Changes in focus and structure for Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) is bearing early fruit as kids return to the sport.
Over the summer months, New Zealand’s 74 surf life saving clubs offer junior programmes that help to increase the water safety skills and knowledge of children and their whānau.
A key part of those programmes is life saving sport activities and events, but participation in recent seasons has been impacted by COVID-19 and extreme weather events.
To attract and retain tamariki and rangatahi, SLSNZ has called on its biggest influencers for help – parents.
“Parents play a huge role as our activities and events are primarily driven by our volunteer members. They play a large part in the delivery of programmes so it’s important to get them on board with changes in philosophies and approaches to youth participation,” says SLSNZ Southern Region Sport Manager Luke Smith.
Through clear and consistent communication with parents, the tides are starting to turn.
Shifts in language
SLSNZ recognised the terminology it used was important to be able to clearly convey the philosophy and purpose of events. For many, the word ‘carnival’ was seen as more engaging and accessible than ‘competition’, and this shift has been evident in many of SLSNZ’s communications.
“There is still a time and place for our traditional competitions, but carnivals are more inviting for parents and kids. It may seem like a small change, but when you are trying to grow participation, it’s about ensuring everyone has a go and has fun and it’s important everyone understands that from the outset,” says SLSNZ Eastern Region Sports Manager Sonia Keepa.
“At many of our events we don’t record results and there are no medals presented. The main aim is connecting people after multiple interrupted summers and they are really enjoying it,” she says.
Little and local
There’s an added focus of keeping events “little and local”.
Some events historically run over two days are now run over one day. Efforts are being made to reduce overall time on the beach to avoid burnout and ensure participants get the chance to have fun with their mates beyond structured activities.
“It’s about changing perceptions so that whānau see there are ways to participate, compete, and have fun,” says Luke.
Inviting parents on the journey of change
“It’s important for parents to have a good understanding of the wider value of sport, beyond the competition and the role that surf life saving plays in our communities,” says Luke.
Most surf life saving clubs run junior surf programmes for kids aged 6-13 over summer to build confidence and skills on how to be safe around the water and coastal environments.
At the age of 14, it is hoped most junior surf participants will train to become volunteer surf lifeguards and join the more than 4,500 nationwide who patrol our beaches to keep people safe over summer.
Through providing support to parents by educating them on the importance of safety around water at an early age, how to be involved, opportunities to progress to become surf lifeguards, and even career paths, clubs are gaining traction.
“The importance of engaging parents and getting them down to the water’s edge is huge,” says Sonia.
To further engage parents and grow their understanding of what clubs and regions are doing, regions are setting up Good Sports® and Balance is Better workshops for parents that emphasise the importance of the role they play.
“Parents have a bigger role than they realise – it’s not just coaches that have an impact on participants,” says Luke.
Header Image Source: Dscribe Media Services