Manoj Daji: One-size-fits-all approach misses the mark in sport

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Labour's plans for schools and sports are not right for Auckland, says Monoj Daji, chief executive of College Sport Auckland.

In the Super City region we have about 65,000 students competing in inter-school sport in 41 codes from Monday to Sunday in school weeks. Photo / Chris Callinan
In the Super City region we have about 65,000 students competing in inter-school sport in 41 codes from Monday to Sunday in school weeks. Photo / Chris Callinan

Labour's sport and recreation policy has merit but a one size fits all approach is highly unlikely to work in our Super City of about 100,000 secondary school-aged students. Each region has its own idiosyncrasies which will need to be taken into account. Yes the Christchurch model may have worked but we are talking about a different set of issues in Auckland.

At the top of this list are transportation issues for inter-school sport and ageing teachers who are reducing their involvement in co-curricular sport, especially coaching.

In the Super City region, on average in recent years, we have about 65,000 students competing in inter-school sport in 41 codes from Monday to Sunday in school weeks.

With the sport spread across the week we are battling for venues and facilities. Having all school sport on a given afternoon would not only cause major transportation issues for schools but also place extra pressure on limited facilities and reduce the ability to draw on community volunteers for coaching and officiating, whom we are reliant on.

It would be difficult for many parent helpers to take half a day off to continue what they currently do post 3.30pm with their child's school sport.

In addition, having all inter-school sport on one day is likely to reduce the level of involvement of current participants who may be involved in up to three sports in a season.

As well, to counter the reducing teacher involvement, we have many senior students now coaching junior teams. If we move to one afternoon, senior students will not be able to both play and coach.

Whichever party is in government after the election could do worse than heed the lessons College Sport has gained from its involvement in implementing the Sir John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams secondary pilot in 10 South Auckland schools and supported by Sparc since last year.

For a small investment in each school of about $30,000, spent on coaching and infrastructure support, these schools have increased participation numbers and the level of teacher and outside coach involvement.

The key has been principal buy-in to the proposition that school sport is important, an understanding that teachers and coaches are the people-makers of our nation and the ability for each school to contextualise a sports plan that includes its community and sports clubs.

The results are very encouraging and the idea is not rocket science. On top of sporting outcomes we are seeing improvements in attendance, punctuality, behaviour in and out of the classroom and academic performance as students see the extra opportunities as a reward and not a given right.

As an example, one South Auckland teenager had an attendance rate of 0 per cent before the initiative was introduced. Now he is attending 98 per cent of the time, is involved in his sport and according to his social worker, is rarely in trouble with the police.

Further, intra-school sport in large urban areas is proving an excellent way of improving sports participation reducing the barriers of transportation and costs. Maybe Labour should consider a mandatory 1 hour lunch break in secondary schools on given days dedicated to intra-school, form class, whanau or house sport supported by outside clubs and regional sporting organisations.

Doing this will get all students active as well as introducing them in a non-invasive and less cost-prohibitive way to sporting possibilities.

The time is now. An injection of investment into targeted schools nationwide, similar to the field of dreams pilot, in the area of coaching support is required immediately to arrest the participation drop-offs mentioned by Labour spokesman Trevor Mallard and to protect our unique-in-the-world system of school sport.

We have unemployed graduates and semi-retired people in our community who can be mobilised to serve our school sport system for the benefit of our young people socially, health-wise and in a sporting sense.

- NZ Herald

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