The country's five biggest sporting codes are vowing to be less competitive and more fun as they try to tackle a growing number of teens dropping out.

New Zealand Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ, Netball NZ and New Zealand Rugby have signed a statement of intent to make major changes to the way kids play sport so it is more inclusive and not just focused on the winners.

The proposed measures include changing the competitive mindset in adults, reviewing national and regional representative tournaments and looking at how talent is identified with teenagers.

But a top Kiwi athlete is sceptical about the changes, warning that just like life, sport gets more competitive in the teenage years.


Double Olympic gold medalist rower Eric Murray told the Herald: "I understand the need to keep people in specific sports, participating and having fun, and that to me is fine until a certain age, but once in their teens, life gets competitive ... so sport should be no different."

About 600,000 kids participate in the five main sport codes each week - but that number falls once they become teenagers.

Sport NZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin said some sport groups were already making changes to bring the fun and development focus back to sport, but more needed to be done to keep kids in sport for life.

"This includes pushing back against early specialisation, over-emphasis on winning and other factors that are driving young New Zealanders away from sport," he said.

"A lot of this is changing old myths that in fact if you want to be the next Beauden Barrett you've got to start at age 11. The answer is, 'You don't'."

Double Olympic rowing gold medalist Eric Murray says sport, like life, gets more competitive in the teenage years. Photo / Supplied
Double Olympic rowing gold medalist Eric Murray says sport, like life, gets more competitive in the teenage years. Photo / Supplied

While each code had its own approach, there would be a strong focus on training and supporting parents and coaches to think about what kids wanted - such as fun and playing with friends - rather than what adults wanted.

The sporting organisations have also committed to making sure all kids irrespective of level had a quality experience, providing leadership support on changes to competition structures and player development opportunities, supporting young people to play multiple sports and raising awareness of over-training and over-loading.

One of the biggest challenges the codes faced was the large number of kids dropping out between 13 and 18 when specialisation and over-focus on competition often kicked in.


"No matter what your level, interest or ability is - what we don't want to have is school have First XI, Second XI and no others. We want them to have many different teams.

"We know of sports that are having under-8, under-9, under-10 rep teams. That is not right - that's excluding kids from that opportunity."

At the beginning of this year North Harbour Rugby Union became New Zealand's first provincial union to dissolve its junior rep programme for children under 14.

NHRU general manager David Gibson said the change to make rugby a more enjoyable experience for kids had been well received by most, but not all.

Former Black Cap Andrew Ellis says kids sport should be focused on friendship and run. Photo /
Former Black Cap Andrew Ellis says kids sport should be focused on friendship and run. Photo /

The introduction of non-contact Rippa rugby for boys aged 8-13 had also resulted in a 22 per cent increase in junior club registrations.

In 2017, Netball Mainland canned representative teams for those under high school age.


Hockey NZ chief executive Ian Francis confirmed it was reviewing its future tournaments for children under 15 to encourage accessible quality development opportunities. Other sports are also expected to make changes.

Former Black Cap Andrew Ellis believed the new approach would work because it was focused on what kids wanted - friendships and fun.

"I think the whole competitive thing - that successful athletes focus on winning - is a bit of an adult concept that we've tried to push on to young people and that's the type of thing we are trying to dispel."

New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said it was encouraging kids to play a variety of sports to "create more rounded and socially-balanced individuals".

The latest initiatives come after ACC called in June for parents to limit how much organised sports children played each week following a dramatic rise in injury numbers.