Tackling the decrease in young people’s participation in sport once they leave high school will become a focus for the next three years.

A new memorandum of understanding between University and Tertiary Sport NZ (UTSNZ) and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council (NZSSSC) will see both organisations work together to create sustainable sporting pathways between secondary and tertiary sectors.

NZSSSC executive director Garry Carnachan said there was a high uptake in sport at primary and secondary school, with the number of national secondary school competitions having increased by 60% in the past decade.

“With such high levels of sporting participation in our secondary schools and the significant number of those students entering the tertiary sector, the tertiary sports space is hugely important in both keeping young people on a life-long sporting pathway and providing quality opportunities for talented athletes to reach their potential.”

UTSNZ executive director Sarah Anderson said there had traditionally been a lack of quality sport offerings and performance paths within the tertiary sector.

“This, along with factors such as perceived time and money constraints for students, contributes to a widely acknowledged ‘drop off’ in student participation in sport at a tertiary-level.”

Sport Hawke’s Bay community sport manager Junior Armstrong said there were various reasons for a decline in participation.

“This life stage is a huge shift for young people as they go away from structured school life to continuing their studies as independent young adults, or looking to gain employment into the workforce.”

He said increased pressure to complete study, relocating to new towns, decreased support from friends and family, a lack of resources, time and money, or “simply falling out of love” with sport could all contribute.

“We’re also seeing more focus on secondary school elitism where rugby and netball are televised and schools have better facilities and crowds than clubs. Therefore quality experiences in sport decrease when they leave school.”

Sport Taranaki youth sport development manager Hannah Kelly agreed there was a number of reasons young people stopped playing sport after high school.

“Not knowing how to access sports, especially in a new town, can be an issue. Time is also a factor.”

Armstrong said it was important tertiary students continued to play sport and be physically active.

“It reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression and enables students to manage stress levels more effectively.”

Kelly said as well as the obvious physical and mental health benefits of physical activity,

continuing sports could help students socially.

“At school you know everyone and then you leave, and often move towns, and it’s just you. Sports can help you make new friendships, which is important part of wellbeing. Being connected is important.”

She said skills gained from playing sports can help tertiary students with the next step in their lives.

“If you don’t have work experience, sport gives you the chance to develop important skills for business. You develop good communication skills, leadership skills, you learn how to manage your time. There are a lot of really important personal skills you develop by taking part in sports.”

Anderson said “sport workforce opportunities” would be a key part of the plan.

“By working with the national sporting organisations and growing competition pathways for 18-24 year olds, we can grow the athletes, coaches, managers and sports administrators of the future.”

She said those officials were not only important contributors to the success of sports events, but also to the wider sports community.

“By encouraging students to take part, they gain real-world experience in a quality environment, and hone valued graduate attributes such as communication, organisation, leadership, planning, responsibility and problem solving.”

Tertiary institutions had good infrastructure, cultures and internship programmes to support volunteer and workplace development, she said.

“Therefore, the more sport programmes and structures offered within and between tertiary institutions, the more we offer opportunities for these trainees to put their learning into practice, gain experience in the sport sector and show employment pathways.”

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