There’s so much more to sport than winning or losing. For young people in particular, the value of sport is wide-reaching, from the social connections and bonds that are formed through to developing important skills, both on and off the pitch.
Just ask Dame Lisa Carrington, one of New Zealand’s greatest ever Olympians and our newest Balance is Better Champion. Dame Lisa sat down with us to reflect on the lessons she’s learnt on her sporting journey.
More to sport than winning or losing
Dame Lisa is no stranger to winning. Having racked up five gold medals and one bronze at the Olympics, she is New Zealand’s most decorated Olympic athlete.
However, she emphasises that she wasn’t always a winner, and it was the pure enjoyment of sport and recreation, and the bonds she made, that got her going in her formative years.
“It wasn’t really about winning, it was just about doing your best and enjoying it,” she says, recalling her time as a surf lifesaving ‘nipper’.
“I stayed in surf lifesaving because it was fun. I loved being in the ocean, catching waves, and my friends, the amazing people I got to meet and hang around with.”
Dame Lisa was also a keen netballer in her youth, and she stresses that while she “wasn’t the best player in the team”, the “amazing relationships” she forged with other girls her age was so valuable to her overall sporting experience.
“It’s okay to not be good at something, and it’s okay to be really good at something,” she says.
It’s important to remind young people that sport isn’t just about being competitive and winning – having fun and making friends is just as important.
Learning lifelong skills
In addition to technical skills, sport has the unique benefit of helping young people to learn many important life skills they can take with them off the pitch or court and into their later years. For Dame Lisa, “meeting people, communicating, socialising, working through problems, working with others, and encouraging others” were a handful of the crucial skills she developed through being involved in various sports from a young age.
“[My mother] wanted to teach me how to be a good winner and a good loser,” Dame Lisa says, on why her mother got her involved with sport from such a young age. “I think that’s such an amazing thing to learn”.
Whether it’s learning how to work in a team or communicate in challenging scenarios, young people learn so many important life skills simply by participating in sport.
The role that parents and coaches play
Young people also need support from the people around them to ensure they have a positive experience in sport and reap all the benefits. This is where parents and coaches come in.
“At intermediate age and going into high school, I wasn’t a super confident kid, so I needed my parents to push me along,” Dame Lisa says.
“What’s great was that they were pushing me into sports because they knew I could do it and it was going to be good for me, not because I was going to win or anything like that.”
She also says she was “just so grateful” for her surf lifesaving coach just being there for her.
We know the support young people get plays a huge part in ensuring they have a great experience and develop a lifelong love of sport. It’s important that coaches and parents, along with administrators, committees, and others in the sport system, work together to understand what young people want from sport and challenge them in a way that matches their aspirations and motivations. This will help ensure all young people receive and enjoy the value that sport brings, from the social connections to the life skills they’ll learn, today and into the future.