Touch Southland celebrates successful summer
Touch is a sport which is taking a targeted approach to increasing participation in Southland.
As the nights draw in and the touch season comes to an end, the organisation can look back at a successful summer at both social and representative level.
If you still think of touch as an offshoot of rugby and not a sport in its own right, it’s probably time for a rethink.
According to Active NZ statistics touch is one of Southland’s most played codes.
It’s the second most popular sporting activity for men aged 25-34, the most popular sporting activity for Maori young people and the third most popular for Pacific young people. On average, 16 percent of Southland’s youth (5-17 years) will play touch in any given week.
Across the grades and in competitions from Invercargill to Queenstown, close to 450 teams took part on a weekly basis over the past season.
Touch Southland has placed increased emphasis on stimulating the game in country areas and making learning the game more attractive for girls.
A lot of work was put into developing a Northern Southland primary schools competition in term four of 2018 and term one of this year.
Lumsden, Balfour and Mossburn schools were involved, opening up an opportunity for children to experience and play touch, Touch Southland development officer Scott Eade said.
“The hope is moving forward that we can grow separate competitions in Lumsden and Te Anau to make touch more accessible for those in more isolated areas, without them having to travel great distances.”
While delivering the game at primary school level across Southland and Central Otago, Touch Southland has been mindful of the barriers to increasing female participation.
A new initiative saw two development officers attend school visits, with boys and girls split into separate groups with the aim of boosting the confidence and involvement of female students.
“Much of the feedback about this was extremely positive,” Eade said.
“We are encouraging schools, where possible, to enter boys and girls teams, rather than mixed.”
Touch Southland has also created its own video coaching content and published it on its website to assist school coaches, parents, teams and players to develop their understanding of the game.
For some time now, Touch Southland has been forward thinking in its approach to representative play, working to ensure a wider range of players get exposed to a higher level of play. Over 26 Southland and/or development teams played in tournaments, while a new development tournament featured teams from Invercargill, Queenstown, Eastern Southland, Central Southland, Roxburgh and Cromwell.
That's not to say that the pathway through to the eilte ranks is being ignored or diluted, far from it.
Touch administrators are keen on developing a richer understanding of the strategic nature of the game, rather than just players ‘chucking the ball around’.
Southland’s under 12 girls, under 14 boys and under 16 girls teams all picked up silver medals at the South Island junior IPS. The under 16 mixed side placed fourth in the 2019 junior nationals in February.
In all, Touch Southland had 14 players named in national youth squads.
Riverton’s Trisha Hopcroft will represent the Touch Blacks open women’s team at the Touch World Cup in Kuala Lumpur next month and she will be joined by referee Richie Heap, from Queenstown.
Heap will also create history as a referee in the first ever home game for the Warriors men’s and women’s touch teams taking part for the first time in the NRL Touch Premiership.
This link between touch and the NRL is considered a huge step forward for the sport in terms of exposure and visibility in both New Zealand and Australia.