Balance is Better: Enjoying all sports produces better rugby players

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has launched a campaign today encouraging young people to get involved and support all sports, with an aim to grow participation numbers.

Active NZ, Sport New Zealand’s nationwide survey, demonstrated a decline in youth sport participation since 2017. As a response, NZR signed Sport New Zealand’s Statement of Intent alongside four other major sports which included the organisations’ collaboration with Balance is Better.  

The four-stage campaign will run through to March 2024, communicating key messages on the benefits of playing multiple sports, creating positive environments to ensure kids have fun, how to be a supportive parent or coach and promoting different ways to balance wellbeing in rugby.

All Black Will Jordan and Black Fern Maiakawanakaulani Roos are also NZR Balance is Better Champions helping to influence positive change by sharing their stories and experiences as part of the campaign.

NZR Participation Manager Mike Hester said the organisation is committed to the necessary shifts for junior and youth sport.

“COVID-19 reinforced the challenges sport faced, such as providing quality minutes for young people where there is an increased demand for variety with a corresponding decrease in available time. Since then, rugby has seen the potential benefits and impact of a Balance is Better approach and will continue to integrate this into our programmes,” Hester said.

“It has been encouraging to see other sports come onboard Balance is Better which will provide better overall outcomes for New Zealand.”

Balance is Better is an evidence-based philosphy and looks to support quality sporting experiences for young people regardlesss of ability, needs and motivations. It’s also about young people staying involved in sport for life and realising their potential at the same time.

The philosophy centres around three myths of junior and youth sport that NZR supports, including ‘early specialisation is good’. 

NZR High Performance Talent Identification Manager PJ Williams said specialisation in one sport from an early age is often assumed to be the most important factor in expert performance, but this is not the case.

“Playing different sports will see a young athlete develop a large, well organised set of movement skills that are transferable from one sport to another. A broader range of sporting experiences gives a wider base of skills to draw from, so less deliberate practice is needed by athletes to excel in their chosen sport,” Williams said.

In rugby, players who have played other sports develop different skillsets which often means they can be coached more easily and don’t need as much time to pick up rugby-specfic skills.

“The benefits of young rugby players who play multiple sports alllows them to have a headstart in areas such as vision and decision making, hand-eye co-ordination, body-side balance and the ability to use footwork to beat players,” Williams said.

“For example, in kicking sports like soccer, the ability to dribble a ball while looking up creates balance and footwork skills, while learning to kick long accurately is also a skill that can be applied to the modern rugby game.

“While we encourage multi-sports, we also want our young players to come to or come back to rugby, and back for more because they genuinely love it.”

For more, visit Balance is Better and engage with our Around the Grounds Podcasts with Will Jordan and Maia Roos.