What is a good youth sport experience?

ICK Balance is Better

Balance is Better

This article first appeared on Balance is Better, an evidence-based philosophy that underpins Sport New Zealand’s overall approach to youth sport. ICOACHKIDS are proud partners of Sport New Zealand since 2020.

In this article, Sport Waikato shares insights into how adults can
create a great sporting experience for our young people.

So you get it. Youth sport is about fun. Competition is great, but when we creep into a ‘win at all costs’ environment, our youth are likely to be turned off or be at risk of some other serious and potentially hurtful impacts, such as burn-out or overuse injury.

You know that early specialisation isn’t the best path to long-term success on the sports field. In fact, you know that sampling lots of different sports actually can help aspirational youth in the long run (by mitigating over-use injury and developing well-rounded skill sets).

You know that youth development isn’t linear, so childhood success is a poor predictor of adult success. You know that selection decisions and structures in younger age groups (e.g. who gets in a rep team; who gets to start/not start; who plays what position) does not guarantee success as an adult.

You also know that the cost to the youth who are ‘deselected’ outweighs the benefits of the youth that are ‘selected’. Both our pool of potentially talented athletes, and overall pool of young people and lifelong participants in sport is prematurely depleted. In fact, you know we cannot develop skills and improve in a sport by sitting on the bench or by not being involved at all.

You get that we need to bring fun back to youth sport and stop treating children and youth like they are mini-adults.

Yes, you get it! But do your peers get it?

Does the dad who yells instructions from the side-line get it? After all, he’s only trying to help isn’t he?

Does the coach that selects only the big boys or the tall girls get it? After all, she’s just trying to bring home the win.

If adults in your youth sport community don’t get it, what do you do?

To support a change within our culture of the current attitudes and behaviours of key adult influencers, we need to get people talking around what the reality is of New Zealand youth sport.

At Sport Waikato, we have found showing our peers videos is a fantastic way of starting this conversation. There are some pretty intense and crazy videos out there that highlight the good, the bad and the ugly. But most of these were from the US or UK. As we continued to show our peers videos, we learned that some connected to the issues and ideas that we were trying to present. But others were disconnected. We knew we needed Kiwi content. We needed stories that could connect with our backyard, use our language and our sports.

So we have developed our own video. Our own conversation starters. These stories share the experiences of our Good Sports Champions, our coaches and our athletes. These stories are real, and very relevant to not only the Waikato but the whole of New Zealand. We want to support Kiwi adults to have a better awareness of the impact they may be having on our youth’s sport experiences. The aim is to do this while offering guidance on how to be better for not only their child, but for all the kids wanting to be involved in sport too.

We have found our video has been an awesome stimulus to get adults to reflect on what sport for Kiwi kids should be about. We’ve seen people pair this video with great conversation. This has in turn prompted shifts in parents, coaches and sport administrators to better inspire, connect and empower youth to grow their love of being active for life.

For more on Balance is Better, visit


In order to comment on this page, you must sign in or register.

Related Pages