The Star reporter Jessica Wilson talks to Dunedin sports experts and leading officials about children playing in representative teams, following a recent move by Netball Mainland to drop year 7 and 8 netball sides.

Representative teams for young children could be a thing of the past after new thinking regarding young athletes shows they are better off enjoying multiple sports rather than focusing on just one.

While many children are hitting the court or field hoping to make a representative team of their chosen sport, it seems they could be better off playing a range of sports.

University of Otago school of physical education, sport and exercise professor Ken Hodge said while some children could handle the pressure of playing for a representative side, and flourish, for others, it may “suck all the fun out of the sport”.

It could also cause those who miss out on the teams to “drop out” of the sport entirely, he said.

enough to consider any unintentional consequences that might come out of the practice of having rep teams at such a young age.”

Last month Christchurch-based Netball Mainland dropped its year 7 and 8 sides.

The move had the support of Sport NZ whose research showed early specialisation in sport could harm young athletes’ health and wellbeing.

Prof Hodge said while there were a few exceptions, early specialisation in one sport did not automatically lead to elite level performance.

Playing a variety of different sports while children were maturing also kept the enjoyment factor prominent, enabled a transfer of skills and helped prevent the risk of too much pressure, stress or burnout, he said.

Physiotherapist Geoff Anderson said that from an injury prevention perspective, it was better for young athletes to play different sports throughout the year as they could develop different skills.

Alternating sports would load different parts of the body, rather than the same ones all year round, he said.

“Making [sport] fun at that age is much more important than making it serious.”

Netball South community netball manager Lauren Jarvie said Netball South was looking into the research before making a decision about teams.

“There’s some pretty strong feelings both ways but we are just having the conversation at the moment.”

There were 10 centres within the zone, which would all be consulted before a final decision was made, Jarvie said.

Most of the centres had year seven and eight teams this season but no “huge decisions” had been made.

“We just have to make sure whatever we do . . . is specific for netball and specific to that age group.”

Football South football development manager Paul O’Reillyrepresentative teams started at 11th grade but the potential introduction of a national youth development league next season could push the age up to 13th grade.

“We very much favour more of a club-based programme at the younger age, so instead of having specialised rep players . . . those players will just continue to play in their club team . . . and they have a tournament experience in the club.”

He said it was hard to identify talent at a young age, and while representative teams were a good development opportunity, they often focused too much on winning.

He thought players were more likely to burn out mentally rather than physically if they were selected for the teams at a young age.

“We just want to see them playing and loving the game as long as possible.”

Otago Hockey Association acting manager Adam Walker said the association’s under-13 teams were an important part of its development process and wanted to maintain them as it was part of the New Zealand Hockey programme.

He did not think children playing extra sport was an issue, as they were involved in lots of extracurricular activities, not just sports.

While it was up to parents to make sure children were well rested mentally and physically, the association would work with them to make sure children’s needs were met so they could continue in the sport, he said.

“We certainly do want to ensure that our players develop as much as possible and we see these as great pathways to help our kids to continue on developing their skills.”

The Star sought comment from the Otago Rugby Union but did not receive a response.