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Young Netballers help pilot new cross-code approach

Southland Girls High School student Lucy Shirley at a cross-code strength and conditioning session

A pilot group of 15 teenaged Southland girls has embraced a cross-code initiative which could help keep young athletes involved in sport.

Inspired by Invercargill Netball Centre (INC)and Southland Basketball (SBA), the introduction of its Cross Codes Initiative has seen Southland take the lead in the recently launched Sport NZ Balance is Better campaign.
Aimed at improving youth sport, the campaign has called on parents, coaches and administrators to ensure athletes have a balanced approach to sport. The evidence-based campaign highlights that early specialisation and overloading of players at a young age can lead to burn out and injury.

“I had found that in the 14-16-year-old age-group of Netball girls, there was a group of them that were cross-coding, mostly with basketball, because generally those two codes cross over,” INC Development Officer Jodie Whitson-Morris said.

“There was a feeling both sports were pulling from the same pool of girls and we wanted to make it easier for them. We didn’t want them to feel like they had to choose which sport they went for or suffer from burn out.

“Last year the nationals for basketball and Netball at that age-group were a week apart and some of these girls did both and came out of that two weeks absolutely exhausted, so that’s how we started this.”
At the end of January, INC and SBA facilitated a pilot group of 15 girls, inviting them to discuss the varying challenges and what they would like to see happen.

“We just wanted their voice and the feedback was amazing,” Whitson-Morris said.

“They were really open and honest about how they were feeling and their challenges. They gave us some great ideas for the next steps.”
The initiative has resulted in the co-designing of a training calendar to ensure the athletes are not overloaded, trialling a combined strength and conditioning programme and communicating with high school coaches so they are aware of cross-coding athletes.
Sport Southland has also come on board and subsequently coaches and parents who attended a ‘Cross-code info’ night on February 25.

“We weren’t sure what to expect, who would come or how many and we ended up with a room-full which included other sports, coaches, parents and some of the girls from our pilot group,” Whitson-Morris said.

“It was another interesting discussion which basically boiled down to us all being there for the athlete and what can we all do to help that athlete. It has opened a huge conversation which is great because that’s what we want.

“If successful, then we can broaden our age-group and work with other sporting codes. In the meantime we will be keeping the other codes in the loop with what we are doing.”

One involved in the pilot group is 15-year-old Southland Girls High School student Lucy Shirley, who, ideally, would like to continue playing both codes, but said without the intervention of this initiative, the likely outcome was burn out.

“This has been a really good start,” she said.

“It will help us out to not be over-loaded with other trainings and stuff and just working together makes everyone understand what we’ve got on our plates.

“Sometimes if we’ve got lots of fitness trainings (for both codes), in one week we might be doing a couple of fitness trainings for each but we really only need to be doing one or two.

“Hopefully, our on-going discussions will help with that. All the girls think what’s happening is great and that people are wanting to support us which is really positive.”