Petone-based soccer administrator Alida Shanks has had plenty to smile about lately.
Last month she won the Sports Administrator of the Year title at the Wellington Sports Awards for her work for Capital Football developing the Whole of Football campaign.
Now she has taken a new role working for Wellington Phoenix as communications manager and community development officer. She will continue her work for Capital Football on a part-time basis, where she will also be involved in communications.
Soccer in New Zealand has been on a roll in recent years and she says being recognised for her role in bringing Whole of Football to the region is hugely satisfying.
Though a simple concept, it's seen as a key to development of the sport nationally.
It hinges on making the game more attractive for youngsters and is being achieved by reducing the size of fields, making goalposts smaller, reducing emphasis on winning, making training more interesting and forming girls-only teams. Instead of playing one team, junior teams play shorter games and get more than one game per day.
Shanks says at a junior level any sport should be about having fun with mates; the score is of little relevance to most kids.
Taking emphasis away from keeping the score is not something everybody agrees with but parents need to remember the game is not for them, she says.
''There are always people who don't like change. We have had parents who say 'we'll go to rugby' ... Research shows that kids want to have fun and play with their friends.''
Having first tried soccer as 9-year-old, playing in a boys team, she has firsthand experience of how important it is to start youngsters in a positive environment.
When a boy smashed the ball into her face, she gave up and did not return to the code for four years.
The girls-only league has been a big success. Girls get a lot more enjoyment playing against other girls, she says.
But the best still need to play against boys to develop their game and reach their full potential.
With 2138 juniors in the Hutt Valley, soccer is in good health and her new job is the perfect fit for her.
Her role in the Phoenix involves making sure the club is active in the community and plays its bit supporting grassroots football.
The new Phoenix owners have the right skill mix and attitude to make the club a success and she predicts a good future for soccer in the region.
''It's going to explode. With the Whole of Football we have a really good framework to create a really good base,'' she said.
- Hutt News