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Nurturing champions

27 Nov 2023

A clean sport guide for parents and whānau

Girl swimming in a pool in goggles and swim cap.

Rangatahi love sport. And as whānau, we want to encourage and nurture our young athletes to play at their best, stay healthy and enjoy their time in the game. After all, we know that the skills they learn on the pitch, at the track or in the pool can help them later in life to become leaders, overcome challenges, work with others and make positive choices. 

It’s true that pressure to train hard, compete at a high level and achieve success can be stressful. If we're not careful, it can lead rangatahi towards dangerous shortcuts. But there’s heaps whānau can do to help shape the future of their young athletes and guide them towards a path of integrity, respect, fair play and inclusion. This blog shows you how. 

Reinforce positive values 

Sport is the perfect arena for growing rangatahi to start developing the skills and values that will turn them into happy, healthy, resilient adults. There are heaps of things whānau can do to encourage this development and lay the foundation for a positive future:


  • Encourage rangatahi to respect themselves and their teammates 
  • Be positive in the stands or on the sideline and speak positively about opponents once the competition is over. 
  • Frame failures as opportunities to learn and grow. 
  • Praise rangatahi for sticking to their training plan, putting in the mahi, playing fair and having fun. Positive values like determination, hard work and integrity last a lifetime. 
  • Be clear that winning isn’t everything. The health, happiness and wellbeing of rangatahi are far more important. 
  • Notice when rangatahi take shortcuts or cheat to win and use the situation as a chance to learn. Make it clear that you expect your young athlete to follow the rules and compete with integrity. 

Identify a healthy sporting culture 

The sporting culture young athletes spend time in will have a big impact on the way they think and behave. It’s a good idea to pay attention to that culture, to make sure it’s a good fit for your young athlete. If you think the culture is unhealthy, think seriously about finding other options. 

 Here are a few things to think about: 

  • Are the coaches and other support personnel supportive, positive and respectful? 
  • Does the coach lead with integrity? Are they invested in long term growth and development – or are they only focused on winning in the present moment? 
  • How do coaches deal with failures – with criticism or as opportunities to learn? 
  • Do teammates encourage one another? 
  • Is your athlete stressed out after they come back from training or competitions? 

Find balance 

Young athletes have a lot on, from demanding training schedules, to school and homework, family time and hanging out with friends. They may need support and encouragement to make sure they’re prioritising correctly and protecting both their physical and mental health. 

Here are some ways you can help: 

  • Encourage rangatahi to be open and honest about stresses and worries they have – especially when it comes to injuries, tiredness and mental health. 
  • Let them know that their mental health and wellbeing is a priority and help them make decisions that put their wellbeing first. 
  • Prioritise rest and recovery. Healthy sleep and cooldown routines allow young athletes to recover faster and feel better. 
  • Encourage warm-ups before exercising or playing sports to prevent injury, and cool-downs afterwards to help muscles recover. 
  • Let them know they’re not alone.

Remember, even pro athletes like gymnast Simone Biles need time to recuperate. A short-term break – like the one that led Simone to withdraw from her final competition at the Tokyo Olympics – can be essential to maintaining long-term performance.

"I say put mental health first. Because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to. So, it's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it." 

Simone Biles 

Encourage a food-first approach 

A balanced and healthy diet is the best way to fuel your athlete. A focus on getting nutrients from whole foods – including a variety of fruits and vegetables – is one of the best ways to promote clean sport and establish healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. 

Supplements can be tempting, but youth athletes should avoid them. Despite the promises they make, supplements actually pose some real risks. Using supplements as a performance shortcut can lead to a habit of seeking quick fixes rather than encouraging hard work and a focus on long-term benefits. Avoiding this behaviour prepared rangatahu to make positive nutritional decisions in the future.

Some ways you can encourage a food-first approach are: 

  • Practicing what you preach and ditching the supplements yourself! 
  • Ensuring rangatahi eat healthy, fulfilling meals. 
  • Providing healthy snacks. 
  • Having conversations about any flashy claims supplements make.  
  • Encouraging athletes to hydrate with plenty of water and fluids before, during and after sport activities.