It was good to see Sport NZ drive some key messages out into the media this week regarding the issues and challenges they see in youth sport. It triggered some good debate, but there are some questions still left unanswered for some.
Sport NZ has partnered with five major sport codes to get out a joint statement promoting some positive values and policies around keeping sport fun for the youth.
Some of the main debate coming back from the sport community was around the position that talent can't be recognised at a young age, or around rep teams and being too competitive. Most of the other stuff around good adult behaviour is a no-brainer, but these points seemed to create the biggest push back from the sport community.
Whilst the message that talent can't be spotted at 12 or even 15 years has good intentions, it is also a message that can quickly lose credibility with many people who know sport well and have been at the coal face for many years. And losing that respect can unfortunately tarnish the collective message we need to get across.
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I absolutely support Sport NZ's general message but, like it or not, there will be thousands of people around the country who will be able to cite examples of successful high-performing athletes who were identified at a young age – so that message alone can put people off, and sidetrack them from taking on the other key points.
Similarly with rep teams. Yes, we want to maximise engagement and grow participation with good-quality experiences, but does having a rep team necessarily have to detract from all that?
Are the rep teams themselves the problem? Or is it an issue in our wider community, and our lack of ability to mitigate the negative knock-on effects related to the rep teams?
Rep teams can be a great experience where great friendships are forged and kids get inspired, so perhaps we all need to do more to pick up the others who missed out, and give them the belief, rather than just cut out the rep teams.
Sport NZ are right, there is a risk with identifying and picking teams too early, as we end up with the haves and the have-nots. Some kids get more quality coaching and matches and others miss out.
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Those who miss out need to be kept in the game, so let's use it as a resilience lesson; pick them up, don't worry about it, bounce back, and build the belief.
The message given this week that talent will always come through perhaps needs to also be reworded.
Saying the kids with talent will always get there just seems to contradict the very message we are trying to promote – rather than promote talent, instead let's talk hard work and fun as the way to get you there.
If it was all about the talent, then all the kids missing out on the rep teams will think they haven't got the talent, and that they will never make it.
The message that kids are walking away from sport because they are not getting the experience they want is important to keep front of mind, but we need to also hit on other factors leading to the drop in numbers participating.
For a start, there are so many lifestyle options these days, and more recreational sport, it's not all about organised sport any more.
But the big one we surely need more powerful messaging and leadership on, is the overuse of devices. Why aren't we pushing back on devices and talking about that impact on sport? The overuse injuries from devices will be far worse than the overuse injuries from too much sport.
And it's not just the kids on devices, parents are on them too, and it is parents who buy their kids the flash phones and tablets.
Instead of parents complaining and making excuses for their kid not making a team, maybe get out on the field and do some practice with them – promote the fun, the hard work, and build their confidence.
Parents spending less time on the devices and getting out with the kids will be great for parent health as well – let alone all the mental and physical benefits for the kids.
A young person staying, and succeeding, in sport is always going to be a combination of the innate talent they have, and the environment they have around them - and parents have the biggest impact on that.
Sport can provide those life lessons of missing out, the ability to carry on and bounce back, having those opportunities to fail and how to handle it, those experiences and lessons may in some small way help with our rising rates of youth suicide.
Sport NZ aren't saying don't compete, and in fact don't worry, competing is a major part of the fun. Ideally, we keep as many little kids enthused and excited about sport as possible.
With the big AIMS Games on next week in Tauranga, the messages from the collective couldn't have been timed better. Many of those negative elements of youth sport flourish at the tournament, so it's a good reminder for all to keep it real and keep it fun for the intermediate aged participants.
They should always strive to win, but at the end of the day it has got to be about development for the younger ones. Development over winning, 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.