After a 2020 winter season heavily disrupted by COVID-19, Sport NZ and five of the country’s largest participation sports are calling on coaches, parents and others at grassroots level to make the most of 2021 by working together to create a fun and extra rewarding season for all young people.
The collective stand comes as New Zealand approaches the anniversary of Level 4 lockdown when organised sport came to a grinding halt, affecting the physical activity levels and wellbeing of young players around the country.
Sport NZ research conducting during Level 4 lockdown found that overall physical activity among young people fell significantly during April 2020 compared to a typical April. The drop was most profound among those aged 12 to 14 years (down 44% from 12.91 to 7.26 hours per week) and 15 to 17 years (down 38% from 10.01 to 6.22 hours per week).
The message to make this winter season special by focusing on fun and development aligns with the Statement of Intent signed in September 2019 by Sport NZ, NZ Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ, Netball NZ and NZ Rugby. They believe changing the focus of youth sport is even more relevant now after recent alert level restrictions, and are calling on those at grassroots level to lend a hand.
“We want it to be one we remember for all the right reasons, and everyone with a role in grassroots sport can help by making sure young players are having fun and that all kids are supported in their development, not just the best kids,” says Sport NZ CEO Raelene Castle.
“We’ve done a lot of work with these and other sports to change youth sport at national and regional levels, but we’d love to see community coaches, managers, parents and others get behind this and help us keep kids in the game. There are ideas and resources available and we’d like everyone to make these part of how they plan for the upcoming winter season. Together we can make 2021 something really special.”
Information for grassroots coaches, parents and administrators is available at balanceisbetter.org.nz. Sport NZ, supported by the five sports, will also be sharing new advice and resources over the coming weeks through websites and social media as the winter season draws closer.
The Statement of Intent signed by these sports in 2019 included:
- Ensuring all young people 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 support of changes to competition structures and player development opportunities.
- Working with within their 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.
These commitments reflect the Balance is Better philosophy developed and championed by Sport NZ. Despite the disruption and challenges caused by COVID-19, all five sports have maintained their commitment to the Statement of Intent and continued to make important changes.
New Zealand Cricket CEO David White says, while COVID-19 has created massive challenges, improving youth sport remains a top priority, and significant progress has been made over the past year.
“We have undertaken a significant piece of research with AUT on growth and maturation, which are important considerations in youth sports. This has provided further evidence to support changes to the age-grades of current representative youth tournaments, and reviews are now underway of some junior and youth national events. It’s too early to say if there will be changes next summer but, for now, we encourage those delivering our sport to enjoy the rest of the season and use the next few months to review and reflect on what more they can do next summer to put a stronger focus on fun and development.”
NZ Football CEO Andrew Pragnell says clubs and federations around the country are well advanced with preparations for the upcoming season and encourages those involved at youth level to support Balance is Better and be a part of driving positive change.
“I am really proud of the progress we have made since signing the Statement of Intent, including changing out national skill centre programme to move away from a selection based programme to a skill development programme available for all players and updating all community coaching materials to align with Balance is Better. We are hopeful this will increase the focus on fun and development this winter. We need coaches, in particular, to also get behind this and season transition is an ideal time to have that conversation.”
New Hockey NZ CEO Anthony Crummy says he’s been impressed with how the sport has embraced Balance Is Better.
“We’ve been working with our community for several years to ensure hockey continues to lead the way as a truly gender-equal sport and is accessible to as many young people as possible. Hockey has been using smaller teams on smaller fields since 2012 and we’re now expanding that into intermediate schools. In these games, research shows players are more involved, they make more decisions and have more touches on the ball. We have also repositioned our national under-13 and under-15 tournaments into regional events that provide opportunities to more children, as well as being more affordable and focused on having fun.”
Netball was the first sport to move away from intermediate age representative teams and Netball NZ CEO Jennie Wyllie says her sport’s commitment to Balance is Better has continued to see more changes implemented over the past year.
“We are completing a national rollout of an exciting new Year 7 and Year 8 player development programme that will provide thousands of netballers with a development opportunity, when in the past it was just hundreds. Young players do not develop at the same rate, so a change like this has huge potential to enable more young netballers to reach their full potential and stay in netball for life. We have also moved our first national tournament from U17 to 18 and established a youth voice platform, through national and local Youth Advisory Groups, to provide a voice for young netballers in how netball is offered.”
NZ Rugby has also made major gains over the past 12 months, phasing out intermediate age representative tournaments and introducing alternative junior and youth non-contact formats of the game. CEO Mark Robinson says more positive changes have followed this year despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.
“We are really committed to Sport NZ’s Balance is Better philosophy and are excited to be able to provide more opportunities for rangatahi to stay in our game. This year we are introducing more participation events at secondary schools, reshaping our national calendar to reduce the load on performance players and are continuing work with our stakeholders to ensure rugby is delivered in safe, fun and engaging ways to keep young players in rugby and other sports.”
Raelene Castle is excited to see how these five sports have embraced Balance is Better, especially while managing a global pandemic, but says the ‘first five’ is not alone.
“There are a huge number of national bodies working to improve youth sport in different ways and we will shortly have more signing the Statement of Intent. That shows what a powerful movement this is, but we have more work to do.That is why we are using this season transition to collectively urge coaches, parents and others to look at how they can help keep young New Zealanders in sport for life.”