Sports leaders want more fun and less emphasis on winning in kids' sport

Leaders of the country's top five participation sports want to stop negative experiences turning kids away from sport.

Sport NZ, New Zealand Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ, Netball NZ and New Zealand Rugby have all signed a statement of intent to make significant changes to children's sport.

They say too much pressure to be competitive is ruining the enjoyment of playing sport for the 600,000 young Kiwis who play one of the five sports each week.

"We're taking a stand to bring the fun and development focus back to sport for all young people," says Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin.

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

He says while some sporting organisations are already making changes to ensure kids' enjoyment, more action is required. 

Their aims include: 


  • Ensuring all young people have a quality experience while playing sport, regardless of their skill level
  • Changing the attitudes and behaviours of coaches, administrators and parents who are involved in youth sport
  • Changing competition structures and opportunities for player development
  • Reviewing the way talent is identified in teenagers to make sure development opportunities are available to more young people
  • Supporting young people to play multiple sports
  • Raising awareness of the dangers of overtraining and overloading  

The organisations will launch a marketing campaign in 2020 that will raise awareness of these issues among parents, coaches and administrators.

NZ Football CEO Andrew Pragnell says the initiative is about keeping kids in sport.

"We're concerned about the number of kids dropping out because of early specialisation and burnout," he told The AM Show. 

He says playing multiple sports is a much better indicator of future success than being pushed into early specialisation, as well as kids practising alone in their backyard because they love the sport so much.

Head of NZ Rugby Nigel Cass says rep teams at an early age have no correlation with teams for older children.

"Kids who make the under-14s team are unlikely to make the under-19s team for their province, that's just the facts." 

He says those playing at junior levels should focus on learning skills and having fun, "not being told they're too small or not strong enough".

"It's not all about winning. Kids who come off the field after a win are pleased, but they've forgotten about it a lot quicker than their parents have."

Pragnell agrees there should be more of a focus on enjoyment than achievement.

"For me, it's about who's the winning for? You often find it's parents driving that conversation. If you ask kids what they're playing sport for, they're playing sport to have fun with their mates."

"Kids are telling us they want to play and have fun," Cass says. "If the kids aren't enjoying the game, they won't be playing the game."