When North Harbour announced they were kicking their junior representative rugby programme to touch, one of the first people to reach out and congratulate them on the initiative was Martin Snedden.

The New Zealand Cricket project leader has been working on ways to increase youth engagement with the country's national summer sport and he knows the resistance Harbour's general manager David Gibson will face.

Snedden said that while the national body would not mandate that the country's member associations ban junior rep cricket, he said the conversation remained "live". The subtext is that in an ideal world NZC would look on as the country's minor and major associations came to that decision themselves.

He commended North Harbour for putting the topic at front and centre.


"Sport needs this conversation. We've been too shy for too long to talk about what is in front of us."

What is in front of them is declining numbers in youth playing sport, particularly traditional team sports.

Snedden has been at the pointy end of implementing "age plus stage" rules nationwide, which aim to make junior cricket a more inclusive experience. Key features of the rules are a reduction in the number of players on the field, kids batting in pairs and shortened pitches to reduce the number of wides and put more balls in play.

The idea is based on a successful Australian programme that in four years has helped arrest declining youth numbers. The programme has been adopted in England, where initial results have also been positive.

NZC will shortly begin surveying its members about the effects of the changes and Snedden said he would be surprised if the feedback wasn't broadly positive.

There are dissenters, however. A deputy principal from an Auckland prep school who also coaches at club level wrote to Snedden (and also shared his letter with the Herald) to raise concerns about the sport's shift in emphasis.

"I... am extremely concerned with the sudden lack of motivation and interest I am witnessing from the players. They are all serious about their cricket and have over 6 years' experience playing for their club. They, like their coaches and parents, see the current rule changes as farcical and a complete waste of their time," the letter read.

"As a coach, I see the rules as insulting to these boys who all play at a very competitive and skillful level in the game. The boys are seriously considering giving up cricket and pursuing other interests."


Snedden said it was important not to push committed coaches and volunteers away, but noted that people who shared the views in this letter "base their arguments entirely on the effect it has on kids they perceive to be the most talented".

Snedden said that like rugby, cricket has come to the realisation that talent ID at junior levels is totally unreliable.

"Exclusion based on perception of talent at that age is detrimental [to the sport]," Snedden said.

"The conversation we are having with our members is that we don't believe it's the right thing to be playing rep cricket at that level. We put significant resource into rep programmes for under 13s that should be put into something else."

Participation in organised sport has become an increasing worry for the country's administrators. A document circulated by Sport NZ to its national sports organisations stated that participation among 18-24-year-olds had declined a staggering 13.9 per cent in the past 16 years.

Snedden said while cricket's junior numbers were holding relatively steady - thanks in large part to a big boost in the wake of the 2015 World Cup - their numbers at youth level were troubling.

"Our problems at that level are even more stark than other team sports," Snedden said.

"We are trying to address it but it's a big bus to turn around."

One of the big issues they have been made aware of is the volume of cricket played. He believes too many kids are asked to play cricket on Saturdays and Sundays at too young an age.

"The amount of junior rep cricket played around the country risks burnout. It's not just burnout of kids, it's burnout of parents too."