During their growth from 5 to 17 years,
young people develop physically, psychologically, emotionally and
socially. These changes in young people are reflected in differences in:
- The way they learn
- The variety of skills they are capable of
- The activities they like
- The time they are prepared to spend in the systematic practice of sport
- Their attitude to, and need for, competition.
Pathways need to be designed for young people to move progressively through sport and provide opportunities to:
- Gain skills in line with their level of maturation
- Move easily from one stage of involvement to another
- Be motivated and have fun while developing their skills and interests
- Inspire them to stay involved long-term.
Stages in sport progression
Although sports have different requirements, they all have definite
stages in taking young people from their early involvement to being an
Generally, the progression moves through the following stages:
- Broad experiences when young people master basic sports skills in many sporting activities with fun as the focus
- Progression when a greater focus is placed on skill development, but fun and enjoyment are still important
- Specialisation when some young people become serious about sport and are keen to refine their skills
- Recreational participation when sport is played for fun and to maintain skills
- Life-long involvement is the end goal for all, with adults
participating in recreational, elite, masters or veterans activities
according to their talent and interests.
Planning the progression
The aim of pathways planning for young people is to sequentially develop their sports skills to equip them to:
- Reach their potential in sports of their choice
- Continue in and enjoy adult sport.
The planned developmental levels should also accommodate individual differences, because participants:
- Differ in their ability to gain sports skills
- Move through the various developmental stages at different rates
- Have different levels of skill requirements and challenges.
To encourage long-term involvement, it is important young people are
able to participate in sport at the right level for their interests and
Training/practice and competition
Training/practice and competition are important in meeting the aims
of junior sport, and must be tailored to the specific sport and
development level of the participants.
Training and practice vary for the different stages of participation in the:
Competition provides stimulation and challenge. It involves more than
winning or losing. Through competition, young people make friends and
experience loyalty, cooperation and learning through managing success
and mistakes, and coping with disappointments.
Competitive experiences should be planned to:
- Reflect the level of physical, social and emotional development of the participants
- Provide a progressive bridge to adult competition.
It is important that children are able to ‘play at sports’ in an
informal setting during their early development. Children need to:
- Develop basic movement skills such as running, throwing, catching, jumping, kicking, striking, rolling and twisting
- Be introduced to simple rules and ethics of sports.
This is best done through play in as wide a range of sports
activities as possible. In the process of doing this, participants are
- Teamwork and cooperation with others
- Body awareness, decision-making and other skills.
Sports can be modified (rules, equipment size, degree of skill
difficulty etc.) to provide opportunities for success through a level of
challenge suited to the young participants.
To keep them motivated while developing basic motor skills and
concepts, young participants need to spend most of their playtime
experimenting with sport activities.
The role of sport providers is mainly to act as a resource that can:
- Provide helpful instructions and suggest modifications to make the most of practice time
- Adapt activities when children are not skilled to keep the focus on their abilities rather than their limitations
- Modify activities to make them more challenging when young people are ready to progress
- Ensure the environment is inclusive, safe and fun.
When children are being introduced to sport or fundamental activities
it is best not to have formal competitions so that the focus can be
kept on participation, skill development and fun for all.
Later in this stage, low-level competitions can be offered involving
structured minor activities and modified sports where basic sports
skills can be acquired and refined in an enjoyable, positive
These act as a good introduction to the simple rules and ethics of sports.
As the young person advances in sport, fundamental motor skills in
the previous stage need to be supplemented by more specific sports
Participation in a wide range of sports is still encouraged. This
will produce athletes who are more trainable for long-term,
sport-specific development (because of good basic skills).
The aim is for young people to gain a variety of sports skills, which
will better equip them to make choices on which sports and positions
In this stage, young people are learning how to train and practice
becomes a more powerful factor in skill development, but fun and
enjoyment remain important. They should be able to:
- Try out different positions within one sport
- Gradually increase the time they spend in practice
- Experience fun, challenge and excitement through the way activities are organised.
Fundamental movement skills should be practised and mastered before
sport-specific skills are introduced. Sport providers need to
- The amount of practice activities while gradually decreasing play activities
- The level of challenge.
Competition is introduced when the critical movement skills and
concepts have been developed. However, the emphasis is still on learning
and improving the basics.
