Published Friday 11 Mar 2022

A health promotion initiative that utilises rugby league as a vehicle to promote positive health action to whānau, has achieved remarkable success. The community collaboration is a pilot initiative which has seen the Nga Hau E Wha O Wainuiomata Under-14 Kotiro rugby league team develop as both promising rugby league players and health promoters.

In what could be perceived as cutting-edge health promotion or simply committing to doing the hard mahi – the results are compelling and speak for themselves. “At the heart of what we do is coach and mentor a girls rugby league team and support that on-field training with wellbeing and personal development training, but the health impacts extend beyond that,” said team mentor and Regional Public Health (RPH) promoter Sisi Tuala-Le’afa.

The initiative is a collaboration between Nga Hau E Wha O Wainuiomata, Kokiri Seaview, Wainuiomata Marae and RPH. Through this mahi, barriers to youth participating in sport have been minimised and kotiro have been mentored in health and wellbeing topics, as part of their wider team bonding and culture building sessions. Important public health impact is achieved by whānau seeing their own tamariki shine as role-models of positive health in action, and they in-turn have some exposure to wellbeing messaging through their tamariki.

“It is hoped that by having a young, vibrant health promoter advocating for positive health, in their own whānau, then more members of the family, whether it be their father, brother, sister, aunts and uncles – are supported and encouraged, to make decisions that lead to a long and healthy life,” said coach of the team, and DHB board member Ken Laban.

Regional Public Health (RPH) supported by providing uniforms, boots and training gear which has helped all rangatahi to participate to the fullest, without added stress to their whānau. From there, relationships and bonds were developed through off-field training, which included tikanga and kawa sessions alongside haka and whakawhanaungatanga sessions. An impetus was placed on team members taking pride in who they are and where they come from.

The health ambassador programme and support, covered health topics including managing emotions, physical and online safety, self-awareness and practicalities around being a health advocate amongst your community and whānau. There was also an emphasis on what it meant to represent your whānau and the collaboration partners who were investing their time and expertise into the team. “It was about providing a sense of what it might be like to be a professional athlete. You’re not only accountable to your team-mates and coaches but also to your support partners, organisations and your own whānau who have a vested interest in your performance on-and-off the field,” said Sisi

“It’s been pleasing to see our kotiro take up the mantle to be amazing health representatives in our community. Whether it’s seeing them actively participate to tautoko community events such as the launch of the Delta Buster, mobile vaccination clinic, in Lower Hutt, or just having the confidence to step-in and politely enforce our smokefree sidelines policy at our grounds. It’s rewarding to see that growth,” said Sisi.

With a mentoring focus being applied to build team cohesion and wellbeing off the field, it’s not surprising that the team has accomplished incredible results on the field. The team won the Under-14 Kotiro National Title at the New Zealand Māori Rugby League (NZMRL) Teina tournament in August. At this tournament, a number of players were chosen for higher honours with seven players from Nga Hau E Wha being selected for the national Māori team and one player selected to play for the national Fetu Samoa team.