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

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

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Creating a positive parent culture

Creating a positive parent culture

Unpacking the Balance is Better principle – Collective Attitudinal Change

“Sport leaders, coaches, administrators, parents, and caregivers involved in youth sport must collectively lead attitudinal change.” In this video, Sport Development Consultants Alex Chiet and Hamish Rogers, unpack the Balance is Better principle – Collective Attitudinal Change.

Key points: 

  • Sport plays an important role in our society. Positive sport experiences benefits us as individuals and as communities. Sport helps to support and build our individual and collective health and wellbeing. Sport helps to grow and develop individuals holistically. Sport connects communities. 
  • However, the benefits of sport can become overshadowed or diminished, when there is an overemphasis on winning, or unnecessary high-performance behaviours creep into the youth sport space. 
  • So, when we think about attitudinal change, it is about lifting up all the benefits of sport when designing and delivering sport for young people (e.g. coaching, parenting, administering). It’s about thinking how these benefits are supported and promoted, alongside winning and competition. 
  • Shifting individuals’ attitudes, when it comes to youth sport, often starts with prompting people to critically reflect (e.g. asking questions of themselves such as, “What do I think the purpose of youth sport is?”, “Why do the young people I know play youth sport?”, etc.). The purpose of critical reflection is for individuals to surface any assumptions they might hold about youth sport (a person may not be aware that they even hold some of these assumptions).  
  • One way of promoting adults to critically reflect is to get them to ask the young people they know, “why they play sport?”. Then compare these answers to their own assumptions about why young people play sport (and their motivations to support young people in sport). 
  • People promoting attitude change should use evidence, research, and stories (such as athlete stories, positive impact stories from changes) to help guide and shift adult attitudes. 
  • Finally, a collective approach to attitude change is important. This is because, connecting people between different sports, settings, roles etc, allows them to share different perspectives (and therefore learn). Also, taking a collective stance on change (such as has been done by creating regional Memorandum of Understandings around Balance is Better with strong tangible actions such as adjusting season length, communicating together, scheduling coordination etc.) signals to others the importance of the change, and demonstrates the importance of collective leadership. 

Transcript 

*Please note, the following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

HR: Alex, today, we’re talking about the Balance is Better principles and one of them is around collective attitudinal change. So, specifically sports leaders, coaches, administrators, parents, and caregivers involved, and you support us collectively lead attitudinal change. For those of us who might be new to Balance is Better, what do we mean by collective attitudinal change? 

AC: Yeah, thanks. Hamish. It’s really important that people understand the true value of sport and our lives and in our communities. So, there’s a much, much bigger picture than winning every game and winning from a young age. And that’s just about the place that sport has in terms of the wellbeing of our young people and ourselves as humans later on in life. So, it’s much, much bigger than a win or a loss. So, if I start to unpack that a little bit more, we believe that a quality sport experience can add value in a way that other physical activity can’t. 

So, we talk about happier, healthier and stronger people and communities. When we use those words, well, that’s about, you know, your physical health. I think people understand the benefits of sport and physical activity in that way, in terms of our heart and our health. 

The mental health side, it’s been spoken about more and more now, especially as we go through this COVID environment and how exercise is so important to our mental wellbeing, our spiritual wellbeing, but also in terms of cognitive function and academic achievement for young people, how we function in our roles at work and communities.  

Life skills and watch sport equality, sporting environment can nurture when we start to think about teamwork, leadership self-confidence that can develop. 

So, there’s so much more there. Then you could even go into better connected communities, and when we talk about the social networks, the sense of belonging and camaraderie, not just the athletes, but the communities around sport. 

I’ve just had a breakup from my young son’s under-8 football, where we came together. Had a parent versus kid’s game, and then shared lunch and that sense of belonging and comradery is just pretty special. And, sport has a great opportunity to do that at multiple levels. You know, it just brings communities together and you can shape the right behaviours. 

So, when we start to think about collective attitudinal change, it’s about saying, well, this is why sport is so great. And this is, in a sense, the secret sauce that sport can provide for communities. But unfortunately, that value is not seen, or it’s not seen for long enough in tamariki and rangatahi, child and youth sport, because these high-performance behaviours creep in and there’s too much of an emphasis on winning, which often leads to not everyone getting a quality experience. 

So, we start to get into a place where, we talk about social change or cultural change, attitudinal change. So, it’s trying to lift this up a little bit more, so people understand that “yes, we want people to go out and win and we want people to enjoy their sporting experience”, but that’s not the be-all and end-all, there’s much more important factors at play here in the role that sport has in our lives as people. 

HR: So, listening to that and playing it back what I’m hearing is there’s a “value sport” piece, and that probably leans into the, the “so what?” or the purpose that sport plays in people’s lives. And I think too often, we don’t bring that conversation or that thinking front and centre. Actually going, “Hey, this is either underpinning or overlaid over the top of everything we see.” And so to me, there’s a piece around critically reflecting on, I guess why, why do we do the things we do? And, and we can kind of layer that into sport. 

It’s interesting. I’ve seen people do this and have some good ‘Eureka moments’, so an example might be talking to the ‘winning conversation’ and asking them [adults] well, what’s important in sport for you. And how do you measure that? 

If you want people to become more critically reflective and think more about the value of sport and all the things we’ve talked about and make sure that that’s more present in how they think about sport, how they support it, how they design it –  What can people do? How, how can we help people to become more critically reflective? 

