On the back of the Sport NZ push promoting fun in sport, along with the support from five major codes, the mighty AIMS Games event took over the Bay of Plenty last week.
Sport NZ has just rolled out messages promoting fun first, discouraging selection of top teams and not specialising in sports too early. The potential concern is that AIMS Games becomes a hotbed for all those things that we don't want to see in kids' sport, and we see high performance type pressure imposed upon them well before they are ready.
While the AIMS Games may have been accused of having such issues in the past, perhaps some of the Sport NZ messages are getting through to the community, as I certainly didn't observe any untoward behaviour as I made my way around the impressive sporting facilities.
With 23 different sports on offer, the AIMS Games doesn't seem to be slowing down. Eleven thousand and five hundred athletes reportedly attended, 1000 more than attended the Rio Olympics. The young sports people seem to be voting with their feet – they spread the word back in their home towns of their great experiences, and so the interest grows, with more wanting to come back next year.
As with junior rep teams, it's not necessarily the team itself, or in this case the event that is the problem, the problem is more around how the adults manage their behaviours and messages conveyed to the youth, and how the competition structures are set up.
The kids and the game are not the problem, it's how we manage all the periphery activity.
Let's not throw out the events, let's manage education around an event. Let's manage the social media, manage the sponsors, manage the messaging to parents and administrators
Promoting work-ethic, teamwork, fun – rather than words like gifted or talented. Shared playing time among the whole squad, which says team comes before winning at this age. Let's promote humility and leadership messages to the kids, so they can lead and take those messages back to their home schools.
Many of these things are promoted well at AIMS, and awards were given out to sporting behaviours from players, supporters and administrators.
Medals – is it compulsory to hand out an individual medal given to the 'best' player in each team – no it isn't, and many coaches chose not to use their team medal they were issued, and only presented it if it was truly warranted.
But aside from the actual goings on at the event, one of the big challenges for Sport NZ and the codes, is what about all the other thousands of kids who didn't get a chance to attend AIMs, and those that don't make a rep team.
Missing out on selection in itself is not a bad thing, it is a real-life lesson, and an opportunity to learn how to respond. But where it becomes a tricky challenge for administrators, is that under the current model some youngsters get a whole lot of extra games and development, while others miss out, and so a divide emerges between those that were selected, and those that didn't get on the bandwagon.
Those kids that get the little bit extra love it, and it is great experience for them, so we don't want to take that away just to even up the score. The opportunity is to provide more for all those other kids, lift them up and create more cool events that do align directly with the ethos Sport NZ is promoting.
An emerging event is the Super Sixes Hawke's Bay – an event for Year 6 students run over two days, where students are encouraged to sample new sports, and compete in a fun environment. Events like this could certainly grow in the next few years.
So the AIMS Games is far from all bad, and the more collaboration the better, to help make it a positive event for all of sport in New Zealand.
Certainly here in Hawke's Bay there were some inspiring performers, none more that the Taradale Intermediate hockey team who won their competition, and will have inspired many more Taradale kids to get into hockey.
Some kids absolutely love the competitive environment, are ready for it, and handle it no problems. For others that competitive drive will come later.
One of the biggest talking points for people during and post the AIMS Games will be the so-called 'talented' young athletes spotted. This was no doubt there were some kids there with serious ability and potential, but best to downplay it – it's far too easy to pump up their tyres and have them get ahead of themselves, and with that will come all the pressure and expectation of being identified so young.
They don't need it - keep them humble, keep it about the team, focus on the fun and reward the effort.
*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.