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Click here to register as an attendee at the Junior Sport Policy Community Consultation on the 17th of March in Sydney



Athletics Australia would like to thank those groups and individuals that have so far contributed to the development of the Junior Sport Policy, either through face to face consultation sessions or making direct submissions. We are still eager to ensure that we hear from interested parties.

A reminder of the purpose of this important project is below, as well as research from Australia and International sources.

The consultation to date has thrown forward some key consistent themes, these are:

·         Holistic child development / participant health and wellness

·         Coaching and the role of coaches

·         The role of parents and guardians

·         Age appropriate programs and competitions

·         Athletics in Schools and the role of teachers

·         Meeting the changing needs of families and society

You may like to use these themes to structure your submission, of course if you have other items you would like to consider please include these in the submission.

Athletics Australia is pleased to advise that it is currently in the process of developing a Junior Sport Policy. The purpose of the policy is to establish an evidenced based position on the appropriate programs for our junior participants that:

·         encourage participation and a development of fundamental movement skills and physical literacy; and

·         provide the best opportunities for athletes to reach their potential.

The project will be consultation and research based and consider the holistic (physical, psychological, social, cognitive) development needs of the child. As a foundation sport it is important that athletics programs for children are positive, age appropriate and designed to develop a life-long love for sport and healthy lifestyles. The goal is to have a suite of conventional and complementary programs that contribute to more future Athletics Champions, better students, healthier individuals and a more connected community.

In addition to seeking input from the Athletics community, the project will seek input from and be informed by:

  • International athlete development and pathway experts
  • World’s best practice research and examples of child development 
  • Australian Sports Commission
  • Education Representatives
  • Coaches
  • IAAF and international athletics organisations
  • The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation
  • Teachers and Principals

Highlighted background information

In 2011 England Athletics released a research report completed by the Sport Industry Research Centre titled Bridging the Gap – Research to provide insight into the development and retention of young athletes. A number of insights were provided including:

·         Two separate studies showing the progression of the top 20 athletes from U/15 to U/20. One study showed only 13% of top 20 athletes progressed from U/15 to remain in the top 20 by U20, the other study showed only 7% made this progression.

·         The UK Athletics Athlete Development model articulates that up until the age of 12 participation should focus on fun and be undertaken at the local level. Between 12-16 club competition and regional competitions are appropriate, national competition is not prioritised until 16.

In 2013 the Australian Sports Commission released the “Market Segmentation for sport participation: Children” research and report. This research provided the insights that:

·         Sport delivery should focus on fun and enjoyment rather than competition

·         Programs and services should be inclusive; promote equal treatment; and focus on fun and participation regardless of skill level and ability.

·         20% of children aged 5-13 found sport too competitive and exclusive, another 20% had reservations about sport being too authoritative and competitive – which takes the fun out of it. 17% are at risk of dropping out and need offerings that are inclusive regardless of skill level and are more social and fun. 10% of children aren’t adverse to competition but it isn’t the key driver and 25% enjoy all facets of sport from the physical and mental to the social and competitive.

Also in 2013, the Australian Sports Commission and the CSIRO released The future of Australian sport paper, included in this was the finding that “health rather than competition, is becoming a major driver for participation in sport.

In 2015, the International Olympic Committee released a consensus statement on youth athletic development. This statement included the following:

·         “…children who participate in a variety of sport and specialise only after reaching the age of puberty, for example, tend to be more consistent performers, have fewer injuries and adhere to sports play longer than those who specialise early.”

·         (Injury) “prevention strategies have also been adopted to address extrinsic risk factors via the use of protective equipment and implementing rules and regulations. Unfortunately, without policies to enforce the implementation of prevention strategies, the uptake may not be optimal.” “There are also evident deficiencies in coach, athlete and parent knowledge and behaviours regarding injury prevention programmes in youth sport populations, despite the evidence to support their implementation.”

·         “Youth athletes are increasingly being exposed to inappropriate and unrealistic demands and expectations, and consequent psychological overload (self or coach/parent induced). How youth athletes perceived and cope with these stressors is neither predictable nor benign, with athlete burnout and subsequent related drop-out from sport being a recognised part of competitive youth sport.” “Widespread (often unrecognised) depressive disorder is especially prevalent in adolescent girls, and the psychological stress of an unhealthy youth sports environment or an injury could exacerbate the risk and levels of depression and anxiety.” “ Coaching education should emphasise the importance of creating autonomy-supportive, mastery oriented sporting climates that result in less stress and more intrinsic motivation..”

 The Australian Sports Commission Junior Sport Framework Research papers have included insights such as:

·         Sport programs with a strict emphasis on early selection, skill acquisition and training during childhood run the risk of eliminating someone who, through growth, maturation, and training, later develops into an elite level athlete. Research suggests that sampling is likely to lead to a number of positive outcomes for athletes including continued and sustained engagement in sport, and positive youth development. In contrast, early specialisation has been shown to lead to more negative athlete outcomes such as overuse injuries, burnout, and attrition from sport. A sport policy that focuses on developing personal competencies within a mastery climate while de-emphasising winning and competing with others will increase the likelihood that sport programs lay the appropriate foundation for positive youth development to occur. In creating policy that enhances the participation of young Australians in junior sport, we are providing a context to develop healthy and active citizens who will eventually give back to their community. Coté and Mallett (2012): Positive Youth Development Through Sport

·         It is imperative that sport leaders make a distinction between encouraging children to gain satisfaction from doing their best and pushing children beyond their capabilities and levels of maturity. Those who are able to prioritise fun, effort, and predominately self-referenced skill development are more likely to positively influence the growth and development of junior sport participants and foster adaptive positive behaviour. Identifying talented children and beginning specialised sport-specific training very early does not increase the chances of developing an adult champion. Findings from the Medford Growth Study suggest that the majority of talented outstanding elementary school athletes were not outstanding in junior or senior high school. Of the all-time top juniors 100m sprint athletes up to 1988, only one went on to win an Olympic or world championship medal. While exceptions exist, encouraging children to specialise too early likely increases the chance that they will drop-out of the sport. Bailey, Engstrom and Hanrahan (2012): Growth and Maturation



·         Junior: Primarily children aged between 5-12yo

·         Youth: Primarily children aged between 13-18yo

·         Late Maturation Sport: Based on the developmental backgrounds of our finest athletes, evidence has shown that the majority of them have been late maturers i.e. they matured physically later than their counterparts and, in the main, athletics athletes do not peak until mid-20s or later.

·         Sampling: A diversified investment in sports before specialisation has also been linked to minimising injury and reducing later dropout and burnout from sport. 

Athletics Australia
Athletics House
Level 2, 31 Aughtie Drive
Albert Park  VIC 3206

P +61 3 8646 4550
F +61 3 8646 4560