Balance is Better is an evidence-based philosophy developed by Sport NZ to support quality sport experiences for all young people regardless of ability, needs and motivations. It’s about young people staying involved in sport for life and realising their potential at the right time, and developed along the principles of skill development for all, balancing getting better with not doing too much, and providing quality experiences regardless of ability or motivation.

We know that if kids stop having fun, they stop playing sport.  



We’ve long been advocates of the Balance is Better philosophy. From launching the award-winning Whole of Football Plan back in 2011, to aligning with Balance is Better in 2019, we’re continually evolving how we run Junior and Youth Football to ensure all young people playing football and futsal have quality experiences no matter what level they’re involved in. 

We’re asking all our parents, whanau, coaches, managers, and volunteers involved with football and futsal to remember that young people play sport to have fun, be challenged, develop and improve, be part of a team or group, and enjoy time with friends. 

The myths of junior and youth sport
The Balance is Better philosophy centres around debunking three myths of junior and youth sport:

  • Myth 1: Early specialisation is good
  • Myth 2: Childhood success leads to adult success
  • Myth 3: Successful athletes focus on winning

We know these myths specifically relate to a small number of people (players, coaches and parents) who engage in sport at a more competitive level. We’re working hard to ensure they’re well informed, and that the systems and structures in place support their ongoing development to:

  • Provide positive experiences for players of all ages and abilities 
  • Enable players to reach senior football while being able to express themselves and execute within the New Zealand Football playing style
  • Provide those who are striving to be professional footballers and represent the All Whites and Ford Football Ferns the development opportunities to do so.

Football is an early engagement sport

  • Football and futsal are considered early engagement sports. This means that, to master the sport, it’s important that players experience the game from an early age. This isn't the same as specialising in a sport early. 
  • Early specialisation is involvement in a chosen sport in an organised setting up to 13 years of age at the exclusion of all other sports.
  • We want kids to participate in other sports alongside football. This will help them develop the technical, tactical, mental and physical skills to support their football development, ensure they are less prone to injury, and keep them playing and active well into their adult life.
  • Research shows that playing multiple sports through childhood and early adolescence has a strong positive impact on the success people have in their chosen sport later in life.
  • ​​​​​​​

Our All Whites and Ford Football Ferns played multiple sports in their early years

Our elite players prove you don’t need to specialise early to become a top player. In a survey we conducted with the All Whites and Ford Football Ferns, over 90% of the players believed that playing other sports throughout their development helped them to develop into an international footballer.

Average number of sports played by All Whites and Ford Football Ferns during development years

AgeAll WhitesFord Football Ferns
12 and under3.252.3


  • Leaders (coaches, referees, administrators, parents, clubs, schools) within our game understand that Junior/Youth Football should focus on the quality and experience of provision that supports the whole person, not the result of a football match.
  • Football in New Zealand experiences sustained growth in participation through a focus on quality.
  • More New Zealanders feature in the global professional game.
  • All participants across our game indicate an increase in the quality of their experience as evidenced by Sport NZ’s Voice of Participant survey.


Dispelling Myth 1: Early specialisation is good

  • We’re evolving our Regional Representation Competitions. From 2022 our National Age Group Tournament (NAGT) age group will start at U-17. From 2022 it will also shift from December to October to ensure that players who want to sample other sports, can.
  • We reduced the length of our Skills Centre Programmes so players have the opportunity to sample other sports.
  • In 2022 our National Youth Futsal Championship age group will shift to starting at U-15 (it has been as low as U-10 in the past) and move from July to December to be within the traditional futsal season enabling our futsal players to sample other sports.
  • We evolved the Federation Talent Centre (FTC) programme and introduced the Talent Development Programme (TDP). This change provides a larger group of players the opportunity to access a higher level of training provision in a more local setting. We also reduced the number of training provisions within the TDP in the U-13 to U-15 age brackets to balance getting better without doing too much.

Dispelling Myth 2: Childhood success leads to adult success

  • We removed selection for players aged 9–12 to our Skills Centre Programme to promote skill development over early talent identification.
  • ​​​​​​​We raised the age for the first point of entry to our Age Group National Teams Programme from U-12 to U-16.

Dispelling Myth 3: Successful athletes focus on winning

  • We’re working to remove promotion and relegation from our premier youth competition to keep the focus for youth athletes and coaches on player development rather than winning matches at all costs.
  • To ensure all players are provided with quality experiences to enjoy the game and give them time to focus on development rather than winning, we introduced Team Formation and Grading guidelines for Junior Football in 2021. We’re also reviewing Game Day Formats in Junior and Youth Football.
  • We’re introducing regional secondary school futsal tournaments alongside the NZ Secondary Schools Futsal Championship to ensure a larger group of players can experience futsal during tournament week with a focus on broader participation.​​​​​​​


See below to find out about the changes we've made in the McDonald's Junior Football space

Click below for the full New Zealand Football Statement on the Balance is Better Philosophy.

See below for more from Technical Director Andy Boyens on keeping our kids in sport