Top US official arrives in NZ to help turn around slide in youth sport participation: 'Let kids be kids'

Leading American sport official Ken Martel has a very clear message for junior administrators and parents in New Zealand hoping to help turn around a dramatic slide in falling participation rates - emphasis fun. 

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Ken Martel helped turn around falling numbers in American ice hockey. Source: 1 NEWS

A former ice hockey player, Martel has been involved in the sport in America for 10 years, creating what's known as the American Development Model, which is designed to keep kids in the sport.

That same model is now used by over 50 Olympic codes in the US. It encourages unstructured play in multiple disciplines, also getting rid of early representative programmes, emphasising fun and development.

It has seen ice hockey go from a 40 per cent teenage retention rate to 90 per cent.

"We've taken all our adult values and applied them to kids sport - when kids aren't adults," Martel told 1 NEWS.

"Be healthy, be active and you know what? If they love it maybe they'll put the time and effort in.

"Be patient, give your child some space make sure they enjoy what they're doing.

"It's really hard to be an elite 20-year-old if you quit at nine."

That approach is welcomed by those in the know here in New Zealand.

"What we're saying is let's not get too serious about things too quick," Sport NZ Development Consultant Alex Chiet says.

"Let kids be kids enjoy themselves have fun with their mates."

Martel's visit is timely for rugby in particular, last week launching new initiatives to keep youth participation active.