Balance is Better philosophy

Girls rugby team smiling, cheering, and doing victory signs

An evidence-based philosophy that underpins Sport NZ's overall approach to youth sport.

Sport NZ has developed the evidence-based philosophy to inform and provide a framework that puts the needs of the participant first. It originated from the Sport NZ Talent Plan 2016-2020 that focused on growing the capability of the sporting system to better prepare athletes in their development phase to help them realise their potential. Balance is Better has now become a broader conversation underpinning Sport NZ’s overall approach to youth sport that focusses on maximising participation and skill development.

What is it about?

Balance is Better is an evidence-based approach. The focus of the philosophy is on why young people play sport – to have fun, be challenged, develop and improve, be part of a team or group, and enjoy time with friends.

Sport NZ works with the sector to provide quality experiences in sport for all tamariki and rangatahi (young people aged 5-18), including for those who enjoy competition as well as those who just want to have fun.

There are three myths in youth sport that have been identified though research and are supported by evidence. The Balance is Better philosophy pushes back against these myths to stress that:

  1. Childhood success is not a reliable predictor of future success
  2. Identifying athletes early and specialising early is taking its toll on young people
  3. A focus on winning rather than development is a problem for young people, because it can have unintended consequences on their wellbeing and affect their motivation to take part

What needs to change?

Sport NZ encourages anyone responsible for delivering youth sport to adopt the Balance is Better philosophy. That means sport leaders, coaches, administrators, teachers and parents – all can make a difference. This is about supporting the sport system in leading change and committing to:

  • Ensuring all young people can receive a quality sport experience, irrespective of the level at which they are involved.
  • Leading attitudinal and behavioural change among the sport leaders, coaches, administrators, parents, and caregivers involved in youth sport.
  • Providing leadership to support changes to competition structures, participation, and athlete development opportunities.
  • Sports and schools identifying young talent later in their development, rather than sooner.
  • Reviewing the role and nature of national and regional representative selections and tournaments to ensure skill development opportunities are offered to more young people.
  • Supporting young people to participate in a range of activities and play multiple sports.
  • Raising awareness of the risks of overtraining and overloading and proactively managing workload.
  • Working collaboratively to encourage the widest possible change for the wellbeing and sport participation of young New Zealanders.
  • All New Zealanders having the right to participate in sport in an inclusive, fair and safe environment.

What is Sport NZ doing?

It’s an exciting time for youth sport with a real sense of momentum towards leading system change. Sport NZ has several initiatives underway:

Advocating within the sports sector

Sport NZ is raising awareness of the Balance is Better philosophy by working through system partners. This includes the work we’re doing with our national sport partners in signing up to a Statement of Intent with nine commitments. So far, it’s been signed by the country’s five largest participation sports – Cricket, Football, Hockey, Netball and Rugby – and more sports have been encouraged to sign up and commit to the philosophical approach when they are ready to do so.

Keep up with the play campaign – keepupwiththeplay.org.nz

A public awareness campaign based on the Balance is Better philosophy launched in February 2020 targeted at those delivering youth sport - be it sport leaders, administrators, coaches, teachers or parents - to raise awareness of why we're losing young people from sport and what can be done about it.

Balance is Better website – balanceisbetter.org.nz

This website supported by Sport NZ, provides tools and education for anyone involved in delivering youth sport. There are articles, interviews and case studies to give you the latest advice and coaching tips from trusted sources.

Sport NZ Balance is Better Champions

The Balance is Better Champions help spread the word and drive change, as well as support organisations to put the needs of the participant first and adopt a Balance is Better philosophy.

Other reference material - Resources and case studies

We have developed several resources that are specific for parents and coaches, sports leaders and participant development, as well as case studies and a Youth Sport Development Plan.

How you can get involved

If you’re a national or regional sporting organisation, talk to our Sport Development team about embedding the Balance is Better philosophy into your approach for managing youth sport and committing to the above statements. And if you're already doing working in this space, you might want to promote this work via your own media channels.

A similar approach was launched by USA Ice Hockey in 2009 and has proven a huge success. Watch the video from Ken Martel's visit to New Zealand.

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