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Putting the Youth Voice in the Centre Circle

Gisborne Netball Centre has leveraged the power of sport to engage rangatahi, grow confidence and change lives.

The challenge: a sporting decline

Gisborne Netball Centre have seen declining participation from rural communities over the last 30 years. A key factor in this decline has been that young people from remote East Coast areas struggle to overcome large travel distances. In 2019, with the support of Netball NZ, Gisborne Netball Centre aimed to better engage young people in netball on the East Coast. Through a youth-led design process, NetFest was created, which helped reconnect young people with netball through removing some of the travel barriers and creating a more sustainable, accessible opportunity.

Designing with a difference: Youth advisory group

Gisborne Netball Centre (GNC) was committed to an inclusive solution – “no school left out”. This was part of a wider project from Netball New Zealand to lift participation by designing opportunities based on what young people wanted, which was supported by the Sport NZ Women and Girl’s Activation Fund. GNC took a regional approach to engaging wharekura and rangatahi to listen to the youth voice and support them to be active with a new offering. 

GNC found that a youth advisory group would help them achieve their vision of ‘rejuvenating netball for young people on the East Coast’.

Two important lessons were learned by GNC from this engagement process:

  1. Sometimes adult-led solutions aren’t the best approach when designing for young people
  2. Youth-led design takes time. You need to focus on building trust first and give the youth leaders appropriate support to achieve their outcomes

The youth advisory group (which was also framed as a rangatahi leaders’ group) consisted of students from each wharekura. These rangatahi were then supported to whanaungatanga back into their communities as well enquire into:

  • What do young people on the East Coast want?
  • What would it look and feel like?
  • How can we incorporate Te Whare Tapa Wha into the project?

NetFest – a solution shaped by the youth voice

The group came up with NetFest, a way to bring together players from each wharekura and eliminate the travel barrier that was having such an impact on participation in rural communities. In its research, the Youth Advisory Group also discovered that some participants were being discouraged by the competitiveness of traditional netball.

‘NetFest’ featured teams made up of players from different schools to encourage fun and whanaungatanga over competition. Yes, it required more planning in terms of logistics but it was important to shape it based on what young people wanted.

Since students needed bus travel home to rural areas, the only feasible option was to deliver netball in each school during school hours.

Feedback from the students involved was positive and solidified the importance of listening to what young people want when designing opportunities to be active:

The format meant that if we’d never tried the sport, we didn’t feel threatened by traditional netball rules. It gave us the freedom to try another version of the game, without feeling incompetent or less skilled.

In its first year, NetFest engaged eight teams across four wharekura with a focus on areas with no opportunities for participation due to geographic isolation, including Ngata Memorial College, TKKM o Te Waiu o Ngati Porou, TKKM o Kawakawa mai Tawhiti and Te Whaha o Rerekohu.

Monique McLeod of Gisborne Netball Centre believed a few key drivers made a difference:  

“The rangatahi really responded to us caring about what they had to say when planning NetFest. The whakatauki “Me Mahi Tahi Tatou Mo Te Oranga O Te Katoa,” (We work together for the wellbeing of everyone), guided us through this process. It was really rewarding to see rangatahi recognise that this kaupapa was about more than just netball. They loved the injection of whanaungatanga, which helped create an environment that was supportive and enjoyable.

“Covid amongst other things challenged us, but thanks to the amazing support from the wharekura on the coast and Te Runanga o Ngati Porou, we were able to work together and find solutions so that everyone could enjoy some netball and reap the benefits that sports bring us.”

Insights and impact

NetFest East Coast succeeded in engaging rangatahi, particularly young women, who had never played netball or left the sport.  Participants reported improved levels of wellbeing, based on Te Whare Tapa Wha.

Only 16 of the 57 pilot participants were current netball players, with the rest being either new players or those who had come back to the sport after a long break. The majority of participants noted that their confidence improved and said that they were likely to play netball again. Teachers also saw students choosing to play netball on the grass in their free time.

Gisborne Netball Centre has seen significant growth in netball participation as a direct impact of NetFest East Coast. In 2020, 184 players were new to netball with another 90 first-time participants joining in 2021.

Changing attitudes

The success of this initiative has increased awareness in other centres across Aotearoa, highlighting the different or innovative ways of presenting netball (fast 5, walking, beach netball, street ball) to youth. This example shows how listening to the youth voice can lead to great opportunities for people to participate in sport in a flexible, easy way.

Monique says it’s all about being flexible and listening to what the community wants through both insights and giving youth a voice.

It is great to see schools beginning to embrace opportunities that are inclusive for students of all levels and abilities. So often it’s just the competitive and best sports players that get to experience the thrill of inter-school sports. NetFest East Coast proudly advocated that everyone matters.

Image Source: s-c-s from Getty Images

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