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Let’s give our sporting youth a season to remember

When New Zealand went into Level 4 lockdown in mid-March, Sport NZ and five national bodies were in the middle of a public awareness campaign to drive positive change in the delivery of youth sport.

That campaign, Keep Up With The Play, was targeted at parents, coaches and those involved in the administration of youth sport in both clubs and schools. This is important stuff – teenagers are walking away from organised sport at a time when being physically active competes with a host of other priorities.

Things need to change. This includes pushing back against early specialisation, an over-emphasis on winning, and other factors that are driving young New Zealanders away from sport.

What young people are looking for is changing, and sport needs to change too. If it doesn’t, they’ll keep walking away.

Sport NZ and our campaign partners – NZ Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ, Netball NZ and NZ Rugby – will pick the campaign up when the time is right. We also plan to add more sports to this group, and that’s something we’re really exited about.

In the meantime, and with winter sport finally upon us, we want to let you know that our collective commitment to changing youth sport for the better remains unchanged. The behavior’s we’re trying to change will still exist – COVID-19 has not changed that. It’s stronger than ever and we still need your support.

How can you help?

If you have a role in the delivery of a winter sport – as a coach or administrator – or if you’re a parent of a youth player, the main thing right now is to ease young people back into sport. A long wait and short pre-season are not reasons to push too hard or over train.

We don’t want players to get injured. We don’t want them to break down.  Young people have waited so long to get back into sport and be back with their friends. Let’s make sure they stay in the game all season long.

Another important thing for coaches is to make sure you have set some clear development goals for your team and players. Share these with your players and parents, make them the focus of your trainings and team talks. Use them to maintain a focus on development, and to lower the emphasis on winning or losing.

And for everyone, and by far the most important thing, make sure the players are enjoying themselves. Coaches can do this by listening to players, understanding what they enjoy and doing more of it. Parents and supporters can contribute by being positive and supportive.

If we can all do these things, there will be thousands of young people all around the country having a great sporting experience in this delayed winter season.

Let’s give them one to remember. Let’s keep them coming back.