In 2015, while speaking with a teacher from a Waikato primary school, Thomas Nabbs was told there were three children at the decile 7 school who would love to play sport but were unable to because their parents couldn't afford the costs.
Thomas was shocked to discover there were many New Zealand children in similar circumstances and he felt motivated to change things. Later that year he established The WaterBoy in an endeavour to give every child an opportunity for success through sport.
“The WaterBoy was started because we believe that every Kiwi deserves the opportunity for personal development,” says Thomas. “Everyone is a product of their environment, and we firmly believe that every child should be given a shot at succeeding, something that is currently not afforded to every New Zealander.”
Some time after he started The WaterBoy, I met Thomas at a local event and I was impressed by his enthusiasm and commitment to helping local children reach their potential while enjoying the many benefits that come from involvement in team sports, healthy competition and regular exercise.
“Sport gives us mental and physical health benefits and teaches us leadership skills, social skills and interpersonal skills. Sport accelerates emotional intelligence development, while giving us self-esteem, purpose, self-respect and respect for others,” explains Thomas.
“Sport breaks down social barriers to bring us closer to people from different cultures, races, religions, and social classes - something which has never been more important than it is in the world we live in today.”
The WaterBoy gained charitable status in 2017 and has evolved further since its small, part-time beginnings. They now have a team of three full-time and 15 part-time or volunteer people.
They have developed a speaker series called Everybody's Game, which uses well-known sporting personalities to present to secondary school assemblies, delivering a message of equality and inclusiveness (such as tackling homophobia) in sport and society.
“Through Everybody’s Game, we ensure teenagers know that they do not have to forgo any activity, including sport, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We also ensure heterosexual students are aware how their actions, language and behaviour can affect those around them,” explains Thomas.
“Thirdly, we ensure all students and especially those on the rainbow spectrum know who they can turn to if they need support or wish to speak to someone about their sexual orientation or gender.”
Thomas says The WaterBoy has now expanded to develop a personal development programme called Taku Wairua, which is a mentor program that helps recipients to set goals in all areas of their lives and then work to support them in achieving those goals. “We have helped youth to set and achieve goals around health, work, music, and family,” he says.
“We have also developed a partnership with St Peter's School Cambridge’s Equine Centre where our recipients have an opportunity to develop compassion for animals, career skills, and life-long friendships with people from different walks of life.”
The WaterBoy provides comprehensive coverage throughout the Waikato and applicants can also apply for sporting costs if they live in Bay of Plenty and Auckland.
There have been many success stories since The WaterBoy began, and in 2018 a coffee table book celebrating these inspirational stories was compiled.
“More Than a Game brings together examples of how The WaterBoy’s assistance has impacted the lives of Kiwi children,” explains Thomas. “It also features New Zealand sporting personalities Israel Dagg, Casey Kopua, Tim Southee, and Lucy Spoors, who have all had the opportunity to participate and succeed in sport and explain how sport has helped to shape their character and community.”
More Than a Game is available from Paper Plus (Centre Place, Hamilton and in Cambridge), and from Poppies Bookstore at Waikato University. It can also be purchased online at www.thewaterboy.co.nz, where more information and contact details may also be found.
It is inspiring to have such fine young leaders as Thomas working in our community for the benefit of others, especially children. I have no doubt that his efforts and encouragement will make a lasting impression for the good of many of them, and that our society will be stronger as a consequence.