Page title

Intro

Position

The department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries expects that junior sport activities promote a fun, inclusive and safe environment for its participants and encourage a lifelong commitment to a healthy and active lifestyle. The department endorses the existing Australian Sports Commission’s Junior Sport Framework and expects that national and state sporting associations will have the necessary tools, information and resources available to administrators and coaches to ensure their programs are delivered appropriately. In addition, the department:

  • Expects that junior sport programs should be based on the principle of equality of participation. All players should be given equal playing time and should be provided the opportunity to play different positions.
  • Expects that when match scores are kept, it's the responsibility of the coaches, officials, parents and support staff to ensure the focus is on promoting enjoyment and development of fundamental motor skills and not on who wins and loses.
  • Is of the view that early specialisation is not necessary or appropriate for children aged 12 and under. Evidence shows that diversity (instead of specialisation) during childhood has a positive effect on future elite performance as well as long-term participation in the sport.

Background

In 2003 the ASC released the Junior Sport Framework (requires log in) as a guide for all National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) to assist in the delivery of best practice in junior sport and encourage a lifelong commitment to sport from participants. Junior sport is usually defined as inclusive of participants 12 years and under, although a range of cut-off ages may apply across the wide range of sports, and modified sports, offering programs to children. This position paper refers to children aged 12 years and under.

Purpose

Sport participation during childhood offers many immediate and long-term benefits, including:

  • The formation of positive physical activity behaviours;
  • Development of life-skills;
  • Physical literacy; and
  • Cognitive and social function.

The department emphasises that all sports should be cognisant of the lasting effect that can be had from both a positive and negative introduction to physical activity. There's good evidence it's the experiences had at a younger age that can develop into a lifelong commitment to physical activity. This position statement highlights the key areas for consideration for those responsible for developing, organising and conducting junior sport activities.

Participation

In addition to the well-known health benefits, the physiological and social development gained through participation in sport can impart valuable life skills such as confidence, self-esteem, teamwork, decision making and resilience. All of these skills can contribute to maintaining healthy physical activity levels into adulthood.

The ASC expects that any sport's participation and athlete development structure takes into consideration a number of core principles upon which junior sport policies and program development are based.

  • Recognition that motivation for participation is based upon enjoyment, which may include many things such as having fun, acquiring skills and experiencing positive self-concept and interaction with others.
  • Flexibility in program design to account for the variability in the rate of maturation among children. Program design may also consider whether gender inclusion (i.e. boys and girls competing together) is desirable and age appropriate.
  • Recognition of the physical and psychological developmental stages and capabilities that exist during childhood. Programs must respond to the capabilities and age appropriate needs of children. The emergence of modified sports programs is a direct response to these needs.
  • Inclusion principles that allow a variety of sport and physical activity opportunities to take place in a safe environment. Child protection in a sporting environment is a critical consideration.
  • Development of pathways, for both elite and community participants, so that sporting experiences and learnt skills become part of a long-term or lifetime continuum.

The department expects that NSOs work towards developing junior sport specific programs such as AFL Auskick, Netball Australia’s Net-Set-Go and Cricket Australia’s In2Cricket. Modifying the traditional rules of the game promotes a fun, inclusive, safe and high involvement environment that promotes lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity.

The selection of junior teams involves balancing individual participation with skill development and the shift towards greater competition as children mature. Play by the Rules, a collaboration of government agencies working in the child safety space, including the ASC and the department, promotes the philosophy that junior sport should maximise individual participation and that children are less like to enjoy sport if there is an over emphasise on winning. The department supports the Play by the Rules recommendation that State Sporting Associations and community clubs promote a culture that emphasises participation over winning and losing.

As skills develop, sports should offer a variety of appropriate competitive opportunities to ensure participants are engaged. Sports have a responsibility to deliver programs that create a personal challenge for all participants and provides for a sense of achievement. NSOs have adopted a variety of scoring policies that complement their overall junior sport objectives:

  • AFL: no score, ladders or finals are permitted up to and including under 10s Auskick;
  • Netball: scores may be kept but no ladder produced while participating in Net-Set-Go;
  • Cricket: scores can be kept, at the discretion of the club.