Competition helps the practice of technical skills and learning how
to cope with the physical and mental challenges presented during
Inter and intra-school, and inter and intra- club competitions should
act as stepping-stones to more formal competition in the later years of
There may be times when either a single or mixed sex competition is
preferable. When making a decision, social and emotional factors are
likely to be more important considerations than age.
Scores can be kept but there should be no competition rankings and a
focus maintained on enjoyment while building technical and tactical
Many young people will decide to specialise in their favourite sport
and training becomes a significant part of their life with a more
serious focus. The goal is usually competition.
Coaching clinics and talent development programs play a role at this
level by assisting young people to make informed decisions about their
Some junior sport participants will be committed to achieving an elite level of performance in a single activity.
They should have developed their physical, cognitive, social,
emotional and motor skills to a level needed in highly specialised
training in one sport.
Coaches will need to provide:
- A specific and well-planned training, competition and recovery regime to ensure the best development
- Emotional and social support and enjoyment to balance the effort
and motivation needed for intense training at a highly competitive
Some young people will be disappointed they are not selected after
after dedicated training. Be ready to offer them support if necessary.
Practice becomes the focus of training in the specialisation stage
and sport providers need more technical expertise to assist the
development of young people. Sport providers play an important role in:
- Keeping young people involved long enough for them to develop to their full capacity
- Acting as mentors (e.g. assisting in setting and working towards
individual goals and aspirations and monitoring workloads, especially
when young people are involved in more than one sport)
- Maintaining motivation, fun and a love of the sport for life-long participation.
For young people wishing to compete at elite levels, the focus of
training shifts to the optimisation of performance through intense
Preventing physical and mental burnout (see Physical growth and maturation – junior sport policy and The law and sport – junior sport policy) is an issue in the specialisation stage.
In the early part of this stage, activities should become more
structured with an emphasis on skill development and game appreciation,
and involve both inter-school and inter-club competitions.
As young people advance in physical maturity they will be ready for
more intense competition and for a progression in their sporting
Competitions at inter-club, inter-school, state and national levels
should focus on enjoyment while meeting the needs of young people to
perform to the best of their ability.
Competition should also be planned to meet the needs of the committed young people who wish to perform to a high level.
Junior sport participants prefer to play sport primarily for enjoyment:
- If they choose not to enter the specialisation phase
- After they have fulfilled their desire to specialise.
This is a desirable progression and may lead to the ultimate goal of
life-long participation. The main aim is to have fun through playing
sport and spending time with friends.
At this stage, some young people may also be encouraged to commit to
being a volunteer and training to be a coach, official or administrator,
so they can continue to contribute to the sport they love.
Young people in the recreational participation phase are looking for satisfaction through:
- Maintaining and enhancing their sports skills
- Being physically active
- Enjoying physical challenges through fun activities with their peers.
Sport providers will be able to create appropriate experiences if they understand these needs and focus on providing them.
Practice can be in the form of games aimed at maintaining and improving basic sports skills and technical proficiency.
Some young people in the recreational participation phase look for a
competitive sport experience, while others prefer competitions focusing
on social outcomes and fun.
One sport pathway cannot satisfy the needs of all sports. And the
difference between sports relates to whether specialisation in the sport
happens early or late.
This affects how quickly young people move through the stages. In
addition, the individual timing of development/maturation influences how
soon young people reach the various stages in the pathway.
Therefore, no recommendations about specific ages for each stage have been made in the guidelines.
Each sport has a responsibility to develop its own pathways to meet the needs of the sport and its participants. It should:
- Set out and implement a planned development for young people
with attainment targets identifying what is expected of them at each
- Back up each stage with appropriate support
- Provide for talented young people with a clearly defined pathway
- Monitor and evaluate the delivery of the progression and make improvements as necessary.
Schools and clubs should work together to have consistent pathways for young people in any particular sport (see Forming links – Junior sport policy).
Sport development should be based on the principles and strategies set out in the Junior Sport Guidelines 2003.
Table 1 summarises generalised skill and game progressions to help in drafting a pathway for a sport.
Strategies for designing sport pathways
- Develop a framework of progressive stages to take young people from beginner to experienced participant.
- Plan and document for each stage the:
- motor and tactical skills to be gained
- knowledge required of the ethics and traditions of the sport
- duration and structure of training and practice
- number of sessions (training, practice and competition) per week
- type, level and frequency of competitive experiences
- different competitive structures for boys and girls after the age of 12 years.
