24 Apr 2018

Stop the obsession with winning: Sport NZ

From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am on 24 April 2018

New Zealanders love winning at sport, but paradoxically, a sports umbrella group says that obsession may be reducing children's involvement and stopping them being active.

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Photo: Photosport

In the last 16 years participation in sport among 18 to 24-year-olds has dropped by nearly 14 percent.

Sport club membership has also declined by 11 percent - all at a time when obesity and diabetes rates are steadily rising.

Sport New Zealand talent consultant Alex Chiet told Nine to Noon too many young athletes were specialising in one code too early, which had led to a growing number of parents who believed their kids might be the next All Black or Silver Fern enrolling them in elite academies and sports programmes.

He said some secondary schools were using sport as a marketing tool to attract children, which was a real concern.

"[These] kids are at a fundamental stage in their development when there's lots going on in their bodies and some of these environments are starting to look like professional environments with full-time strength and conditioning coaches.

"There's workloads going into some of these young kids that even professional athletes wouldn't be doing and this isn't driven around what's best for an athlete reaching their potential as a 25 or 30-year-old, it's about setting an outcome in a short time frame, perhaps a season, which is going to help another organisation look good."

Research showed most kids who began playing sport at a basic level just wanted to have fun and parents needed to be aware of that, Mr Chiet said.

"They really need to understand and listen to their children; what do they want? Let them ... go out and have fun and be with their mates, they're not young for long.

"Lots of the research we've seen [shows] when you force kids into these environments, when it's time to knuckle down and put the hard work in, kids are dropping out. They're getting over-use injuries, they're already mentally and physically exhausted just when they need to start putting the time in, because they've specialised from when they're far too young.

"Therefore they're actually falling out of love with sport, going into different areas and not seeing the bigger picture of having a healthy active lifestyle, because they're suddenly just exhausted and want to walk away from things."

Mr Chiet said parents needed to realise only about 1 percent of children involved in sport would actually go on to achieve at an elite level.

Sporting codes were also focussing too much of their meagre resources on the minority, rather than making sport a great experience for all, he said.

Sports were also trying to get more out of parents, Mr Chiet said, so if a child showed promise, parents were encouraged to enrol them at sports camps and other training, which could extend a six month season out to nine or 10 months and could also be costly.

He said in the case of his own children, he coached them at football for the first two years when no scores or standings were recorded, but things changed when they entered the 9th grade competition.

"Suddenly there's select teams and ... a club has to choose 20 kids which are the best future talent. So suddenly 20 kids are in a good team and the other 80 are treated as second-class citizens.

"The small group train twice a week, have better coaches ... and then suddenly this group of 20 kids get access to tournaments and the other 80 don't."

Mr Chiet said he took his own son out of an elite team because he just wanted to be able to play with his friends.

The focus for children should not be on winning, but on enjoying sport for life, he said.