In this series of Balance is Better articles, Sport NZ explores the myths surrounding youth sport and the shift in thinking needed to halt declining participation levels in kiwi teens.
All kids deserve an awesome experience in sport. We need to listen to what they want, let them play with their friends and have fun without unnecessary pressure.
Wendi Henderson is a football player and national captain who represented New Zealand at international level from 1987 to 2008. For a time, she was New Zealand’s most capped female player and became the first New Zealand player to represent her country in two senior football world cups. Now a coach, she believes all young people should have an opportunity to grow a life-long love of sport.
“The adult behaviours of trying to push kids when they’re young is definitely having an impact on kids staying in sport.
“What we’ve lost focus on is why kids play. It’s because they want to have fun, play with their friends, have a run around and learn new skills.
“We have to be across that and allow kids to have that freedom. Then we’ll keep them in sport for a lot longer.”
Wendi is an experienced coach and sees a lot of adult behaviours pushing kids to burnout, get injured and fall out of love with the game. She thinks we need to get back to basics.
“People need to understand that 8, 9, 10, 11-year olds just want to have fun. Keeping the fun in the game is important as everyone learns differently, and kids develop at different ages and stages.
“As a coach, some of the things that I look for in kids are their attitude and giving things a go. They might not be good with one foot, but they’ll give it a go. That’s the stuff that you look out for. You don’t often look for the one standout player. You might notice them, but you’re looking for a whole lot of other aspects about their development.”
Wendi says it’s easy to get caught up on the one or two kids that stand out when they’re 9 or 10 years old. But as a kid it’s about just having a great experience and trying as many different activities and sports as you can, and parents need to know that it’s ok, in fact it’s best practice.
“There is only a small amount of people that kick on to become elite or professional athletes. So, sports need to understand what our communities want, and what is our purpose? What’s our “Why?” It’s to have kids playing sport.
“It’s about giving opportunities to people regardless of their backgrounds or their development. I believe that as coaches and parents, we all have a role to play and everyone’s got to have an opportunity.”
Image Source: NZ Football