Dillon Boucher's message to kids is simple: don't play one sport, play all of them.
The former Tall Black, who credits a lot of his success to a varied sporting background that lasted well into high school, came to Hawke's Bay on Monday and Tuesday to speak at forums with local sporting bodies, clubs and secondary schools as an ambassador for Sport New Zealand's Balance is Better philosophy.
The message addresses declining participation rates in sport among secondary school children around the country, by moving away from early specialisation, overtraining and winning more than development.
Boucher said he wanted to make sure everyone understands the idea and all the evidence backing it up, particularly given his own sporting path.
"I pretty much played every sport going through school, I wasn't pushed to specialise early, I was quite fortunate," he said.
Rugby, cricket, tennis, badminton, football, volleyball and touch were all important to Boucher before he really fell in love with basketball in Year 12 at high school, and started taking it more seriously.
He said there is much more pressure on and overexposure of young athletes nowadays, having seen what happens as a professional basketball coach, as general manager of the New Zealand Breakers and with his own kids as a parent.
"Being able to see it with three different hats on, which is why I'm so passionate about getting that balance right," Boucher said
"Most people play sport purely for fun, and then if they become good at it they have an opportunity to pursue it further. But you normally start playing sport because you're having fun with your mates."
He said Balance is Better was about keeping it fun for kids by making sure they have a good balance between their schoolwork, sport, social and family time.
"So many times we see these top athletes doing so much with their sport they isolate themselves from social situations and family time, which is so important," Boucher said.
"Sports are trying to grab kids at a younger age, seeing a big kid, or seeing a naturally talented kid and trying to get them to commit to their sport so they can develop them, so by about 18 or 19 they're the player they want them to be," he said, adding this approach fuels the fear that without specialising you can't progress.
But Boucher is adamant kids can develop different skillsets from playing different sports, and the best players will always reach their best, even with less of a focus on high performance.
"The cream always rises to the top, and I think if you've got bigger numbers to choose from, then you'll see the cream naturally go to the top anyway," he said.
"I truly believe that schools are getting so competitive because they want to be seen as the top school in sport, so they're putting a lot more pressure on the kids to train harder and train longer, and things like that.
"There's kids that wanna just have fun, that don't wanna take it too seriously, and there's others that really wanna pursue a sport, and that's okay as well."