Black Fern, All Black say freedom to play outside as kids key to success

Two of New Zealand's biggest sporting stars say kids need to have the freedom to play outdoors without structured coaching, which can lead to "burn out". 

All Black Rieko Ioane and Black Fern Selica Winiata say their skills as professional sports stars were developed in the backyard as kids.

"I'm a firm believer of just playing and how it develops you as a kid," says Ioane.

Ioane says he developed his evasion skills playing spotlight, go-home-stay-home and dodgeball with his big brother Akira and a bunch of local kids on the streets and playgrounds of their Mt Eden neighbourhood.

Black Fern, All Black say freedom to play outside as kids key to success
Photo credit: Supplied.

"Trying to not get tagged or get a ball to the face is a big one!" he says. "Obviously learning how to catch the ball in dodgeball is big, and probably speed you know, trying to get away from being tagged or being 'in' is probably what I still use today.

"There's the social side too - learning how to cooperate with teammates and enjoy the game as best you can."

He says these experiences are a far cry from how kids learn to play sport these days.

"I see my young cousins and there is a lot of structured coaching. I'm not saying that is a bad thing at all, but there needs to be room for play. I obviously prefer less structure and would just go down to the park and kick a ball with my mates. I liked the freedom side of things and learning from experience rather than just learning from being coached. I think that was probably the best lesson I got out of playing," he says.

Black Ferns star Selica Winiata agrees and says it was her freedom to play whatever she liked as a youngster that helped her develop the skills she uses on the field today.

"Kids have got so many years ahead of them, you don't want them burning out at age 13 and 14 and no longer enjoying the sport. So let the kids be kids you know, let them play big. It doesn't matter if they make mistakes, that's actually how they find their feet and rectify it in the next game.

"My advice to parents is don't get hung up on getting the best coach there is in New Zealand to come and coach your kid at such a young age, let them play, find their own feet and their own ways of training. Back when I was a kid my parents just encouraged me to play, and one of the games we used to play as a family was padder tennis," she says.

Black Fern, All Black say freedom to play outside as kids key to success
Photo credit: Supplied.

Whether marking out a court in front of her house with chalk or heading down to the local primary school, she'd be out there with her mates, swotting away with miniature bats.

"We used to play doubles quite a bit and straight away, you know, it's teamwork - the communication between each other because if you don't know what each other is doing on the court it's unlikely that either of you will hit the ball," she says.

David Niethe, Mental Performance Coach, says it is vital for children to have free sport play. "The 'Good Ole Days' when Mum or Nana told us to go outside and play and not come home 'til dinner time were probably most memorable for many," he says.

"Having fun, getting out in the fresh air, on the bikes all day, mucking about in the mud and enjoying time with friends definitely gets the endorphins going and makes for wonderful memories."

Their inspiring childhood memories are now recounted on collector cards found in Weet-Bix wheat biscuits packets as part of the breakfast cereal's Play Big campaign  an initiative that encourages Kiwi kids to develop their skills through everyday play.

The new campaign features a total of 15 Black Ferns and 15 All Blacks, with the collector's cards in packets this month.

Ioane says he hopes the cards will inspire a whole new generation of kids and has the following advice for up and coming rugby stars.

"The most important thing for you to do is just grab a group of mates, a ball and have a kick around and just enjoy yourself while you are young as much as you can," he says.




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