'Gobbledigook' - a different view on youth sport initiatives

12:50 pm on 3 September 2019

Opinion - A stand? No, these alleged youth sport initiatives are little more than a stunt.

empty sport field. soccer goal. generic

No national body is going to make a difference for children's sports, writes Hamish Bidwell. Photo: Unsplash / Glen Carrie

Sport New Zealand and the fine folk from Hockey NZ, NZ Cricket, Netball NZ, NZ Rugby and NZ Football aren't going to do a thing about age-group sport. Not in the small town where I live, nor in the bigger centres where there's money being made via academies and where rugby and rugby league agents routinely sign up kids as young as 11 and 12.

No national body is going to have any impact upon behaviour or culture at our local rugby club. They can't dictate whether children enjoy playing or not.

We're lucky to field full teams most weeks. Coaches aren't picked on merit or suitability; they're merely ill-equipped parents who've been begged into lending a hand.

There's little or no training gear and teams have gone through their 2019 seasons without winning a single game.

And yet we're told that these six organisations have committed to: Ensuring all young people who play our sports receive a quality experience, irrespective of the level at which they compete.

And that they will "ensure that skill development opportunities are offered to more young people.''

Go on then, I dare you. Deliver that here in this wee town. Deliver it anywhere, to be honest.

Rugby's a working class game where I live. Most dads are tradies and call a spade a spade.

Some are quiet during games, while others will pipe up if their child gets the ball.

Good on Sport NZ and company, but a commitment to "leading attitudinal and behavioural change among the sport leaders, coaches, administrators and caregivers involved in youth sport" is just well-intentioned gobbledigook.

It means nothing and has no chance of resonating with the audience I'm part of.

children play soccer

Photo: Unsplash / Adrià Crehuet Cano

Can you imagine the money that's been spent on this already? The lunches and the meetings? The public relations firms and spin doctors who've made a quick buck? All the promotional material that's being prepared for parents who'll never read or receive it?

And how many would understand this stuff anyway?

I'm an engaged, literate parent with a child who's played four sports competitively and plays a fifth for fun. I've not received one word of promotional material about positive parenting, workloads, injury prevention and the like from any of those codes. And nor do I want it.

Youth sport is not without its issues but no-one believes Sport NZ and its fellow signatories are going to do anything about them.

They're not going to fix up first XV rugby. There's too much money in it.

By the time some kids are at intermediate school a pathway towards professional sport has been put in place. Too many people financially depend on that for anything to change.

And then there's these academies, that prey on the vanity of parents. That tell them their child is special and that with the right coaching - at this modest price per term - could become a Lionel Messi or Roger Federer.

Unless Sport NZ, and these well meaning codes, are going to make up the financial shortfall, coaches aren't going to abandon their private and group sessions. They're not going to realise they're making a dishonest living and start coaching kids for free.

Why should they, anyway? If people are dopey or egotistical enough to plough money into their children's pastimes then who are Sport NZ to stop them?

The genie is too far out of the bottle. You can't appeal to people's better judgement or nature anymore. Too many people have lost the plot about kids' sport and too many people are now making a living from it.

You can't ask a parent to mind their language or keep their comments positive on the sideline. You can't even tell them to be quiet.

At best you'll start some kind of row, make a fool of yourself and upset the children. At worst, you'll get your lights punched out.

Unfortunately no amount of advertising, no pamphlets, no coloured bibs for sideline behaviour monitors are going to change that.

We've lost all perspective across the board and sport's no exception and this idea that change is coming or that organisations have taken a stand is laughable.

As good as it might seem on a PowerPoint presentation, it won't pass muster in real life.

Those that need help tend to be blind to their faults, while the rest of us just shrug our shoulders and carry on as normal.

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