Story: Children and sport

Sport is a big part of life for New Zealand children and physical education has long been part of the school curriculum. In the 2000s a wide variety of sports are offered – not only traditional ones such as rugby and netball, but also sports like cycling, snowboarding, fencing and triathlon. Many sports clubs offer junior grades, so children can participate in out-of-school sport.

Story by Ben Schrader
Main image: Children playing Kiwi cricket at Hataitai School, 1994

Story Summary

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Early sport, to 1919

Organised children’s sport began at boys’ secondary schools in the 1860s. It was seen as a way of controlling boys’ games in a civilised way. Girls’ schools didn’t offer sports until the 1880s, as it was thought to be unfeminine. Sport became seen as a way of encouraging moral character and teamwork.

Primary schools and trade unions and businesses held sports days for children.

Organised sport became more common in the 1900s and sports clubs began to have junior grades.

Growth of children’s sport, 1920 to 1969

After the First World War there was a new emphasis on fitness and children were encouraged to participate in sport. An increasing number of sports fields and other facilities were built. Physical education became part of the compulsory school curriculum and many schools built swimming pools.

Saturday morning became the usual time for children to play club sport. Both school and club sport were very dependent on volunteers – generally parents – as coaches and referees.

Children’s sport, 1970 to 2010s

From the 1970s, supported by the influence of feminism, more girls began to play sports that had been considered ‘boy’s’ sports, such as rugby and cricket. There was also more emphasis on encouraging children with disabilities to participate in sport.

A wider range of sports became available at schools, including cycling, snowboarding, fencing and events such as triathlons.

A study in 1999 showed that 68% of school children played sport for their school or a club. The top sport for boys was football (soccer), and the top for girls was swimming.

Self-esteem and competition

For most New Zealand children, sport has contributed to their sense of self, in both positive and negative ways. Being good at sport often increased children’s self-esteem, but children who were not so coordinated often grew to hate physical education.

From the 1980s many schools changed their emphasis from competition in sport to encouraging participation from all students, regardless of their ability. In opposition to this inclusive attitude, some secondary schools also set up sports academies where talented sportspeople could receive extra coaching and training.

How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Children and sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/children-and-sport (accessed 15 August 2018)

Story by Ben Schrader, published 5 Sep 2013