Sport Waikato changes approach as it supports active lifestyles


Sport Waikato has transformed its practice and revitalised its management structure as it works to make people in the region physically active.

From a small base, it achieves a remarkable amount by partnering with businesses and other organisations.

“Our vision is: ‘everyone out there and active’ and we do this by building capability and helping people to help themselves,” says Sport Waikato CEO Matthew Cooper. He says the mandate is clear – to grow participation numbers, and develop capability in the sport and recreation sector. He says leveraging and partnering is a smarter approach.

Sport Waikato offers a range of services, drawing on the support of numerous partners who see the value in getting involved, and Matthew says the organisation is always happy to work with new partners.

In offering these services, Sport Waikato has changed its approach. That has been driven by the introduction of Moving Waikato 2025, the regional strategy for physical activity, recreation and sport, developed in 2016 in response to declining participation in physical activity.

“Sport Waikato was the lead agency in developing that strategy, and it has changed a lot of what we do and what our focus is,” Matthew says.

“We were traditionally putting out the cones for people to do things and now we are showing them how to do those things, stepping away and working with another group. That’s the kind of culture that we’re trying to instill.”

The focus is on sustainability, he says.

It also saw Sport Waikato change its own structure, introducing three defined GM roles: People and Communities, Regional Leadership and Organisational Performance.

Among its new initiatives is This is Me®, focused on getting more women and girls active. This is ME® is about real girls and women doing physical activity together, and aims to encourage, support and celebrate girls and women of all ages getting out there and active, whatever way they choose to.

Another new programme is Whaanau Kori, Tamariki Ora – Active Families, Healthy Kids, which is free and aimed at the whole whānau working together to make healthy changes.

That builds on its flagship Project Energize, established in Waikato schools 13 years ago.

Sport Waikato also offers a free 12 Week Challenge to organisations to get work groups more involved in physical activity and healthy eating.

“A company like Fonterra will sign up some of their staff to participate in a 12 week challenge,” says Andrew Corkill, General Manager People and Communities.

“They get a weekly email to their staff and some sessions with our staff around physical activity and nutrition. They get to hand pick the package that their staff would want.”

He says it’s proving successful in getting work groups more engaged in physical activity.

“The 12 Week Challenge is beneficial but we think it can be better. It’s that continuous change, innovation culture that we’re trying to instill at the moment, really questioning everything we do: what is the impact of it, how can we do it better?

“We do it with everything, otherwise you eventually stagnate.”

The organisation also focuses on coaching, on better volunteers, and on building the capability of sports clubs and regional sporting organisations.

Sport Waikato is the largest of a network of regional sports trusts and was established in 1986.

Thirty-two years later, the charitable trust has a staff of about 80 and draws half of its total funding from partners such as the Waikato District Health Board and the Ministry of Health. Other partners include Sport NZ, Territorial Authorities, Trust Waikato, Gallagher and the Brian Perry Charitable Trust, as well as a myriad of other valued partner organisations who help to achieve its vision.

The health organisations fund the Green Prescription programme and Project Energize, which sees Sport Waikato work with 240 primary schools around the region to boost children’s healthy, active lifestyles.

Five years ago, Sport Waikato added an Under 5 Energize programme, working with preschools including kōhanga and kindergartens. Funded by the Ministry of Health, it targets high deprivation areas.

“You’re really targeting the parents that are coming into the centres with healthy eating advice, and you’re targeting the teachers of the centres with healthy eating but also physical activity options for them to really get the under fives moving,” says Andrew Corkill .“Sport Waikato is not about winning; it’s about getting people to engage with activity and healthy eating to pursue a lifelong habit of either sport, recreation or play.”

For more information contact Matthew Cooper on 07 858 5388 or


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