Evidence shows that age appropriate competition can be necessary for maintaining the interest of the participant. Learning how to manage behaviour in adversity is a natural part of children’s development and helps to develop life skills such as resilience and good teamwork. Based on the research available and the ASC’s information on children market segmentation, the department’s position is that junior sport activities should promote opportunities that maximise participation and remove the obstacles that limit it. Examples include not scheduling finals for under-12 competitions and not implementing a selection process that leaves some children regularly out of the game.

The department strongly emphasises that junior sport programs should be based on the principle of equality of participation. All players should be given equal playing time and should be rotated through positions. When competition scores are kept, it's the responsibility of the coaches, officials, parents and support staff to ensure the focus is on promoting enjoyment and development of fundamental motor skills and not on the result. The best junior sport programs have made appropriate adjustments to the traditional rules of the game to maximise enjoyment and contribute towards long term involvement.

Sport pathway

The sport pathway spans the entire continuum of athletic development – from initiation of fundamental movement and participation in physical activity through to proficiency at a mastery level.

Sports should consider the ASC’s Foundations, Talent, Elite and Mastery model when delivering and developing pathways for all participants, not just those who have elite aspirations. Competition, education and training should reflect the current level of the athlete and take into consideration the necessary skills required at each level.

Sports should design and provide the necessary pathways that cater for young people and allow for the development of the necessary skills so that junior participants can easily move through the participation pathway. Each sport has a responsibility to develop its own pathways to meet the needs of the sport and its participants.

Talent identification and development pathway

The department’s position is that specialisation is not necessary or appropriate for children under 12. Evidence shows that best practice sub elite and elite programs should be designed to encourage diversification early and specialisation late. The International Journal of Sport and Politics (2014) states that:

...Specialised programmes at a young age (6-12) to develop elite level athletes are not necessary in most sports. Instead, providing opportunities for all children to participate in various informal and organisation recreational sports should be the focus of sport programmers…

 

It goes on to say:

In other words, diversity (instead of specialisation) during childhood has a positive effect on future elite performance as well as long-term participation in the sport.

 

Evidence such as this highlights the importance of junior athletes having the opportunity to participate in a variety of sports during their development. In addition, the Journal of Sports Sciences (2013) found that junior athletes participating in a variety of sports at a younger age were more likely to compete at the elite level in their chosen sport later in life. This evidence supports the department’s position that there's no need for sports to select representative sides for under-12 competitions. These early years are best focused on participation, progression of fundamental skills and developing a commitment to lifelong participation in physical activity.

Safe environments

The community club environment

Every child has the right to participate in sport and recreation within a safe environment. Although the department for Child Protection and Family Support and the WA Police are legally responsible for the protection of children in Western Australia, the industry also has a responsibility to create safe environments for safe participation by children. The department has partnered with the WA Sports Federation to develop a framework for sports to create child-safe environments and minimise risk. Coaches, teachers, support staff and administrators should familiarise themselves with their responsibilities and ensure that they adopt and implement the appropriate strategies.

The school environment

Schools are acknowledged as excellent settings for the promotion and delivery of sport and physical activity opportunities as well as developing connections to the community. Sports should ensure that there is goodwill and cooperation between service providers. Good communication and consultation will lead to a coordinated and complementary approach to junior sport. To support any sport and physical activity program, the department recommends a whole of school approach where staff, students, parents and the wider community are engaged.

The family environment

Parents and guardians play a key role in creating healthy environments for their children. In order to achieve this, many parents will need information and education on the benefits of physical activity and on the importance of positive and acceptable behaviours in sport and recreation.

The department developed Keep It Fun to help sports promote good behaviour among parents so that they can learn to be a positive influence on their child’s sporting experience. This is complemented by the Active Parent Education Kit which provides parents of Western Australia with resources to optimise their child’s sport and recreation experience.

Contact

Manager, Industry Development
Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries – Sport and Recreation
Telephone 61 8 9492 9725

Useful Links

References

Bridge, M., and Toms, M. (2013). The specialisation or sampling debate: a retrospective analysis of adolescent sports participation in the UK. Journal of Sports Sciences31(1), 87-96.

Cote, J., and Hancock, D. (2014). Evidence based policies for youth sport programmes. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, DOI: 10.1080/19406940.2014.91938.

Endorsed

01 February 2015

Review

01 February 2017

Tags

Page reviewed 25 June 2019