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New Zealand sporting bodies come together to change youth sport

New Zealand sporting bodies come together to change youth sport
September 3, 2019

Youth sport is set to undergo a dramatic shake-up as the leaders of Sport New Zealand and the country’s five largest participation sports - NZ Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ, Netball NZ and NZ Rugby - speak out in a united front against negative experiences that are driving too many young New Zealanders away from sport.

Speaking this morning, Sport NZ Chief Executive Peter Miskimmin advised “we’re taking a stand to bring the fun and development focus back to sport for all young people

“This includes pushing back against early specialisation, over-emphasis on winning and other factors that are driving young New Zealanders away from sport. Sporting organisations are aware of the problem and some are already making changes, but more is required and the six of us are stepping up to say we will lead the way.”

The group have signed a Statement of Intent, published today in the New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post and Christchurch Press, advising of their commitment to pave the way for substantial change in the way young people experience sport in New Zealand.

It advises that “individually and collectively we commit to:

• Ensuring all young people who play our sports receive a quality experience, irrespective of the level at which they compete.
• Leading attitudinal and behavioural change among the sport leaders, coaches, administrators, parents and caregivers involved in youth sport.
• Providing leadership to our sports in support of changes to competition structures and player development opportunities.
• Working with our sports and schools to keep minds open while identifying talent throughout the teen years, including reviewing the role and nature of national and regional representative tournaments to ensure that skill development opportunities are offered to more young people.
• Supporting young people to play multiple sports.
• Raising awareness of the risks of overtraining and overloading.

The six organisations have also announced that they will be launching an integrated marketing campaign early next year, targeted at youth sport influencers such as parents, caregivers, coaches and administrators, to further raise awareness of the issues and help drive positive change.

With close to 600,000 young people participating across the five sports each week, the group believe that the collective action will be a ‘game changer’ for young people.

Advising that the initiative will help administrators, young people and parents understand that sport is for everyone, not simply those in top teams, New Zealand Cricket Chief Executive David White states “sport isn’t simply about the elite and aspirational or, for that matter, the winners.

“It remains as relevant to amateur, lower-grade and social participants as it does to the professionals.

“With respect to our international champions, the best part of New Zealand sport is still the sight of the thousands of Kiwi kids of all abilities who every weekend take to the fields and courts throughout the country to have fun.”

Explaining that to help sustain this trend into the future, New Zealand Cricket was encouraging parents, caregivers and coaches to allow children to experience a healthy variety of sport, rather than concentrating on one, White added “early specialisation in sport reflects an adult mindset, rather than what is most enjoyable and, by definition, best for the child.

“Allowing children to experience a wide range of activities and experiences means they will transfer skills and strategies from different sports to create more-rounded and socially-balanced individuals.”

Acknowledging that the change will meet resistance from some, NZ Football Chief Executive, Andrew Pragnell commented “we are fully supportive of Sport NZ’s position and feel it has the ability to be a game changer for sport in New Zealand. It is never easy to make changes to culture, but we need to look at the way our young people play sport and ensure it is appropriate for their stage of development. With the backing of some of our leading sports organisations, I am sure we can all make a positive impact on the future of sport for young people in New Zealand.

“We are also excited about what this culture change could mean for off the field, as we strive to improve our side-line behaviour in all sports and look to create an environment that is fun and supportive.”

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