is crucial," he said.

"'Am I a shit player? Does it mean I'm a shit person?' The challenge we have is that it's all sort of being integrated into the same thing."

He works with a number of teams, including the Wellington Super Rugby team Hurricanes, and the Pulse netball team. 

Pūrākau (Māori creation stories) are just one of the methods he uses to help players reframe challenges. 

"The pūrakau concept is not a new thing for Maori, and how it's applied in the health context is evolving and it's growing and gaining some real momentum."

The standard approach is "get fit and perform", Rowe said, which is "quite a narrow pathway to high performance". 

"For me, [it's] about creating spaces for Māori-Pasifika to operate within which should be the predominant culture or language of that space.

"The people in those environments are largely brown but the way that it looks from the outside is still monocultural."

Shooter Tiana Metuarau (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu, Cook Island Māori) is no stranger to the spotlight. She was just 20 years old when she first represented New Zealand on the international netball stage, making her debut for the Silver Ferns in 2021. 

Back home, she plays for the Wellington Pulse where Rowe has supported her through the ups and downs of professional netball. 

"I'm having a bit of a rough time and he listens and he always has kind of these Māori philosophies, which I really value because I understand them."

After being dropped from the Silver Ferns squad in 2022, Metuarau was struggling to find her feet at the beginning of the 2023 netball season. 

Luke Rowe.
Luke Rowe. Photo credit: The Hui

Rowe's advice was simple - head home. 

"I think there's one whakataukī that probably encapsulates that. E hoki koe ōu maunga ki a puri ai koe i ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea. But essentially it's about going home and cleansing your soul, replenishing yourself so that you can come back and get in the game again, or get in the fight again."

His support helped lift Metuarau back up. 

"I'm in a better headspace now.

"I think the beauty in this is that I've taught myself and I've learned from different people throughout this journey that I am capable and that I can pull myself out of situations that aren't so comfortable."

She represented the Silver Ferns in the recent Netball World Cup in South Africa. 

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.