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

Sport NZ has developed the Balance is Better 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
all about?

We’re losing young people from sport, and they are missing out of the opportunity to be physically active and reach their full potential.

Sport NZ works with the sector to provide quality experiences in sport for all, including for those who enjoy competition as well as those who just want to have fun.

The focus of the Balance is Better 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.

There are a number of adult behaviours affecting youth sport. The Balance is Better philosophy pushes back against these.

Problem #1

High performance behaviours are creeping into youth sport.

Problem #2

There’s too much pressure on being the best and winning.

Problem #3

Young people are being forced to specialise in one sport too soon.

Where is the evidence?

  • 1.Studies have shown the transition rate from being identified as youth talent to be an elite athlete is less than 1 in 10 (Australian study by Gulbin et al in 2013 said 7%).
  • 2.A UEFA study in 2007 found that 85% of 16 year olds who sign professional contracts are out of professional football by the age of 21.
  • 3.ACC statistics show a massive 60% surge since 2008 in sports-related injuries to kids aged 10 to 14 – double the increase of any other age group. There are a number of reasons for the spike in injuries, but a growing concern is that too much sport can be just as harmful for kids as not getting enough exercise. ACC is encouraging parents to use the one hour for every year guideline, where the amount of organised sport per week – both training and competition – should not exceed their child’s age.
  • 4.Secondary School Sport Census data shows that although school rolls have increased over the last three years, participation has dropped in inter-school sport.
  • 5.New Zealand research confirms international study findings: participating in more hours of sport per week than age in years; playing one sport for more than 8 months of the year; and/or exceeding a 2:1 weekly ratio of organised sport to recreational free-play hours, increases the odds of reporting a ‘gradual onset injury’.
  • 6.US Ice Hockey has gone from a 40% teenage retention rate in 2010 to 90% by rolling out an American Development Model. The model encourages unstructured play in multiple disciplines, removing early representative programmes, and emphasises fun and development. The same model is now used by over 50 Olympic sports in the US.

What needs to change?

If we’re going to change this, we need to improve what’s happening at the grass roots and for those involved in delivering youth sport to think differently. We need to think about how we can put the fun and skill development back into kids sport.

It is also 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.
  • Reviewing the role and nature of national and regional representative selections and tournaments to ensure skill development opportunities are offered to more young people.
  • Sports and schools identifying young talent later in their development, rather than sooner.
  • 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 can you
do to help?

Keep up with the play on the latest thinking, advice
and coaching tips from trusted sources.
For Coaches

Keep winning in perspective and focus on developing a love of sport.

For Parents

Working together we can provide a positive sporting environment for our kids.

For Administrators

As leaders we need to be bold and courageous to tackle the change needed.

The philosophy in practice

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