10 Mar 2020

Keeping up multiple sports key to medals

3:20 pm on 10 March 2020

New Zealand's future sporting success could rely on whether or not different sports are prepared to work together.

New Zealand won six gold medals at the London Olympics in 2012

Getting New Zealanders on the podium could come down to how sports work together to develop athletes. Photo: Supplied

Putting young athletes under pressure to choose one sport over another could have a direct impact on how well Kiwi athletes perform on the international stage, according to High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ).

HPSNZ High Performance Athlete Development Manager Ken Lynch encouraged playing multiple sports, multiple disciplines or activities within a single sport but said parents or coaches often steered young athletes towards early specialisation.

"Many people believe that they can predict future potential at the age of 11, 12 or 13. There are so many variables at play that deciphering them to understand pure potential rather than current performance at that age is extremely difficult," Lynch said.

Lynch said sports should work together rather than against each other to allow athletes to keeping playing multiple codes.

"If we're a little more collegial and a little bit more collaborative and think more about the athlete, the participant at the centre of it, and the impact it has on them, whether it be stress, pressure, mental stress or pressure or physical loading, and kept that at the heart of it then we'd be a lot further along the line," he said.

"Sports where we need to specialise early, we will still need to do that, and in the other sports not specialising early could potentially enhance medal potential for the future.

"In that we have more athletes in the sport, we have less athletes blown out, we have less athletes injured or injured less often."

HPSNZ supported Sport New Zealand's shake-up of youth sport which turns the focus away from winning at youth level to increased emphasis on fun and development.

 mixed kid teams rugby

Children should play several sports according to HPSNZ. Photo: 123RF

New Zealand needs to nurture its athletes to get good results in the long term, Lynch said.

"Our development athletes have less competition exposure than the rest of the world, so that's the type of thing we need to think about and adjust so that we learn faster than our competition, our development is better quality, we retain more people in sport, because we have quite a small population compared to some of our key competitors and we need to take care with our people."

Over the past seven years HPSNZ has surveyed 645 athletes from 22 sports who are on the cusp of becoming a high-performance athlete.

This researched showed athletes played multiple sports until they were around 15 years old. They played 5.5 sports in primary school and 3.1 sports at secondary school.

"These findings support the changes being driven at youth level by the five sports and Sport NZ," Lynch said.

"Specialising later is not going to reduce New Zealand's chances of winning on the world stage, and the right support from parents and coaches is definitely a key ingredient, whether you're in grassroots sport or on a pathway to being an elite athlete."