Good Sports Teaming up to support our gifted kids

We are a sporting nation; there’s no denying that. We look to our elite sports teams and individuals for competitive entertainment, but more than that, as our role-models. They show us not only how to perform well in times of intense competition, but also provide an opportunity to reflect on the underpinning values that hold them high, both on and off the ‘field’.

The All-Blacks as a team, undeniably possess the greatest level of influence in Aotearoa New Zealand, with thousands of avid supporters and many aspiring young players. These guys exemplify what it is each be exceptional in their own right, high-achieving gifted individuals who have been through a rigorous selection process, immense training and then yet further selection, as decisions are made as to which players actually get out onto the field to compete.

Further to this, they also exemplify group giftedness, the upholding of mana for the collective (in this instance the whole of the country) through their qualities, abilities, words and actions, and use of these to nurture and uplift others (Bevan-Brown, 2009). And it does not stop there, because with the right mix of people, they exemplify what it is to be synergisticwhat one might be tempted to coin a gifted group. As Matiu Walters, who as part of Six60 who have been working closely with the All Blacks, says:

There is a natural synergy in the energy and passion that goes into making music and the same attributes that go into sport

But it’s not all about the squad; it’s much bigger than this, with the All Black’s having a “small army of helpers” as described by Knowler (2015). Each person plays a very important role, aiding in the development and success of individuals and the team as a whole. What’s more, many in these key supporting roles are also top of their game (pun intended), and also very likely to be gifted individuals.

Let’s take a look at some aspects of the composition of the broader team.

I’m sure there are others that have not been identified here, however this list in and of itself serves to highlight, that success is not the work of one, but the work of many, as per the whakataukī below. Not only this, they represent an array of disciplines, with a focus on health and wellbeing clearly evident. Indeed, I find it interesting to consider these roles in light of Te Whare Tapa Whā, Mason Durie’s model of Māori wellbeing, the components of which include: taha tinana (physical), taha wairua (spiritual), taha whānau (family), and taha hinengaro (mental).

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari, he toa takitini

Given the tight link between wellbeing, learning, and development, it is not unsurprising to see recognition of the importance of each of these aspects within their professional support network. While it was admittedly a little harder to find out about these roles, it is clear that they are seen as pivotal to success of the team. So to my mind, the question for us working with gifted individuals is - in contexts other than the All Blacks team! - whether in schools or clinics, with young children, teens, or adults - how might we learn from the All Blacks’ way of doing things?

Integrating education, health, and community services

The relevance of the proverb above certainly extends well beyond the professional sports arena and into every aspect of our lives, with our mahi in supporting our gifted youngsters being no exception. So, who are the current - and potential! - valuable members for our student/client/family support network?

The following is by no means comprehensive, but serves to highlight the plethora of roles that connect in with nurturing the wellbeing of our gifted learners. However, this is where things often come unglued. A deficit focus is still the mainstay of many areas of practice, and this poses a barrier. It is therefore up to each and every one of us, to help facilitate this process; to help other practitioners recognise the value in utilising strengths-based practices, and, further to this, how this relates to nurturing the wellbeing of our gifted. The status quo does not have to remain! We can grow to develop a shared understanding across disciplines.

This leads us to the logistical part. How do we do this? I don’t think there is a simple answer. However, in saying that, I believe there are a multitude of avenues to utilise, from sharing our knowledge, experiences and resources with practitioners in other fields (e.g., online, at conferences, in publications such as journals) through to creating inter professional/multi-disciplinary teams (to explore, learn and apply understandings of giftedness in an holistic way).

It may take courage, will likely take persistence, and most definitely intentionality, but by promoting collaboration across professions, to work as one cohesive team focused on nurturing the wellbeing of our gifted, we can empower them to be well, learn, develop, achieve and ultimately - flourish. I’m thinking a repository of online resources for health professionals could be a good place to start; perhaps a Facebook group. What suggestions do you have? Share them here.

As the All Blacks say, “with all of you behind us, anything is possible”. Let’s make this a reality for the rest of Aotearoa’s gifted too.

With all of you behind us, anything is possible

Vanessa White is a specialist educator in gifted education, who advocates fiercely for the infusion of trauma-informed practices across all spheres of practice and life. She runs Lifting the Lid, a gifted education consultancy service, along-side Hello Calm, an endeavour which is aimed at supporting young people who experience anxiety and/or live with the ongoing impacts of trauma, and the resulting dysregulated stress response. Vanessa will be speaking at the upcoming Gifted Wellbeing conference being hosted by the Aotearoa New Zealand Association for Gifted Children in September 2020, where she will present on anxiety and resilience in gifted kids.

Photo credits - All images licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. All Blacks in black and white by James Colman
  2. All Blacks in colour by James Colman
  3. Red and black stripes by Levi Midnight


Created with images by Levi Midnight - untitled image