A Sport Tasman initiative empowering young women through whanaungatanga, collaboration and compassion
Nelson teen Hannah Buckland is finding her voice.
Hannah has social (pragmatic) communication disorder and talking to people she doesn’t know can be a difficult experience.
“I don’t get out much to get to know people and make new friends,” she told Nelson Weekly back in December 2020. “I struggle to know what to say.”
Kōhine Māia - a Sport Tasman initiative supported by Sport New Zealand’s Young Women’s Activation Fund that aims to help young women become confident, capable, bold and brave - was there to help.
Hannah’s mother spotted a Facebook post promoting free skateboard lessons – an initiative supported by Kōhine Māia – and from there things started to improve.
“Once I went to [the skateboard programme] I wanted to keep coming,” said Hannah. “It has already helped me a lot with talking and not being so quiet.”
Hannah was one of Kōhine Māia’s early success stories. The initiative has continued to support a host of programmes for young women in the Tasman region, aiming to generate positive outcomes through participation in physical activity.
“Influencing providers and changing how they relate to the groups of girls they work with provides lasting change.”
The portfolio of activities is diverse – with beach yoga, stand up paddleboarding (SUP), SUP Yoga, climbing, archery, self-defence classes and fire spinning among the offerings.
“One of the most significant pieces of feedback we have received from the girls is that it doesn’t matter what activities we are offering, girls come back because the environment felt safe, empowering, fun and supportive,” said Leslie Azzis, the programme’s Active Recreation Advisor.
Kōhine Māia has also been active in the educational space, presenting at local seminars, contributing to environmental and mental health forums and supporting a Nelson College for Girls’ Aroha Kotahi alternative education programme for students who experience challenges and barriers in the mainstream education system.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing.
Designed to use movement and fitness to support students’ social and emotional self-regulation, Kōhine Māia’s participation in the Aroha Kotahi programme at Nelson College for Girls ventured into an extremely challenging space working with young women who were experiencing significant issues. Whakawhanaungatanga – the process of establishing relationships – proved difficult. And, impacted by COVID, initial attempts at co-design failed.
However, the programme did ultimately achieve significant success when Kōhine Māia collaborated with a trauma-informed personal trainer - Dani Eddy from Transform Gym - who was able to combine physical training sessions with a “de-escalation toolbox”. Eddy helped girls to understand when they needed extra support and gave them different tools they could use – such as mindfulness or movement practices, going for a walk, breathing, and sensory tools like stress balls – to feel safe and comfortable.
“It takes time to find the right approach with groups of girls who have been disenfranchised,” says Leslie Azzis.
“Bringing in the right people is crucial, people who can stand their ground while being compassionate, and who have an ability to witness and work with complex behaviours.
“Sometimes bringing the right person also means we need to take a step back and adopt a greater influencer role.”
The rapport the personal trainer built with the girls quickly exceeded expectations and, despite disruptions due to Covid, suspension, expulsions, and lack of staff, the girls continued to strengthen that connection and increase their comfort levels at the gym.
Nelson College for Girls has subsequently established a strong relationship with Eddy, independent from Kōhine Māia.
Over the course of its three-year journey, Kōhine Māia has increasingly turned its focus to working with providers – as opposed to being a provider itself.
“Influencing providers and changing how they relate to the groups of girls they work with provides lasting change,” notes Sport Tasman’s Lesley McIntosh.
“The girls are better supported throughout the activity, it increases their satisfaction and ownership of the program and, once providers see how they can do it and what the impact is, they can use the co-design philosophy in their future projects with rangatahi.”
Kōhine Māia has made a name for itself in the region as being a space where girls are supported to try a new activity, have some fun with other girls and make new friends.
Its programmes offer a place for girls to trust that they are welcome and can show up as they are, without expectations to perform or look a certain way.
At a Glance
What was the need or problem in the community?
Many recreation programmes in the Tasman region did not meet the specific needs of teenage girls, resulting in a lack of participation and engagement.
What challenges or barriers existed and how were they overcome?
Barriers included social awkwardness around participation, lack of appropriate features within programmes due to an absence of co-design and age restrictions preventing access to facilities and programmes.
What were the key success factors – and were they driven by an innovative approach?
Sport Tasman worked to influence providers to change how they related to the groups of young women they work with. That influence led to lasting change – the girls are better supported throughout activities and gain increased satisfaction and ownership. Once providers see what the impact is, they can use the co-design philosophy in future projects.
What outcomes were achieved?
The initiatives shifted mentalities and awareness in recreational providers. The programmes influenced bigger players to think about what they can offer to teenage girls, and how they can offer it to maximize success and sustainability.
This type of change creates ripple effects for the girls who benefited – and also for local partners.
It has shown the importance of talking to providers about how they interact with groups and how they can make more room for girls to feel valued and heard.
For participants, increased satisfaction, self-confidence, and feelings of being safe and supported were among the most notable outcomes.
What comes next?
The active recreation team at Sport Tasman is designing a three-pronged series of workshops aimed at increasing menstrual health education amongst the community. The series will be delivered in three different settings to:
- kōhine Māori using tikanga and mātauranga Māori of īkura (menstruation)
- sports codes (athletes, coaches)
- the wider community (youth spaces, schools).
Sport Tasman wants to build shared language across the sector so that girls' needs can be better advocated for.
Sport Tasman is supporting Nelson College for Girls to expand its Aroha Kotahi concept to alternative education programmes at two more schools, with the goal of increasing understanding of the power of physical activity and movement - as well as active recreation and community mentoring - to help students increase their capacity for emotional and social regulation.