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Top sporting codes shifting youth focus away from hyper-competitiveness to 'fun'

Sport New Zealand and five of the country's leading codes have come together to take a stand for youth sport, encouraging a shift away from over-competitive environments.

Young boys play rugby. Source: istock.com

The chief executives of NZ Rugby, Netball NZ, NZ Cricket, Hockey NZ, NZ Football and Sport NZ have signed a statement of intent while detailing their plan to pave the way for change in the way young people experience sport.

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

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Rugby, hockey, cricket, netball and football are looking to change the experiences of young athletes for the better. Source: Breakfast

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

"Sporting organisations are aware of the problem and some are already making changes, but more is required and the six of us are stepping up to say we will lead the way."

Miskimmin, along with Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie and NZ Cricket boss David White, appeared on TVNZ 1's Breakfast this morning to further explain their thinking, saying it falls back to declining numbers in youth participation and the reasoning for that.

Wyllie said while competition is still important in youth sport, it shouldn't be held as a top priority.

"Children still want to know the score, but I think the most important thing is kids are social creatures," Wyllie said.

"They wake up and they're connected to their peers from the moment they wake up so what's really important for a kid is that they're around their mates and they're having fun."

Miskimmin added today's message was more for parents and coaches than the children themselves.

"Anything that can keep kids in sports for longer, the better," Miskimmin said.

"What we're finding is kids are saying they're not necessarily enjoying the experience because it's through adult eyes, not through kids eyes.

"Any expectations that are on kids about winning or playing are through an adult lens, not the kids' lens so we want to bring fun back, we want to make sure that we don't over-emphasise winning as it's all about development and skill acquisition and just having fun with friends."

Individually and collectively, the five codes said in today's statement of intent they're committed to addressing multiple issues such as supporting young people to play multiple sports, raising awareness of the risks of over-training and overloading and ensuring all young people who play receive a quality experience, irrespective of the level at which they compete.

White told Breakfast Miskimmin and Sport NZ drove the idea.

"It just made sense," White said.

"Today's youth want things on their terms and that's fine. We've modified the way they play cricket now - it goes on for an hour and half because that's what they want.

"They don't want to be dressed in whites at cricket all day. They want to have fun in a short, snappy time.

"We've got to cater and be relevant to the youth of today or we'll lose them."

Miskimmin said the changes won't affect New Zealand's top talent from developing and being discovered.

"Just because you're good at 10 doesn't mean you're going to be a Kane Williamson - everyone develops in their own way and own time and we want to allow as much time for kids to do that."

He added he sees today's announcement as "world-leading".

"We've got five of our major codes getting together saying, 'hey we've got a problem, we've got a similar problem, how do we get together and make a difference?'

"We're making a stand today."