New Zealand Rugby, Sport Waikato and the three Waikato provincial rugby unions (King Country Rugby Union, Thames Valley Rugby Union and Waikato Rugby Union) came together today to sign a three-year Memorandum of Understanding, where they formally outlined their commitment to Balance is Better philosophies through the delivery of the Good Sports programme.
Balance is Better aims to support quality sport experiences for all young people, regardless of ability, needs and motivations. It is about helping young people to stay involved in sport for life and realising their potential at the right time. Good Sports is a culture change programme designed to promote positive experiences for young people in sport. It is designed to raise adults’ awareness about their behaviours in children’s sport through supporting parents and whaanau as well as other key influencers in young people’s sporting experiences, such as coaches and other local leaders, to better understand and deliver to the needs of tamariki. 
Sport Waikato’s Regional Coaching Advisor James Davidson said that young people consistently say that they are looking for empowering opportunities to be active while connecting with their friends. 
“We are told that they love adult supporters saying things like “I love watching you play”. Sport provides a fantastic opportunity for tamariki to be inspired and explore, while developing a lifelong love of participation. While we see the fantastic contributions to youth sport by thousands of well-meaning adults, evidence has shown that we need to facilitate changes to how some adults are providing their support on the sidelines, at trainings and games and on the car ride home.”
While Balance is Better shapes the offerings and system, Good Sports helps those on the ground understand why things need to change and what quality for children in sport looks like.
New Zealand Rugby, through its partnership with Sport New Zealand, has committed to a three-year programme of work, to further improve its approach to Balance is Better, by deploying the Good Sports programme. One of its regions for investment is the Waikato.
New Zealand Rugby Participation Development Manager Mike Hester said that this agreement had been in the pipeline for over two years, and during that time changes had started to happen at a regional level which had already had a major impact on the game. 
“Over the past three to four years, New Zealand Rugby has been really focusing on how to improve the quality of each and every player’s experience in rugby. This participant led approach has meant that we’ve started to explore how to improve the design of the game at every age and stage, how the game is best delivered in competition structures, and also what great environments need to look like. This has led to a number of changes around the Small Blacks Development Model that provides the opportunity for kids to learn how to play from Under 6s through to Under 13s, and there are many more to come,” Hester said.
“In thinking about all of these elements, we’ve recognised that parents play a vital role in supporting - and in many cases - implementing these changes.  We need to provide support to parents to ensure that they understand the rationale for the changes and impact it has on the quality of kids’ experiences in sport. New Zealand Rugby has seen the benefits of the Good Sports programme in supporting parents in the wider Auckland region, and it great to be able to support its implementation across the country.”
Each provincial union is committing to the support, implementation and leadership into their identified areas, while all are agreeing to collaborate and support each other in the overall leadership, identified outcomes and a shared messaging involved in this work.
Sport Waikato CEO Matthew Cooper said the collaboration between the three unions will be a great opportunity to work together and learn from each other, with Sport Waikato providing support, advocacy, professional development and insights and evaluation to the unions. 
“Sport Waikato provides high value strategic regional leadership in play, active recreation and sport through collaboration and partnership. This is the perfect example of this is action – working together to achieve more impact that in turn will drive participation numbers up, and focus on providing quality experiences for our tamariki to keep them coming back to the game. It’s about building a lifelong love of being active because of those enjoyable experiences.”
General Manager of King Country Rugby Kurt McQuilkin is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the other provincial unions, and has already had good success in the women and girls space. 
“The King Country Rugby Union identified that our female players lacked a player pathway, so in 2021 we established a Wahine Secondary Schools 10 aside competition while laying the initial foundations for a Senior Mana Wahine club side to compete in our neighbouring provincial unions club competitions in 2022. The results of these wahine initiatives have exceeded our expectations,” said McQuilkin.
“In 2021 our Secondary Schools Wahine 10 aside competition had three teams competing; in 2022 the number of teams has doubled. Our Senior Mana Wahine club initiative has extended to two clubs - Tongariro United and Waitete RFC - and both are involved in our neighbouring provincial union’s competitions, with Tongariro United playing in the BOP Senior Women’s competition and Waitete RFC competing in the Waikato Rugby Unions Development competition. To further future proof our Wahine programme, this year we will be introducing a female-only initiative at our primary school “Rippa Rugby” tournaments at year 7 & 8.” 
Waikato Rugby Union CEO Carl Moon has been on the Good Sports journey for a while now, and has already seen an impact in participation.
“What I love the most is that there is science behind the Good Sports philosophies, and we are already seeing changes. We are right behind this critical work and look forward to leading and driving it on behalf of rugby locally, alongside Thames Valley and King Country.  Ultimately, we want to see the Good Sports philosophies as the ‘norm’ around here and for kids to just to enjoy rugby and play for the love of the game, and actually for parents, coaches and supporters to do the same,” Moon said.
Thames Valley Rugby Union has also been having some great impact through their change in season start dates. GM Paul Nisbett said the shift was needed, and has had good outcomes for the union.
“Thames Valley Rugby is very supportive of this initiative. We have seen an exponential growth in our junior grades this season and look forward to collaborating with our regional partners in providing rugby and its environment as an enjoyable and safe experience, and as a vital and positive social element contributing to the well-being of our communities.”
All three provincial unions have agreed outcomes from the MOU and are committed to implementation and leadership in their identified areas, agreeing to work together in the leadership of changing sporting experiences to meet participant needs. 
“This is an exciting opportunity to work alongside some key partners, in supporting local community leaders to put young people back into the centre of their sporting experience,” said Matthew Cooper.

Photo: (L to R) Paul Nisbet (Thames Valley Rugby), Carl Moon (Waikato Rugby), Kurt McQuilkin (King Country Rugby), Mike Hester (New Zealand Rugby) and Matthew Cooper (Sport Waikato)
Paul Stevens || New Zealand Rugby Communications Manager || 021 168 4806
Lisa Bishop || Sport Waikato Communications & Marketing Lead || 0212409171


New Zealand Rugby to implement Good Sports initiative in Waikato region

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