Girl with Basketball

Are we pushing young people to live up to our expectations, instead of their own?

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.

When we push our young people too hard, too often, the risks are
high. Without appropriate management, over training and over playing can
lead to injury and burn out in young people.

There is an increasing prevalence of overuse
injuries in teenagers more commonly seen in older athletes, including ACL
reconstructions, patellar tendonitis, shin splints and tennis elbow. These
injuries have long term effects on our young people and can end their sporting
aspirations and ability to lead active lives as adults.

Maia Lewis, former White Fern captain and
coach of the New Zealand Māori Secondary School cricket team, understands the
impact that over training and pressure can have on a young person.

Maia started playing sport in her youth and
quickly rose to become a White Fern.

“I was probably stretched to do a bit too much. I ended
up with having a knee reconstruction (ACL reconstruction) when I was 27, at the
peak of my White Ferns career. That was a big, big blow for me but also a big
reality check.”

Whilst Maia was a driven and motivated young
sportsperson, her work with young athletes now has also been a reminder of the
realities and issues that young people face today, much earlier than they
should, with the ever increasing lure of professionalism.

As she sees it, young people are being
expected to perform consistently in training and commit to an exercise volume
similar to that of a fully grown adult whilst still needing to perform at
school and have down time with friends.

“I see the pressures that go on youth these
days. We need to step back and help positively, not live through them and what
we wanted to achieve,” she says.

“Especially for young woman. While coaching them, for me
it’s around making sure there’s a purpose when training. A purpose around what
they’re trying to achieve and then making sure that it’s just quality over

She sees her role as a coach and a parent
not only to teach the technical skills required but also ensure she supports
them with everything going on in their lives and that as young people more
generally, they have a positive experience.

“I always go back to asking the participants, the
players – what do you want? What does it look like? Because sometimes what they
want, what we perceive and what it looks like isn’t necessarily the same.”

“Whether you’re a coach, parent, sports administrator or
manager, anyone that’s supports young people in sport, you must put the
participant first and foremost in their mind. It’s about making sure that we
step back and let them do what they want to do at the level they want to do it

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