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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

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Q&A with Balance is Better Champion, Jack Wang

Tell us a bit about you and where you grew up. 

I’m currently a badminton player in the Badminton New Zealand Development Squad, and a student at the University of Auckland. I was born and grew up in Christchurch with my family, who took the plunge to move from China to New Zealand a little while back.

How did you first get involved in sport?

My first involvement with sport was either in primary school in Year 1, or with my family when I was about four or five. In primary, we all needed to play a sport, so I chose rugby and cricket. My family on the other hand had just started playing badminton since my older brother picked it up, so I joined them when they played at badminton club.

Why was sport important to you? How did it shape you personally?

Sport was important to me as a way to spend time with my friends and family while having fun. I was a kid that always wanted to have fun and sport appealed to me quite well. Later on, it also became a way to stay physically healthy and a way to get away from schoolwork when I didn’t really want to do any more homework. Sport has become such a large part of my life, it’s shaped quite a lot of me. It has helped me develop a strong work ethic, perseverance, and self-care (especially when injured), to name a few.

Were there any special people that had a positive impact on you? Who were they and why?

Family, friends, and coaches definitely had a positive impact. My mum and brother especially were very important in keeping me going when I was down and considering quitting sport altogether, and they’ve celebrated the highs with me too. One group of people that really helped me were my school teachers. They were all very considerate of my sporting commitments, especially in high school when I had to take time off for badminton. I was very lucky to have them aid me academically and with sport. They showed me it was possible to juggle academics and sport, something that I needed to learn.

What are the highlights of your sporting career?

Admittedly my sporting career has mostly been in the junior ranks, but in the senior level one of the best highs so far was winning the Men’s Doubles discipline at the Oceania Championships in 2022 with my partner. It’s probably the biggest senior competition I have competed at, so winning it was a complete thrill and a bit of a shock. I was also runner up in the National Individual Championships in 2022, again in the Men’s Doubles discipline.

Are there any important lessons you learned that you’d share with young people?

Sport is all about failure. There isn’t a single person who has played sport and won every match, or got into every team they wanted, or met every expectation and goal they set. Academia, cultural, musical, and other activities also expose people to failure, but not as much as sport does. Failure in sport can occur daily, or even multiple times a day. I think this teaches people how to handle failure, and how to be resilient. Resilience is an important and applicable skill to everyone. It isn’t about if they fail, it’s about how you bounce back for the next time.

Why is being a Balance is Better Champion important to you?

Being a Balance is Better Champion is important to me as I think that sport is beneficial for everyone, for their general wellbeing, not only physical health. It’s fun and should give people a sense of community, as well as an opportunity to try something they haven’t done before. It’s also a good way to de-stress and unwind from the pressures that people experience in life, and getting a sweat on never hurts!

What do you hope to achieve in being a Champion for the programme?

I hope to be able to promote badminton as a sport to more people so they’ll try it and pick up a racket. Badminton isn’t the biggest sport in New Zealand, but that doesn’t matter if some people give it a go, I’m more interested in the fact people try something new.

Why does the Balance is Better Champions programme excite you?

I believe the Balance is Better Champions programme is very beneficial to young people. They are finding their way in life, and that may lead to them dropping sport to pursue other goals, but I’ve also had lots of friends who have come back after a few years because they missed that feeling. I think just continuing to play sport throughout those years will be very beneficial to their wellbeing, and a programme like Balance is Better promotes this idea very well.

If there was one or two pieces of advice you could give to people supporting young people in sport, what would it be?

I think my main point is just to let them try their own thing, and let them make their own mistakes. Some people may be afraid of making mistakes, or letting others make mistakes, but I believe it is one of the best ways to grow. When they might seem stuck with how to bounce back, being there to help them is a very important role of those aiding young people.

What value do you feel sport gives to young people who are involved at all levels?

I’ve said this a few times, but wellbeing. Sport improves lots of aspects of wellbeing; physical is the obvious one. Mental wellbeing is also improved, sport is very useful as a de-stressor, and the social aspect is also encompassed as sport can strengthen bonds between young people. It can also help with spiritual wellbeing, giving people a community where they can relax, have fun, and form lasting relationships.

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