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Are we only supporting the kids in the top team?

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.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the first XV or just playing a game with friends during lunchtime – the wellbeing benefits gained from active recreation and sport come from the time spent participating, not necessarily from the level of participation. 

Providing opportunities for youth at all levels is an important factor in making sure ALL young people can participate in sport.  When the only focus is on the so called ‘talented’ players, everyone else misses out, or receives a lesser experience. 

It is known that establishing and maintaining active lifestyles in youth is a predictor of participation as an adult. We celebrate our world champions and medal winners and readily view these acts as determinants of success. But how do we view the adults still playing the game they fell in love with at age 12? The ones picking up a new sport later in life to stay active? This is what we should be classing as success.

Failure to accommodate young peoples’ active recreation and sport needs will result in reduced adult participation and increase associated health and productivity downsides. By ensuring all young people have the opportunity to be involved in sport at a level that meets their motivations and development needs can make a tangible difference to their futures. 

Former Black Cap Martin Snedden agrees, and now works at NZ Cricket where the organisation is committed to ensuring everyone has an opportunity to play and a great experience. 

“All kids should have the opportunity to participate, develop skills and have fun playing at their own level.”

“It’s not about being in the top team. I guess everyone wants to be in the top team but only a small number can be. The truth is that young people develop skills at different ages. You develop your skills in your own time, and will have more fun playing at the level that’s right for you.”

Snedden believes that parents have an important role to play when supporting their children’s goals and aspirations. 

“Young people play sport to have fun. The harder parents are on their kids, the higher the likelihood that child will give up altogether.”

You don’t need to rush it. Be patient. Kids have a long childhood to learn and grow. Don’t try to turn them into Black Caps or White Ferns at 13. Let’s not force kids into making those choices early. They can make their own choices when they’re young adults.

If kids are out there playing sport, then that’s a critical part of their development as young people. They’re learning how to develop their own skills, they’re learning how to participate in a team situation, they’re learning how to deal with the ups and downs of life,” he says.

“All of that will create a better person. If we’ve got the right philosophy behind it, if parents and coaches are looking after kids in the right way at that level, then that helps their development as human beings.”

Image Credits: Sport NZ

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