AC: Yeah, look, it’s a tricky question, I suppose. I’d start with, well, it depends if someone’s gate to change is open. So, if they’re willing to change and they’re open, they’re willing to hear and listen to a conversation or a perspective that’s different from their own. That’s probably a great place to start. 

It’s really hard to change someone if they don’t think there’s another way and they stay wedded to their belief base, whatever that’s been sort of formed on. It’s sort of like, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make a drink. So really if someone’s open to listening and hearing, the discussion and the conversation and the evidence then that’s a great place to start. 

You know who we had here in New Zealand, we had Ken Martel from USA Hockey out a few years ago. And he spoke about, the challenges in this place or why attitudinal change to sport, how we measure success and looking at success differently. But, a lot of people think they know and, they think they know based on previous experiences. A term he used was, “do you think, or do you know.” We know we’ve done the homework. We’ve got the evidence. We’ve got the research. So, it’s how we shift that conversation. So, you know, really hard for people to be critically reflective if they’re not open to thinking differently. 

If I was to give a few tips, I’ll just say, you know, be open to the conversation, talk to your kids, talk to the kids, ask them why they play. They’ll tell you. They’ll tell you the top reasons. This comes out in our research – to be with your mates, to enjoy yourself, to learn new skills. It’s not the winning. They will tell you what they enjoy. Think about what you want for your child? What do you want for them? You know, as a parent, what do you want for them? 

Do you want them to be the next Tiger Woods actually? Or do you want them to shape some positive habits, be happy and be active through their life and be healthy because that’s such a challenge in this day and age for parents. So, just really think about what actually happiness looks like for your child. 

And then be engaged, like educate yourself. So, you know, be curious, go and find more information. You know, there’s plenty to read on our site and many others, there’s lots of videos, there’s case studies and stories of some of our top athletes that support these messages. So be curious and go and learn. 

It’s tough if you don’t want to change or if you think your way is right. I think it just starts with being curious and wanting to learn and being open to some different perspectives.  

HR: Awesome Alex, thanks for that. There’s some fantastic advice there. I might put you on the spot a little bit, because I think there’s a great segue on that last point around being curious for people who want to become more critically reflective about youth sport, what are perhaps two, three key questions they should try ask themselves or try to keep front and centre, in terms how they think about youth sport? 

AC: Well, probably just start with what do the kids want? So, you know, you start with asking the kids and then once you get that answer, maybe asking themselves what do I think the kids want, and look at the gap or the discrepancy, and then, well, what does this mean? What does this mean for me? And maybe that’s been about – I need to start changing some of my behaviours. I need to start doing things differently. And that might be about how I conduct myself on a side-line, that might be about the questions I ask when the kids get home, that might be stepping off on some of those conversations that I have, that are unnecessary that might be driving them out of sport. 

There are many places you could go, but there’s probably some simple questions first that start with the kids and start with yourself, and sort of reflecting around how does that sit with what you believe and think?  

HR:  Alex. Some great advice there. We’ll drop some, additional links to, to relevant resources in the show notes. Before we sign off any final words from you, Alex. 

AC: Well, probably one thing I didn’t touch on while we talk about attitudinal change, or social change, cultural change, however you look at it, you know, we, we talk a lot about changing the measures of success. So, it’s promoting some of those other things we spoke bout, you know, it’s too easy to measure development by a win or a loss versus taking a longer-term view around appropriate development.  

The one thing I’d probably throw in here, we talk about attitudinal change, but it’s the word at the front of that? And the Balance is Better principles which is collective attitudinal change. So collective for us has meant, it’s not about each sport fighting this by themselves. It’s about sports working together to tackle change and something that served us very well is sports seeing that they’re fighting the same common enemy here. So rather than tackling it within their own sport, actually tackling it together with other sports at national, regional and local levels, has been significant in terms of some of the momentum and the shifts we’re getting here. 

You know, go back to 2019 where we had five sports on a collective memorandum of understanding to tackle Balance is Better aligned changes, say, “enough is enough, we know better, we’ve got to put the kids first”. 

That’s now grown to 15 sports that have signed that at a national level. We’re seeing regional MoUs around season transitions. We’re seeing local networks, schools, people changing things. So, that’s, a really. Constant sort of message around, working together with other sports councils, other providers, schools, it’s so important in this change. 

And it’s something that, again is hard because we are all very busy in our own sport or our own context to create and make space to work outside of your boundaries or swim outside of your lane. But our leaders are doing that and we’re seeing great results. And I think it’s something that here in New Zealand is sort of a competitive advantage, something that we’re doing well. And that is probably hard for other countries to replicate given the size, scale and numbers. So that’s probably just another point to add. 

HR: It really relates to me, around the value and being able to do these things alongside other people. And I think there’s a real value, whether you’re a parent or a coach and being able to just start having conversations and getting new perspectives, through to leaders of different organizations, people working in clubs, schools, regional sport organizations, national bodies. To be able to look over the fence and see how else are people thinking about this? And then also as you said, celebrating collectively some of the successes, that we do see in terms of change. 

We’ll, we’ll finish it there. Thanks again, Alex, for your time. As I said to the viewers, we’ll provide some additional notes and links below. 

Useful links 

Collaborating for (better) impact 
Sports Bodies Join Together to Change Youth Sport 
Sports stand together to make the 2021 winter season special 
Working with parents – three key considerations for sport leaders and administrators 
The value of sport in challenging times 
Setting coaches up for success – A guide for Sport Leaders & Administrators 
Canterbury Commits to Season of Change 

Image Source: Canva

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