Develop a junior sport policy

Physical activity is an essential part of every child's physical and social development. As such, all children should have access to regular, well-organised sporting and recreational activities. In Queensland, many activities are available through the school curriculum and through school and community sport and recreation clubs.

Developing a policy

The Queensland Government has looked at a number of existing Junior Sport Policies from clubs and associations and generated a generic junior sport policy model (DOC, 103KB).

If you don't already have a Junior Sport Policy, this document may help your organisation develop one. Even if you already have one, there may be something in the model that you might want to add or use to rewrite some part of the policy.

Introducing children to sport (6 to 8 years old)

When very young, a child's experience of physical activity is likely to consist of backyard play with other children, parents or guardians. Evidence suggests that this backyard play is less prevalent than in previous generations. This may be due to a range of factors including the number of families where parents have work or other commitments.

Organised physical activity programs including sport tend to occur when a child starts school. Therefore, a child's first experience of organised sport is likely to occur when she or he is 6 to 8 years old.

The most valuable program for children of this age is an organised, widely based physical education program which develops a child's sporting and other physical skills. The development of skills that can be used in a variety of situations is a prerequisite to successful participation and enjoyment of sport throughout life.

Experiencing fun and success in sporting activities at this age is crucial if the child is to maintain interest and involvement.

Successful sporting activities for children at this stage tend to focus on fun and enjoyment, rather than organised training and competition. The more organised an activity is for young children, the more likely it is that:

  • the activity meets the needs of parents more than those of the children
  • competition is the main focus of the activity
  • parents, in general, are spectators with only passive involvement in the program
  • competition and comparison with others is emphasised, either deliberately or subconsciously
  • children may receive significantly less opportunity to actually practice the skills involved in the sport at a time when practice is vital
  • children who are stronger, more mature or more skilled in the activity succeed and enjoy their sport, while a significant number are at risk of dropping out of that sport or sport in general.

It should be noted that research continues to suggest that early specialisation or competition does not increase a child's chances of reaching elite adult status in that sport. The comparatively recent introduction of formal organised competitions for under-eight and even under-six age groups has been accompanied by an increase in the number of children dropping out of sport, especially as they reach the junior secondary age group.

Research has also showed that children at these young ages do not understand the concept of the team and need to be introduced to it slowly.

Introducing a five or six-year-old to the same sporting program as a 10 or 15-year-old or adult is unrealistic and inappropriate.

Modifications are made to sport to suit the needs of the participants at all levels. Competitions are modified for elite players, veterans, those more and less serious about their chosen sport, and people with disabilities, as well as for beginners at all ages.

In many of these cases participants can choose their level of involvement. Young children, on the other hand, cannot decide for themselves so the decision about what is best for them is often made by someone else.

Practical ideas (6 to 8 years old)

The following ideas will help provide appropriate sporting opportunities for children aged six to eight. They aim to provide activities that are fun, where each child can experience success regularly, improve their skill base, and be involved in controlled competition as an integral part of the program.

  • Sessions should be short: no longer than 45 to 60 minutes each.
  • Sessions should include a skills segment: one or two specific skills can be taught and practised for 10 to 15 minutes each. Teaching too many skills at once will confuse the child and the skills may not be learnt properly.
  • Teams should be small: small sized teams ensure each child has the maximum opportunity to use in competitive situations the skills they have learnt in practice.
  • Sessions should build on skills taught in previous sessions.
  • If possible, each child should have their own equipment, and practice individually and in pairs as much as possible. This will help maximise a child's opportunities to practise the skills.
  • Parents are encouraged to be involved and not be simply spectators. Parents can participate with their child, or take small groups of four to six children for skills practice.
  • One person should coordinate the sessions: this person should lead the sessions generally, and organise and teach participating parents before or during the session.
  • Competitive games should emphasise the use of skills, rather than winning or losing. Praise should be given freely for attempts and correct execution, but there should be no criticism for mistakes or errors.
  • Involve children in a number of sports: offer short seasons of a range of sports rather than longer seasons of one or two sports. A multi-sport program could allow children to rotate among sports, different sports could be provided every term or every eight to ten weeks, or specific sports could be offered in short blocks (say six to ten weeks) more than once in a year so that children could move in and out of that sport.

Within any one year a child should try a minimum of three to four sports, and possibly more over the two to three year period in this age group. This ensures that learning is new and exciting and that a range of skills and competitive situations are learnt which will be of use later in life.

Children should try individual sports and team sports with a range of different team sizes. Ultimately children will make their own choice of what they want to play and should do so on the basis of having tried many sports.

A child may be good at or enjoy a sport his or her parents play, and which may not be traditional to school or club experience or culture.

As a child gets older he or she can specialise, but right through the primary school years and into junior secondary, the emphasis lies on participating in two, three or more sports. Where a child shows ability in a particular sport, and the child's goal is elite participation, pressure to specialise will build in the middle secondary years (age 15 on).

Many elite players still play other sports in a more social setting.

Second development stage (9 years old and over)

In the year a child turns nine, he or she is eligible to participate in the second developmental level which involves the child in formal organised competitive programs.

Separate skill development sessions should accompany this increased competitive focus.