Ah the naivety. The New Zealand cricket, rugby, hockey and netball associations have joined forces to conduct a nation-wide advertising campaign targeting teenagers.

Why? Because a study reveals that from about 15, teens interest in participating falls away sharply. So they’ve come up with the answer namely to stress to kids they don’t have to be overly competitive to enjoy playing their respective sports.

Two points. First regardless of age, it’s contrary to human nature not to want to win in any competition, no matter how benign.

Give a couple of fat kids some quoits and a short pole in the ground to throw them over and while a non‑exertion activity and mildly pleasurable, they’ll still try to win. Toss a coin and one wants to win. 75 year olds playing bridge want to win.

That said; everyone knows you can play sports at different levels including what’s labelled social grade.

When I was 40 I casually mentioned to a sports journo mate that having never played, I’d quite like a crack at social grade football.

The next thing I received a phone call from the boss of Wellington’s then top team, telling me they’d love to have me, so I duly turned up. I was well known at the time and plainly they thought it amusing to have me in a team. But instead of social grade which I sought, I was banged into their top performing unbeatable 2nd division team, effectively reducing it to 10 men, all Brits. Being patronised in this way was not fun, more so when playing the worst side in the competition they placed me up front as a striker. I scored 3 goals in a 12 nil victory and was made man of the match. A proper football player would have scored 25, so bad was the opposition, so I gave it away. That said I know blokes in their 50s still playing social grade soccer and enjoying themselves.

In flogging the line they have to arrest the collapse in participation from teens after 15, the combined Associations are missing the point.

If they were more alert to the modern world they’d know the real source of their problem, namely the cellphone. Forfeiting half a day weekly with sport when one could be mindlessly gawping at a smart phone, is a sacrifice teens won’t make. Calling these devices smart phones is ironic given they’re steadfastly reducing the young to brain-dead zombies.



Keeping kids interested in active sport when they reach adolescence was as much a problem 30 years ago as it is now. Back then we blamed awkwardness, embarrassment, interest in the opposite sex and anything else we could think of, which of course didn’t include cellphones.

I admit it does feel a bit like being a unicorn being in my 20’s and almost never looking at my phone or having social media. One can’t help but stare around in certain situations like when travelling on buses or in waiting rooms, since without fail I will be the only one not fixated on a screen. That said I am increasingly noticing the same is true of older people as well, like today at the dental surgeons, of at least a dozen people waiting I was the only one under 30 and the only one with a book instead of a phone.

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