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Youngsters’ sport should be enjoyed

Opinion Piece

New Zealand’s five largest-participation sports have created a furore with their moves to make sport fun rather than intensely competitive for young people. But there is much to consider about how Kiwis treat youth sport.

Sport New Zealand, NZ Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ, Netball NZ and NZ Rugby have all signed a statement of intent to make significant changes to children’s sport. They say too much pressure to be competitive is ruining the enjoyment of playing sport for the 600,000 young Kiwis who play one of the five sports each week.

“We’re taking a stand to bring the fun and development focus back to sport for all young people,” says Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin. “This includes pushing back against early specialisation, over-emphasis on winning and other factors that are driving young New Zealanders away from sport.”

Unsurprisingly, the announcement has brought a strong backlash from traditionalists who believe competition and results are the very essence of sport. They say the change would make young people soft and unable to realise life is full of challenges, triumphs and disappointments.

But the concern is changes are needed to stop the dramatic drop-off in participation that occurs, first when children leave intermediate school and when they become teenagers.

Another criticism is young people are encouraged to specialise too soon. Sport NZ wants them to try many sports.

In this sense, it was interesting North Harbour Rugby Union last year canned its under-14 rep team to howls of rage.

One of the biggest reasons children drift away from sport is the behaviour of some parents on the sideline. What they hope to achieve by shouting at young players and officials, or even assaulting the latter, is a mystery.

Sport remains immensely popular with young New Zealanders. What needs to be done is to encourage all youngsters, irrespective of ability, to play and enjoy their chosen sport.