The wrong track

Why not train less and let kids play as many sports as they like?

I was 10 when I realised I wasn't going to be an All Black. It was my team's end-of-season prizegiving. I received a handshake, a certificate, a gold trophy and a little bottle of raspberry fizz. I got "most improved". Along with the plaudits came the realisation I wasn't even the best player in my team, let alone in the competition.

This moment must come to every New Zealand boy. I've interviewed a few All Blacks and even they didn't think they would wear the silver fern. I got over it by going and playing football. Maybe the All Whites would have me. Turns out they didn't want me either.

The mathematicians, who also aren't All Blacks, would tell you the chances of a boy becoming an All Black, let alone a professional athlete, are slim. Very slim. Like less than 1 per cent. So I'll admit it irks me seeing our secondary school pupils being trained like professionals.

It's a sad reality most school first XV rugby players train at least four times a week. There are practices, at least two of them, gym sessions, before-school fitness sessions, pilates, video analysis, warmups and even warmdowns. They play on Saturdays and on many Wednesdays. They start in February at the latest and never really stop till September.

It's not just rugby. A school here in New Plymouth was holding pre-season football trainings in January. The trainings involved running, lots of running, and not much else. Boys on their summer holidays should be at the beach, having fights with their brothers, sending their mums around the bend and having an outstanding time with their mates.

When I was in my school's first XV we trained twice a week. I had time to also play volleyball, basketball, annoy my mother and launch a year-long campaign to get Bobbi Reid to like me. It failed and she went out with my best mate, but it didn't feel like a waste of time. I also had time to study occasionally and have a childhood.

We had an All Black in our team. He would have worn the black jersey no matter how many times we trained. He was born with the rugby gene, plus he was 115 kilograms and could run like the wind, mostly over opposing players.

My nephews-in-law are at secondary school. They are good at hockey, soccer, can do cross-country and pretty much everything else. They have been told they can play only one sport.

Why not train less and let kids play as many sports as they like? Why make a kid choose?

So why are coaches drilling young men and women? I suspect it's because everyone else is and they don't want to lose. Schools hire coaches and development officers. They aren't just an enthusiastic teacher or someone's dad. These people are paid for performance.

The school wants to win because it's good for the school's reputation - and the pupils are collateral damage.

You don't want kids to burn out on sport. They should play till long after they become adults. I want my kids to treat sport as fun, a hobby, not a career and certainly not a grind.

Give journalist Hadyn Jones a wide berth at dinner parties. He will bore you with his thoughts on secondary school sport. He writes a fortnightly column.

The Dominion Post