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Netball joins NZ sports to support 2021 season

After a 2020 winter season heavily disrupted by COVID-19, Sport NZ and five of the country’s largest participation sports are calling on coaches, parents and others at grassroots level to make the most of 2021 by working together to create a fun and extra rewarding season for all young people.


The collective stand comes as New Zealand approaches the anniversary of Level 4 lockdown when organised sport came to a grinding halt, affecting the physical activity levels and wellbeing of young players around the country.

Sport NZ research conducting during Level 4 lockdown found that overall physical activity among young people fell significantly during April 2020 compared to a typical April.

The drop was most profound among those aged 12 to 14 years (down 43% from 12.91 to 7.26 hours per week) and 15 to 17 years (down 37% from 10.01 to 6.72 hours per week).

The message to make this winter season special by focusing on fun and development aligns with the Statement of Intent signed in September 2019 by Sport NZ, Netball NZ, NZ Cricket, NZ Football, Hockey NZ and NZ Rugby. They believe changing the focus of youth sport is even more relevant now after recent alert level restrictions, and are calling on those at grassroots level to lend a hand.

“We want it to be one we remember for all the right reasons, and everyone with a role in grassroots sport can help by making sure young players are having fun and that all kids are supported in their development, not just the best kids,” said Sport NZ CEO Raelene Castle.

“We’ve done a lot of work with these and other sports to change youth sport at national and regional levels, but we’d love to see community coaches, managers, parents and others get behind this and help us keep kids in the game. There are ideas and resources available and we’d like everyone to make these part of how they plan for the upcoming winter season. Together we can make 2021 something really special.”

Information for grassroots coaches, parents and administrators is available at balanceisbetter.org.nz. Sport NZ, supported by the five sports, will also be sharing new advice and resources over the coming weeks through websites and social media as the winter season draws closer.

The Statement of Intent signed by these sports in 2019 included:

  • Ensuring all young people receive a quality experience, irrespective of the level at which they compete.
  • Leading attitudinal and behavioural change among the sport leaders, coaches, administrators, parents and caregivers involved in youth sport.
  • Providing leadership to support of changes to competition structures and player development opportunities.
  • Working with within their sports and schools to keep minds open while identifying talent throughout the teen years, including reviewing the role and nature of national and regional representative tournaments to ensure that skill development opportunities are offered to more young people.
  • Supporting young people to play multiple sports.
  • Raising awareness of the risks of overtraining and overloading.

These commitments reflect the Balance is Better philosophy developed and championed by Sport NZ. Despite the disruption and challenges caused by COVID-19, all five sports have maintained their commitment to the Statement of Intent and continued to make important changes.

Netball was the first sport to move away from intermediate age representative teams and Netball NZ CEO Jennie Wyllie said her sport’s commitment to Balance is Better has continued to see more changes implemented over the past year.

“We are completing a national rollout of an exciting new Year 7 and Year 8 player development programme that will provide thousands of netballers with a development opportunity, when in the past it was just hundreds.”

“Young players do not develop at the same rate, so a change like this has huge potential to enable more young netballers to reach their full potential and stay in netball for life. We have also moved our first national tournament from U17 to 18 and established a youth voice platform, through national and local Youth Advisory Groups, to provide a voice for young netballers in how netball is offered.”
Raelene Castle is excited to see how these five sports have embraced Balance is Better, especially while managing a global pandemic, but says the ‘first five’ is not alone.

“There are a huge number of national bodies working to improve youth sport in different ways and we will shortly have more signing the Statement of Intent. That shows what a powerful movement this is, but we have more work to do. That is why we are using this season transition to collectively urge coaches, parents and others to look at how they can help keep young New Zealanders in sport for life.”