26 July 2023

ACT’s young guns taking shape under Performance Pathways Program

ACT Performance Pathways Coach, John Masiello, was extremely proud to see one of his athletes flying the flag for Australia at this year’s Senior World Taekwondo Championships. 

ACT’s Performance Pathways Program recently held their first training session at the Australian Institute of Sport, fresh from Amber Heslop’s proud moment representing Australia in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the Women’s -62kg division. 

Heslop faced Liliia Khuzina at the Championships, the world’s number one fighter in the division and the eventual World Championship gold medallist. While Heslop wasn’t able to overcome the Russian star, the 19-year-old put in a strong performance and gained valuable experience that will only make her a better fighter in the future. 

“It was great to see Amber competing in Baku. It was unfortunate that she got the World Champion in her first fight, but she fought great,” Masiello says.

“Since she’s been back, she’s been so motivated. She’s always been a really mentally strong athlete, but since now her desire to win has just catapulted her forward. It’s amazing.” 

Masiello says Heslop has already set new goals to put herself in a position to make a deeper run at the next World Championships. 

“When you’re coming fresh into the National team, you don’t have a lot of ranking points, which puts you at a disadvantage. Her goal in the next few years is to move higher in the rankings, so she can get better draws and propel herself forward in the competition.” 

Heslop’s success has also put fire in the bellies of her ACT Performance Pathways teammates. This promising group of athletes includes: 

Giuliana Masiello – Represented Australia at the World Cadet Taekwondo Championships and the World Junior Taekwondo Championships, reaching the Round of 16 at both events. Masiello has also won senior bronze and silver medals at the WT President’s Cup and the Tahiti Open. 

Aaron Choy – A cadet and junior national champion who last year won gold at the WT President’s Cup, Oceania Championships and Tahiti Open. 

Valentina De Robertis – A state champion who won gold as a cadet at last year’s Australian Taekwondo National Championships and represented Australia at the 2022 World Taekwondo Cadet Championships. 

Jaidah Ly-Diep – Jaidah won gold as a cadet at the Australian Taekwondo National Championships last year and recently stepped up to junior level, winning bronze at this year’s Sydney Taekwondo Festival. 

Kierah Ly-Diep – A gold medallist in the cadets at last year’s Australian Taekwondo National Championships and the 2023 Sydney Taekwondo Festival. Kierah recently made the Australian National Team for this year’s World Taekwondo Cadet Championships. 

The ACT’s Pathways athletes have a broad age range, consisting of a 19-year-old, two 17-year-olds and three 15-year-olds.

Having practiced Taekwondo for 41 years and competed for the Australian National team on the world stage himself, Masiello is well placed to take these athletes to the next level. 

“I’ve always had that drive when I was competing and I know how hard it is to get there. I want to build a relationship with my athletes so they can trust me and want to work hard not just for me, but themselves – to see how far they can go.

“They’re all young kids and really talented athletes, and my aim is to guide them.” 

The program’s training sessions involve a mixture of technical drills and the development of tactical awareness. 

“We do some technical work as a group, but we also have a strong focus on the tactical. So, I’ll set up a scenario and I’ll get them to watch their opponents. Then, I’ll write up potential drills that I think will work against that particular opponent.

“We consider how we can use our strengths and exploit opponents’ weaknesses.” 

Each of the athletes take this advice on board and are showing tremendous dedication to maximising their potential, according to Masiello. 

“I’m really impressed by their motivation. They’re always at training and they do the extra-curricular stuff as well. We have a weekly cardio session and they’ll come along to that and then they’ll do their own strength and conditioning or see their physiotherapist. 

“Their will to win is what motivates them, you can’t be motivated all the time. It’s too much to keep motivated 24/7. Sometimes you’ve got to let discipline take over. As long as you keep turning up and being consistent, I think that’s key.” 

Heslop’s appearance at the World Championships has given the entire team an extra boost and Masiello says she sets the tone for her younger teammates at every training session. 

“It’s not just that she’s gong to the World Championships and has made the Australian team, which is obviously fantastic. Every session she just leads by example. 

“She doesn’t have to command respect, she just gets it by being who she is. She’s a hard worker, a great fighter and a great person. I think that, more than anything else, inspires everyone and they can see a pathway to follow. And that’s just her being her. It’s not her being boastful, it’s just her character and personality.” 

Being part of a tight-knit community has also given ACT’s Pathways athletes a valuable support network to help them through the ups and downs of elite competition. 

“Canberra is small, so you rely on each other. We work together a lot and we’ve travelled together a lot. So, we’ve seen each other at our best when we win and feel great, and out our worst, during tougher times. You can only grow from that.

“We do reach out to other clubs locally too for training with other teams and I’ve got a great relationship with the other coaches, so I’m always truing to expand our skillset and our sparring drills.” 

Having been involved with the initial Performance Pathways program in New South Wales and now as the Coach for the ACT, Masiello feels the program is giving Aussie Taekwondo athletes a great opportunity to enhance their experience and development. 

“My experience with the Performance Pathways Program has been really positive. I think Ali Khalil has started a really good program and Carmen Marton has continued that. There’s been lots of opportunities already like international competitions. Our group went to Korea last year, then we went to the Belgium Open and Dutch Open this year.

“We’re fairly close to New South Wales, so we’re also able to go and train with those guys and spar with a whole bunch of different athletes as often as we need to.” 

After such a successful start, Masiello and his charges are now determined to use all of the resources available to push themselves to even greater heights. 

“The ACT version of this program is very new and I’m very excited about the support around the Taekwondo. The physios, strength and conditioning coaches and the broader support network that I think is really necessary to build a top athlete.

“We’re too small a community to be isolated. I think it’s really important we tap into all of those resources. Having those other coaches from Pathways, and Carmen’s support, helps a huge amount.” 

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