This Is Our Game - AFL Junior Match Policy
This Is Our Game
By Josh Vanderloo
AFL National Development Manager
The AFL’s Junior Football Match Guide is a framework that aims to provide the best possible journey for young players to progress their learning and development towards the adult version of the game. It seeks to ensure a quality environment exists whilst maximising the enjoyment, fun and development of young players. We believe a safe, positive and progressive introduction to the game is important and much more likely to attract and retain young players of all abilities within the game for longer.
It’s important to recognise that modified practices in junior sport have been around for a long time and that the AFL first put out our Junior Match Guide in 2008. It has now been re-released in 2014 off the back of a 2 year research project with Deakin University and extensive stakeholder engagement with State bodies and junior leagues around Australia.
With its re-release, the Junior Football Match Guide aims to:
- Ensure that junior football is delivered in a uniform manner across all States.
- Provide clear direction to leagues and clubs for the provision of appropriate pathways for all boys and girls in safe, enjoyable and accountable environments.
- Maximise the recruitment and retention of players and umpires through programs and match rules appropriate to each age level (meets the needs of children).
- Provide a participation pathway that considers the following principles – comprehensive (levels of participation that link), inclusive and equitable (accommodates all young people), coherent (prescribes links between levels), developmental (meets children's needs) and informed (by research and practice).
We don’t want to put kids in adult environments too early and that includes large grounds, congested play, unnecessary physicality and an over-emphasis on winning. The core philosophy of the Junior Football Match Guide encourages:
- Smaller fields and reduced numbers.
- A phased approach to scores, ladders & finals.
- A sequential approach to tackling and contact.
What the research told us
The research, led by Deakin University’s Sport Management Program co-ordinator Associate Professor Pamm Phillips examined skill development, the game day environment, and children's enjoyment of the game in five locations nationally — some under modified rules conditions, and others under non-modified rules conditions
What was found was that children learned and developed the skills needed to play the game more readily when the competitive element was taken away. By the time the children finish under 10s they are still very young, so having the opportunity to learn the rules and develop skills first appears to provide a good springboard into the next stage of their development into competitive match play.
The research also clearly showed that where the AFL Junior Match Guidelines were employed in their entirety, the culture was less intense and competitive and better matched the age and maturity of the participants, whilst improving sport development pathways and their management.
A key point to be acknowledged is that given a number of kids begin with NAB AFL Auskick and progress to junior football, it was identified that there was value in moving the competitive elements of scoring and full tackling to the U11’s age group (previously recommended at U12’s & U13’s).
Throughout the research process, State Bodies and a number of leagues were engaged to ensure their input was considered. Numerous discussions took place about the best way to approach some of the key themes to ensure they could be implemented effectively.
This is a framework and a guide for the best possible conduct of the game - whilst leagues do not have to adopt its recommendations, we strongly recommend that they do.
So what has changed from 2008 to 2014?
We are being more prescriptive in that we want kids to progress through 3 phases as they develop their skills and ability.
- NAB AFL Auskick (introductory).
- U9/U10 (development).
- U11/U12 (competition).
In addition to this:
- We have changed our position on scores, ladders & finals which have shifted from U12’s to U11’s.
- We have also done the same with tackling & contact which used to prescribe modified practices until U13s (now U11’s).
- We have been more prescriptive in terms of player numbers and ground sizes at each age progression.
Whilst these aren’t major changes to our framework, a number of leagues are adopting these for the first time and therefore it seems like there is a major change in AFL policy.
For many other leagues, they have been following these guidelines for a long time and have seen many positive results from this sequential approach to development.
Why take out Scores, Ladders, Finals & Best players at U10’s?
This is based on research that showed better match environments exist when parents & coaches don’t have to worry about the result. Fundamentally it is a rule for parents & coaches – we know the kids are aware of the scores and who kicks the goals but we also know the main drivers for their participation is to have fun and playing with their friends.
So why not full tackling until U12’s?
During the development phase, we want to give every child the opportunity to develop and execute their skills under match conditions appropriate to them. By reducing the pressure or providing a logical progression to learn the skill of tackling and being tackled, we think this is achieved.
Why make the grounds smaller and reduce the numbers?
Kids cannot kick as far, run as fast or process the same level of match information as adults – so why make them play on the same size field? We want to take away the emphasis on endurance, reduce congestion and ensure kids are more engaged in the game because the ball is never far away.
Kids ‘wants” V “needs”
Often kids want to do things that they see teenagers or adults doing - or “want” to emulate the stars they watch at an AFL game, or who they see playing on TV. Like a lot of things kids “want”, it is the role of parents to take a responsible attitude and decide what the “needs’ of the child are as opposed to giving in to “wants”. This scenario is the same when arranging junior football. The AFL, leagues, club coaches and officials, have a duty of care to ensure the game meets the “needs” of the kids so they can participate in an inclusive and safe football environment free of the win at all costs attitude that is often evident in competitive premiership based competitions.
We are currently working on a methodology with Deakin University to continue our research to ensure we have the best possible model for kids, parents, coaches, umpires & administrators.