Weekly Blog – Week 6, Talent in Sport

Balance is better: Stop the obsession with winning (Sport NZ)

A month or so back I caught an interview on National Radios Nine to Noon programme between Kathryn Ryan and Alex Chiet, Talent Identification Manager at Sport NZ.

Sport New Zealand is a New Zealand crown entity responsible for governing sport and recreation in New Zealand. Its role is ensure that we have more young people and adults engaging in sport and recreation and that we see  more NZ winners on the world stage

So you can imagine my interest when the first thing Alex said was that we were a nation that was obsessed with winning and that this ‘obsession’ is working against the Sport NZ outcomes and may actually be the reason why our children drop out of competitive sport and become less active.

Say that again, we have to stop focusing on winning because that’s actually not why our youngsters engage in sport and if we measure success by this yardstick alone then the pressure mounts, things get ugly (think about the side-line yelling from adults and the pressure on kids  that is a pretty big part of youth sport today)  and they drop out of sport?

In a nutshell, Yes.

Alex says it’s not about deprioritising winning so much as re-prioritizing what is actually important to our kids so that we keep them engaged and involved in sport.

Research world-wide tells us that children engage in and enjoy playing sport for reasons other than winning. I’m not saying winning isn’t what they go out to do each time they play sport but our kids often don’t prioritise this as highly as we think they do. They tell us they go out to have fun with their friends, to have a run round (i.e. for fitness) and to develop their skills. That is what they want us to look at when we watch them play and that is what they want us to talk to them about after the game. They want us to be congratulating them for being on the field, turf or court or in the pool supporting their mates and doing their best. If they win, it’s a bonus.

Elite Junior Athletes: There is No Such Thing

Some extra problems, Sport NZ also tell us, come when pre-pubescent youth are targeted and identified as being ‘talented’ and life starts getting very complex for them. We have all seen in our local papers the stories about the “Elite Junior Athlete’, the star, the prodigy, the next ‘best thing’.

Sport NZ is really concerned for this band of kids because talent, they say, cannot actually be identified until, using a sporting analogy, the playing field is equal and all kids are through puberty.

What is actually happening is that kids and parents are feeling pressure to do more and more of a specific sport because someone, a sports organisation or coach, has said that is what needs to happen if their kid is to be ‘successful’

Sport NZ says, not so.  In actual fact they have identified ‘three great myths’ when it comes to developing and identifying high performers:

  1. Early specialisation is good – NOT SO
  2. Childhood success leads to adult success – NOT NECESSARILY
  3. Successful athletes focus on winning- INCORRECT

What they are seeing are kids with over-use injuries that they will carry for life because they have been stressing their bodies before they are fully developed and kids burning out and dropping out of the sport they loved because they have had enough, psychologically and physically. This is worrying Sport NZ and the tide is turning. Education is starting to happen around this area and for those interested in reading more I will add some links to the bottom of this blog,

Chilton Primary Sports Department would really like you to encourage your daughter to join any sports she wants to try because we want to give her the skills and confidence to choose to play sport for life! Our philosophy is that everyone regardless of ability gets equal time in our sports teams. Kids do not want to be on the side-line, they want to be playing and we value each and every one of them for their involvement and willingness to pull on the CSJ sports uniform and participate.

So please do:

  • Encourage Variety. Let your child play the range of sports they want to play. At a young age it is better to play many different sports to build a wide range of movement patterns and a ‘game-sense’ than it is to concentrate on the same sports each year.
  • Be careful of having your child identified as being ‘talented’ and being expected to do an excessive amount of training at a young age (pre-puberty).Her body is growing and developing and injuries that happen now can affect growth plates and joints which leads to long term issues. Also she might just be ‘over it’ aby the time you actually want her to reach her potential.
  • Watch out for sports that encroach on one another’s seasons e.g. summer sports being offered over winter and vice versa. It will be a lot better for your daughter to play with different groups of kids, under a different coach and try new things.


Balance is Better

Stop the obsession with winning

Elite Junior Athletes- there is no such thing

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Alex Dennehy
Sports Coordinator