It only took me about 30 minutes at Northland's secondary school athletics championships on Thursday to be reminded of how much raw talent we have in the region.

Huanui College's Jayden Himiona took on the boys 2000m steeplechase final and won - all in bare feet.

It might not seem very impressive to win a running race without shoes but for anyone who has run on that rubbery surface, which bakes under a hot sun, they know how uncomfortable that can be, especially going in and out of water.

It's just one of the countless examples of how many talented young sportspeople Northland has and the region's potential to be one of New Zealand's sporting hubs.


It's the same story I get told week after week, meeting with coaches and administrators from a variety of sporting codes who say we have so much raw talent, so many talented youngsters who are coming into the game.

These kinds of comments would fill me with optimism for Northland's sporting future if it weren't for the poaching nature of our major centres. Northland's high schools are consistently raided of their top talent with as many as 10 students making the move down to the likes of Auckland and Hamilton per year.

Now, there can't be any blame put on these kids. They are just chasing their dream as any young sportsperson should be able to do. But it reinforces the importance of providing high-performance pathways for these kids here in Northland.

This is what has been missing from Northland's sporting scene, similar to so many other regions who struggle to hold on to burgeoning talent. A lack of resources, facilities and skilled coaches has always plagued these less-central regions.

It is an interesting time to discuss the effect of high-performance pathways on our young sportspeople after the decision made by North Harbour Rugby to disestablish their rep rugby programmes to promote participation in the game.

On one hand, you can understand why they made that call. Statistics show that numbers in rugby, especially in younger levels, have been falling consistently which North Harbour rugby officials have attributed to kids falling out of love with the game.

A lot of the losses rugby has seen in those lower grades would surely be for health reasons. Sport in New Zealand and abroad has been hit with more and more information about the effect of concussion which will have put doubt into the minds of parents as to whether rugby is the best sport for their child.

Whether removing rep rugby helps or hinders the number of people playing rugby, I don't know. I appreciate the effort because if it does do something to improve participation, they will be called visionaries and if numbers continue to fall, at least they did something to stop the bleeding.


But you think about the kids who want to compete at the top level. Those kids who are driven and skilled in their sport of choice. It's those people who miss out when these high-performance pathways are not installed and must look elsewhere to progress up the sporting ladder.

In Northland's case, the development of these pathways is happening. Northland Rugby has taken steps to create opportunities for younger rugby players which I believe is a move in the right direction.

In a time where Northland's population is growing at a faster rate than most others in the country, common sense says we will have more of this sporting talent enter the region who require more assistance in their sporting growth.

On the morning after the Northland Sports Awards, we are all reminded of how successful our athletes can be. Across the codes, we have seen great achievements, some of whom have stayed in Northland, others have left but still call Northland their home.

Hopefully, as population and resources grow, Northland's sporting bodies can adapt to offer the pathways that our young talent like Jayden Himiona can take advantage of.