Winter is starting to loom, and one good thing about it is kids' sport.

Ah yes, one of the great traditions of the Kiwi lifestyle, so many of us oldies still treasure those great years of Saturday morning sport.

It should be among the best times of our lives, free and easy kids playing sport for the pure joy and excitement of being with a bunch of teammates, competing against our rivals.

We as adults need to make sure it remains that way, competitive fun, and all about the kids. But we are faced with an increasingly serious phenomenon of competitive sporting issues driving further down the sporting pathway into primary schools.


Slowly but surely, we are seeing a greater emphasis on winning. Winning in itself sounds okay, but it is all the other baggage that focus brings with it.

Too often we are seeing high-performance values applied in the children's space, and naturally some parents worry that if their kid isn't on that pathway from the start they will miss the boat.

Often schools will talk about the overzealous interest coming from parents, but some schools bring this upon themselves.

By placing a focus on selecting top teams for the primary school, running trials, extra trainings for the identified "top kids", then of course extra attention and questions are going to be asked of the school system.

Social media these days doesn't help the situation – just go look at Facebook come Ross Shield season.

Some sports, like netball, are going away from rep teams for kids as old as 13 for these very reasons, yet we still select top teams at primary schools.

The risk with identifying and picking teams too early is we end up with the haves and the have nots. We have some kids getting more quality coaching than others. Selections can mean it's all about me, and not about the team.

If I get branded as talented by family, teachers, or coaches, that eventually comes with pressure. No longer is expectation upon the team, it is now on me to live up to the pressure and accolades.


Ideally we keep as many little kids as enthused and excited about sport as possible. By conducting selections some are going to miss out, not be with their mates, lose belief and give up. As an adult system then, we have failed.

Humans develop at different rates, the little ones at primary school age will catch up on strength in the long run, and will most likely be the most resilient and smarter than the early developers, so we need to keep the little ones involved.

The challenge is to get the balance right. On one hand keep all participating, and on the other provide challenges for the more advanced athlete (just as we might in academia).

Chucking all the early developing kids into one team can mean they are deemed "talented", somehow gifted, and therefore don't have to work hard. Also it means they might not learn how to lose – we need to learn how to lose before we can win.

Instead of all this elite focus, we should focus on the true essence of sport for our kids.

Try to instil the best values and grounding as possible. The world is an increasingly crazy place, and sport can be one thing that brings us all back down to ground.

Ultimately it has to be fun. But before you roll your eyes, fun doesn't mean all giggling and laughing, mucking around and going soft. Fun can include going hard to kick the other team's butt.

Fun includes being part of a team, fighting hard to work together, and doing well for your teammates. Fun also comes from feeling you are improving and getting better at your skills.

So fun can be quite a serious business. It ain't just goofing around.

And all that fun doesn't necessarily include winning. Sure, we can learn to fight tooth and nail, and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with that, but whether we actually win or not as a kid isn't really that important.

But to set that up, we need to have performance goals, rather than outcomes focused on winning. Goals so the kids are focused on what it means to play sport and be in a team – things like sticking together, never dropping your lip, never giving up, playing hard and learning respect – respect for your opposition, the referee, parents, and all involved.

Even a high-performance professional team will tend to focus on the performance rather than winning, knowing that if they do perform as intended, they are more likely to win – and also knowing that if they think about the enormity of winning too much, they only get distracted from the task at hand, and only end up depressed if they lose.

What is more important – winning the game, or developing the kids? It should be obvious, but sadly it isn't.

• Marcus Agnew is the health and sport development manager at Hawke's Bay Community Fitness Centre Trust and a lecturer in sports science at EIT.