Kōrero: Children and sport

Whārangi 3. Greater diversity, 1970 to 2010s

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New opportunities

The 1970s feminist movement created new sporting opportunities for girls. Games formerly considered the domain of boys – such as cricket, football and even rugby – became more accepting of girls within their ranks. Primary age girls and boys usually played in the same teams, but some clubs and schools had girls-only teams, especially in secondary-school grades. The gender transfer was generally one-way, with few boys taking up netball.

From the 1990s some schools and clubs also placed more emphasis on encouraging children with disabilities to participate in sport.


The Weet-Bix TRYathlon is thought to be the largest sporting event for children in the world. Every year the triathlon is held in 13 New Zealand towns and cities, where children swim, cycle and run various distances according to age. The emphasis is on children trying for a personal best. Between 1992 and 2013 more than 240,000 children took part.

The range of sports on offer also increased, including softball, basketball, touch rugby, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, multisport events, volleyball and fencing. Some sports had social-class associations, for example cricket and skiing had solid middle-class followings, whereas rugby league and softball tended to appeal to working-class communities. There were also ethnic differences. For example, in 2012 skateboarding and rugby league were more popular with Māori boys compared to all boys, and badminton, touch rugby and volleyball were more popular with Pacific Island girls compared to all girls.


Some sports remained more popular with children than others. Research in 1999 revealed the top school and club sports participated in by boys aged between 5 and 17 were: football (soccer) (17%), rugby union (16%) and swimming (14%). For girls in the same age group the top three were: swimming (17%), netball (13%) and horse riding (10%). Research in 2012 on the most popular sports played by secondary school students places rugby in the top place for boys and netball for girls.

The 1999 research also showed that 73% of school children participated in sport or active leisure during school hours and 68% played sport for their school or a club. About 30% did not meet the recommended guideline of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days, and more girls were inactive than boys. This issue has concerned public health campaigners because a lack of physical activity can contribute to childhood obesity and other health problems.

Private sports organisations

A new development in children’s sport was the 2007 arrival of the Australian-based private sports provider Kelly Sports. In partnership with primary schools and sports clubs, it ran:

  • pre-school programmes, known as ‘sporty shorties’
  • after-school and holiday sports clinics
  • summer football and netball leagues
  • a sports academy for promising athletes.

By 2013 it had 30 franchisees and operated in all the main cities. Its success could see other private operators move into a field previously dominated by schools and sports clubs.

Government support

During the 2010s the government funded children’s sport through the KiwiSport arm of Sport New Zealand. It provided grants to sports clubs to encourage skill development in a wide range of codes from basketball and tennis through to weightlifting and surfing.

A love of sport

The popular belief that New Zealand children and adolescents loved participating in sport was supported by research in 2012. It found 70% of boys and 60% of girls aged between 10 and 18 liked playing sport a lot and only 3.5% of boys and 5% of girls did not like playing it at all. Sport obviously remained an important part of most young people’s lives.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Ben Schrader, 'Children and sport - Greater diversity, 1970 to 2010s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/children-and-sport/page-3 (accessed 22 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Ben Schrader, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013