Now, it almost seems a universal truth that, despite code, sports organisations are intent upon ensuring that their sport is the Most Important Thing in the lives of children. We now have certain codes (looking at you football) offering year round programmes. We have some sports requiring practices four or five times a week. We have some codes with high cost development programmes. We have codes, coaches and administrators focused on developing great rugby players / gymnastics / cricketers / ballerinas who just forget that, as parents, we are trying to develop great humans within a family dynamic.
Now, I would hazard a guess that this is just peachy for some kids and some families. Some kids have huge talent, to be amazing at whatever sport takes their fancy. These are the kids who will become Olympians, represent NZ, or be the next Steven Adams. Some parents revel in their child’s success or are That Parent manipulating the team channelling Machiavelli. However, most of us parents want to grow individuals who can charge forward in their own lives as independent adults. Interestingly, I found some 2016 US stats: for those kids playing high school ice hockey they have the best chance at 1:598 chance, the worst chance is for women’s basketball at 1:13,015. Incidentally, the odds of being killed in a car crash were 1:113. So… the chances of actually making an income out of playing sport are fairly low.
Well, why do we do it? Well, there are some great benefits sport offers for kids who are not destined to star in the back pages of the paper. These include things like making friends, learning to win and lose with grace, resilience, persistence, leadership, teamwork and the health benefits. But there are a bunch of other things that we as parents want our kids to do too: talk to any middle class parent and it’s a game of “how busy I am” with after school activities for each child.
Our family had our first ever sports tournament over the holidays for two of our kids as part of a club side. Our objective for going was to have some fun and be competitive. And that’s what was served up in spades. The kids experienced some independence as we stayed at the campground, and they ran wild over the grounds nearby. They came together as a group, showed real heart when they were thumped, and great sportsmanship when they won. We were so proud of our wee team, some of whom have been playing the sport together for six or seven years. And the experience has created some memories of sporting magnificence that will last their lifetime. Glory days indeed.
Playing sports with your mates is a huge motivator for kids. Yet, when kids get to a certain age, the sports codes separate the kids out to build teams that can win. And then they tap a few of those one the shoulder and ask them to join development… Those kids who are tapped are in. They are focused 100% on their sport. But the ones left behind… not so much. They have been told they are not good enough for their mates and are then jumbled in with another bunch of kids. They then believe they are no good. So they leave that sport, hopefully to another sport (which is fine) but more often to nothing.
I see that the NZ government has recently handed out $10m to Sport NZ to help keep girls and young women active. The underlying issues document, which can be found on SNZ website, is pretty on the money. However, the challenge (I think) is getting the right sort of change within codes.
From what I have observed, those employed by the codes tend to love the game they represent. Their boards set targets around numbers and results. Some schools do the same too (and then provide loads of counselling for the kids to deal with the downstream effects of those expectations). As a result, actions are focused on winning. One woman in grants laughingly told me that a code had asked them for funding to get top performing kids from another code into theirs. “No”, she said. And rightly so. However, sure as eggs some other funder said YES.
And our wee sports club has just employed someone as a development officer. He is from the provincial team, and, given the club is a junior one, I assume it’s his role to help do something…. To be honest it’s a bit hard to see what the role is. Perhaps coaching? Now, this is all well and good for the new person as a job has been created which plays to his strengths. However, I doubt its being done for love. So, who pays? We shall see next year when the fees hit, but some clubs which employ people have fees $100 higher per annum than our club with no employees. Or, grants will kick in. And who can say no to support for helping kids get into football. But hang on – those kids are already playing the game! Could it be a jobs for the boys paid for using community money? And the money that’s spent on this role will not be spent saving women from violence, diagnosing children with learning issues, or whoever else misses out on those charitable dollars. And so the NFP ecosystem evolves.
How many jobs are there out there like this? I suspect quite a few, be they employed by clubs, codes, or schools.
So what’s the answer? Chatting with the girls one solution is to start a new family oriented sports club with lots of sports on offer, where the focus goes on the positives. But this is a pipe dream: those who go into governance roles on these sorts of organisations tend to be the aforementioned aficionados. I guess, to me anyway, the answer is to support our little darlings in whatever they want to do, give them opportunities to try new stuff, and try to keep them active despite the systemic challenges that continue to exist. And perhaps walk away from clubs where this is not being fostered.
I write about this stuff as believe that as need to understand where funding comes from, where it goes, and how it gets there. Love to talk with you if you think this is at all interesting, and if you want to dive into the data a bit more then happy to do so. Check out my website www.delfi.co.nz.