Sunday, March 18, 2007

Small towns breed bigger stars

The Dominion Post

Thursday, 15 March 2007

It may be no coincidence that rugby's dynamic duo – Richie McCaw and Dan Carter – is a product of New Zealand's rural backblocks.

That's the message Australian professor Bruce Abernathy has delivered to the New Zealand Rugby Union's annual high performance conference in Wellington this week.

It seems McCaw and Carter's respective South Island home towns of Hakataramea Valley and Southbridge are the perfect petri dishes for producing sporting champions.

Abernathy, the NZRU's keynote speaker, has presented research that suggests the smaller the town, the bigger the sporting champion and believes it applies to New Zealand rugby.
"That's the theory," the Queensland University professor said yesterday.

"And it's not simply a New Zealand phenomenon, because we know it from what we've learnt in Australia and in North America."

Abernathy said research he helped compile at Queens University in Canada showed less is more when it comes to sporting excellence.

"In the United States about half the population is brought up in cities of less than half a million people. But only 10 to 15 per cent of the country's elite professional athletes come from cities with greater than half a million people. You would expect that figure to be about 50 per cent."

The research covered America's four major sporting codes of baseball, gridiron, basketball and ice hockey with birth places taken from athletes dating back to 1980.
It means 75-80 per cent of America's sporting elite are from small towns and Abernathy said there was plenty to suggest the same applied in New Zealand.

"We have seen similar things in Australia and anecdotally it seems to be the case in New Zealand."
There were several advantages for sportsmen in smaller areas, he said, with perhaps the biggest being greater interaction between different age groups.

"Kids get the chance to play against adults in smaller towns. In larger cities there are plenty of kids and usually a structured school programme, so they are always playing against their peers. In smaller areas they have to make up the numbers, so they often play against adults or older kids. In those situations kids can't dominate on the basis of their strength or speed, so they have to develop strategies and skills to get around it."

All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu has spoken of how he developed his skills growing up in Wainuiomata playing against his older uncles, including Samoan international Earl Va'a and local league legend Ken Laban.

McCaw's Kurow club team usually only fielded 12 players due to lack of numbers.
Carter's home town, Southbridge, has produced Commonwealth Games shooting gold medallist Graeme Ede, world champion jetboater John Heslop and 1980s All Black Albert Anderson.
Rural areas also tended to give children more opportunity to practice and perfect skills, Abernathy said.

"In order to become an expert you need a lot of unstructured practice and you tend to get that more in a rural area. For starters kids tend to stay out doors later at night because there are less safety concerns and that sort of thing can be a problem in bigger cities. There are also issues around access to facilities where there are more people."

A greater exposure to a broader array of different sports was also identified as a constant factor in elite sportsman, he said.

"It allows you to transfer the skills you have learned in one sport to another."
Abernathy said the research could be of great use to New Zealand rugby.

"Without encouraging a mass migration to small towns we want to look at how we might recreate those advantages in major cities."

Currently on leave from the University of Hong Kong, where he is Director of the Institute of Human Performance, Abernathy has a particular interest in skilled movement and has worked extensively with Australian cricket and the AFL
pas de traduction pour cet article dsl


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