Why playing Junior AFL is beneficial for children in more ways than one
In last week’s blog we looked at some of the physical, psychological and social benefits that playing a team sport can have on children. Today we’re going to be looking specifically at Australian Rules Football (we’ll just call it AFL for ease of reading from here on in!) and some of the great effects it can have on kids’ physical and social development. As AFL continues to grow in NSW, so does physiotherapists’, Doctors’, psychologists’ and education expert’s knowledge of how AFL and other ball sports positively affect children and their development into young adults. Unfortunately my love of AFL can only be channelled through being able to support the physical needs of players and unashamedly cheering on the GWS Giants from the stands. Us sports physiotherapists aren’t much help to others when we’re injured, and I seem to be a target for big hits and big injuries (ask me any time about the number of surgeries I’ve been through).
This year I am going to be sponsoring the Balgowlah Suns Junior AFL Club and helping kids and parents to get a sports physiotherapists view of the biomechanics, preparation and recovery that go into every game. When prepared for properly, AFL is one of the safest sports children can play, with less physical contact than rugby league, more hand to eye co-ordination skills and more aerobic fitness. Getting kids into safe and fun sports is essential in combating childhood obesity and improving social development skills as I spoke about in a previous article.
What are the physical benefits of AFL and programs like Auskick?
Children learn a variety of fundamental and advanced gross motor skills from kicking, handballing, catching, running, jumping and evading that will benefit them for future physical development and sports participation. Through regular training, children are also learning the basics of fitness conditioning and the basic principles and importance of health and nutrition.
- Improved physical fitness
- Increased hand-eye coordination
- Better aerobic capacity
- Strengthening muscles and bones
How does AFL improve psychological and social skills?
Children who play physically active team sports are more attentive, have a more efficient memory, enhanced creativity, better learning adaptability and problem solving and attitude regulations abilities. AFL Juniors have to make rapid and complex decisions during the game while remembering certain structures of play and achieving pre-defined goals. This allows children to adapt to a variety of situations off the field more efficiently with the neuroplasticity of the brain creating new neural pathways at an astonishing speed in young kid’s brains. Yes, you read that correctly, football gameplay learning makes kids more adaptable. There’s more good news though.
Children who participate in team sports develop important social skills, a sense of belonging and camaraderie much faster than kids who don’t. The President of the International Council for Sport Science and Physical Education, Professor Margaret Talbot once stated ‘Sports and other challenging physical activities are distinctively powerful ways of helping young people learn to ‘be themselves’. These benefits flow positively through children’s lives and the broader community is better for it too.
- Better communication skills
- Fosters a sense of self belief
- Improves concentration and cognitive function
- Increases teamwork skills
- Builds a sense of mateship/belonging
- Make a ton of new friends
Good preparation and recovery is vital
Preparation and recovery is much more than hitting the carbs the night before and a bottle of powerade in the morning (more on why you shouldn’t dose your kids with powerade in a following article). It is important to stay hydrated leading up to and on the day of the game and eating a balanced, nutritional diet is going to help keep kids fuelled up for the big game. Complete a warm up and cool down including stretching, slow jogging and running activities, with and without the football to minimise the risk of muscular and joint injuries.
Get a musculoskeletal screening test
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to see into the future and prevent an injury before it happened? Musculoskeletal screening tests aren’t quite looking into a crystal ball, but they are becoming increasingly backed up by numbers and science. Do you think the pros step out on to the pitch and just hope that their body has it in it that day? They have an entire team of physiotherapists, sports scientists and strength and conditioning experts monitoring every step that they take. Musculoskeletal physiotherapists test a range of movements and take measurements to create a physical profile that will identify areas that may be more susceptible to an injury. Musculoskeletal screening tests have been shown to be an accurate and reliable indicator of specific injuries in AFL players. Finding a Dee Why sports physiotherapy expert is crucial to ensuring any musculoskeletal screening tests are comprehensive and accurate, otherwise you may actually be putting yourself or your child at risk of suffering an injury.
AFL is an all round awesome sport for children to help grow and adapt so many skills that are going to benefit them in later life, not to mention they get a real kick out of it! If you have any questions about all sports physiotherapy or musculoskeletal screening tests for AFL or other sports, get in touch with The Beaches Sports Physio on the Northern Beaches at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Erwin H, Fedewa A, Beighle A, Ahn S. A Quantitative Review of Physical Activity, Health, and Learning Outcomes Associated With Classroom-Based Physical Activity Interventions. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 2012;28(1):14–36.
 Reliability of common lower extremity musculoskeletal screening tests Belinda J. Gabbea, Bennellb, Wajswelnerc, Finch. Physical Therapy in Sport 5 (2004) 90–97