The changing of seasons has historically seen frustrated parents, flummoxed coaches and overworked athletes. The Covid-19 Pandemic provided an opportunity for New Zealand sports codes to address this.
As one sports season rolls into another, many young athletes historically have found themselves in the middle of the season transition dance – navigating conflicting schedules, extreme training loads, trying not to disappoint their coach by missing a preseason training for a final here, or an important training session for a trial there.
In yesteryear, seasonality between sports was pretty clear. But as offerings grew, often in the vein of offering more development opportunities, winter sports began to creep into the summer season and vice-versa. Unsurprisingly, the increasing overlap of sports seasons between codes has created frustrations for parents, coaches, administrators; and overloaded and led to the burnout of some young athletes.
But more recently, you might have noticed that sport season lengths, and their respective start and end dates have shifted in some sports.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which put pause to a lot of sport, provided many codes, both at national and regional levels of their game, the opportunity to review, reflect and recalibrate their seasons – collectively. It can’t be underestimated how important that last point is – that is the success of these changes, have in no small part been because of the cross-code collaboration.
Guidelines for season transitions
In 2020, Sport New Zealand developed guidelines about season transition in consultation with a wider range of National Sport Organisations. Ultimately, these guidelines were in turn endorsed by 25 National Sport Organisations. Notably, there will always be regional and local differences for when it makes sense to start and finish sport seasons. So, these guidelines have been developed with a locally- ed approach in mind (i.e. it’s hoped the guidelines would promote and guide conversation about making adjustments to sport seasons that were best for the regional and local contexts, not dictate the answers). In 2021, the guidelines were updated.
So, what are the guidelines?
For sport administrators and organisers at national and regional levels, when it comes to wrestling with scheduling, rescheduling, clashes, cancelling and postponements, they should consider…
- In keeping with Balance is Better principles the key consideration should always be what is in the best interests of the participant, rather than the immediate needs of the sport or organisation.
- Balance is Better aims to promote the opportunity for participants to experience a range of sports for as long as possible. A key factor in allowing this is avoiding clashes between winter and summer sports whenever possible.
- Core season length: Lengthy competition and training requirements in many codes cause workload issues and scheduling clashes that have a negative impact on participant well-being. Codes should review their core season lengths with a view to shortening the traditional season length and allowing more room for breaks between seasons and participation in multiple sports.
- Review of traditional summer / winter seasons: With changing weather patterns over the last 20 years, a case can be made for pushing back the traditional starting dates for the summer and winter sporting seasons. Reviewing the traditional seasonality of sports is also reinforced by three important practical considerations:
- Councils and Territorial Authorities require a time window between seasons to prepare and maintain grass fields to an acceptable standard. All grass based sports should work with their Council or Territorial Authority, and other relevant facility owners, to agree on an appropriate preparation window.
- Secondary school sport is organised on the basis of winter sport in Terms 2 & 3 and the holidays that follow, with summer sport in terms 4 & 1 and the holidays that follow.
- Schools are also challenged with providing enough time for rangatahi to complete their academic programme. Sports should be sensitive to exam and internal school workload windows.
- National competition scheduling: It is recognised that the scheduling of national competitions in each sport drives a lot of flow down scheduling issues (e.g. qualification events). Organisers of national competitions should be mindful of the knock-on effect their competitions can have into regional competitions.
- Regional solutions supported nationally: The nature of Community Sport means that regional solutions will be required where Regional Sport Organisations, Regional Sports Trusts, Local Territorial Authorities, College Sport Organisations and other relevant organisations come together to determine what is ideal and practical within that region. Regional Sports Trusts have a key role to play in leading this process in each region and National Sport Organisations will support this work by sharing and promoting these guidelines with their Regional Sport Organisations.
- Pre-season training guidelines: All sports require a pre-season training window of some description before competition starts and this should be factored into scheduling to help prevent injury. However, care should be taken to limit the impact of this period on player workload and to allow participants’ core season commitments in one sport to take priority over pre-season training in another sport should the participant so wish (participant choice rather than compulsion).
- Private coaching and academies: The well-being dangers of inappropriate and excessive private coaching and academies are well established. Codes can not necessarily control the provision of these by private providers, but Regional Sport Organisations can set the tone through their own off-season training programmes and by communicating best practice to players and parents.
What’s happened since?
Since the development of the season transition guidelines, there have been numerous examples of regional conversations to collective review season length and season transition timing, and season length. Typically, these conversations have been facilitated by the region’s Regional Sport Trust, but have also included the following stakeholders:
- Regional Sport Organisations
- Councils, Local Authorities, Territorial Authorities
In a number of regions, formal agreements have been reached across-codes along with other stakeholders about defining season windows and season lengths.
You can read about some of these stories below:
“Sports see this opportunity to put the wellbeing of our mātātahi first,”Sport Canterbury Chief Executive, Julyan Falloon
“It’s around enjoyment and friends and getting a cross-section of skills and everything else that are the key social fabrics of why you play sport.”Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union Chief Executive, Jay Campbell
“We are stronger when we are all working together and if we can play our role in keeping young people involved in sport for life, then everyone benefits.”Wellington Cricket Chief Executive, Cam Mitchell.
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