- Plan modifications to activities to suit the developmental
level, competitive level, gender mix or social needs of participants, by
- the type of activities offered
- the degree of skill difficulty
- distances and dimensions of the field, pitch or court
- rules such as duration, team size, time for each participant, interchange of participants, rotation of positions
- equipment, dimensions and weight.
- Evaluate and improve the delivery of your sport pathway on an ongoing basis
- Incorporate coaching clinics and talent identification and development programs into planning
- Provide a structure to support talented young people through access to:
- quality coaching and use of quality facilities
- performance camps to train with others at a similar level
- specialised training and regular high-level competition
- a mentor to provide individual guidance.
- Encourage young people to continue their participation in volunteer
roles by training to be a coach, official or administrator
- Provide consistent pathways across organisations by working together (especially clubs with schools).
An important role of sporting organisations is to assist all sport
providers (including parents and carers) to move young people through
specially designed pathways according to their talent and interest.
There is satisfaction in a job well done when young people:
- Enjoy their sport
- Play to the best of their ability
- Continue in sport throughout their lives.
Key points – sport pathways
- Developmental changes in young people between five and 17 years require stages so they can progress in line with their maturity.
- Planned developmental levels should also accommodate individual
differences so young people can participate at the best level for their
ability at any stage.
- Gaining fundamental skills in a variety of activities through
play is important in the ‘broad experiences’ stage. This builds the base
for a good grounding in skills later used in a chosen sport.
- The progression stage requires more time to be devoted to training, practice and competition while gaining a variety of sports skills.
- In their teenage years, many young people are ready to move into the specialisation stage, as they will have developed the physical, psychological and social skills required for specialised training.
- In the recreation stage, training is focused on
maintaining and increasing sports skills, and competition might have an
emphasis on socialising and having fun.
- Careful planning is needed at every stage to increase the chances of:
- Young people being committed to life-long involvement in sport
- Talented young people having success in elite sport.
Table 1. Progression for junior sport – a general guide to give sports ideas for customising their pathways
||Fun, learning, general athletic development
||Fun, improving wide range of skills
||Enjoyment and improving performance
||Enjoyment, social and personal satisfaction
||Modifications to equipment, venue and game structure for safety and success
||Athletic and behavioural skills for life-long participation
||Fitness, technical and tactical training, goal setting, managing aspirations
Social aspects and events
Encourage involvement in other roles (e.g. coach, official)
||Up to 60 mins
||Up to 90 mins
||Up to 120 mins
||Up to 90 mins
||1–2 times a week per sport
||Up to 3–5 times a week per sport
||Up to 7–10 times a week in total
||Up to 3 times a week per sport
||Play, simple games, opportunities to participate focusing on gross motor skills
||Skill development through understanding, training and games
||Training and competition with the aims of skill development, game sense and performance
||Training and competition with options at various levels
|Approach to conditioning
||Minor aspect, not a focus
||Careful introduction and progression to suit individual development
||Evaluate individual to determine focus and gradually progress
||Train to avoid negative outcomes (e.g. injuries)
- Modified activities with the objective of individual improvement
- No representative teams
- Scoring tallies optional, not central objective.
- Competition with emphasis on allround development and rotation around all positions
- Emphasise fair play
- Representative teams and regional competitions in later years
- Scoring tallies.
- Introduction of inter-state competitions
- Emphasis on individual and allround development
- Experience competition also through officiating and coaching younger groups.
- Focus on social competitions
- Level of competitive intensity appropriate to individual motivation.
||Recognise effort and participation
||Recognise effort, improvement, application and participation
||Recognise effort, improvement and performance
||Recognise effort, participation and contribution to the sport
1 No recommendations are made about specific ages for each stage as there are considerable differences across sports.
Junior Sport Framework
This information is part of a series covering the nine guidelines
outlined in the Junior Sport Framework (JSF) as developed by Sport
The information in this booklet has been reproduced with the permission of Sport Australia.
The guidelines cover topics to address the needs of young people in sport and include:
- Long-term involvement
- Physical growth and maturation
- Sport pathways
- Forming links
- People making it happen
- Quality coaching
- Making sport safe
- The law and sport.
These booklets outline the main points of the guidelines to assist in
the delivery of best practice in junior sport and to encourage young
people to make a life-long commitment to sport.
A complete copy of the JSF is available on the Sport Australia website.