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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.[1] 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’.[2] 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.[3] 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 info@thebeachessportsphysio.com


[1] 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.

[2] http://www.icsspe.org/

[3] Reliability of common lower extremity musculoskeletal screening tests Belinda J. Gabbea, Bennellb, Wajswelnerc, Finch. Physical Therapy in Sport 5 (2004) 90–97

Photo: High five mum by Mike Hauser (2008) https://flickr.com/photos/35314767
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Physiotherapy Excercise

Combining physiotherapy and Pilates for better results

Did you know that in the 1920’s, Joseph Pilates originally dubbed his new method of physical training, ‘Contrology’? Pilates was developed over many years, combining anatomy training, Yoga principles, acrobatics and ancient Greek and Roman methods of training and more than a pinch of engineering and ingenuity. Originally developed as a system for aiding rehabilitation for returned soldiers, it has also been used by dancers and is infinitely versatile due to combining strength training, low impact exercise (awesome for injured bodies!) and a healthy dose of self-awareness. Joseph saw his creation as “the complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit”. In the hands of a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, it is transformed into Clinical Pilates; capable of tailor made programs based on clinical assessments and adaptable to fit any injuries or flare ups.

Clinical Pilates classes can only be run by experienced physiotherapists, experts in anatomy and rehabilitation techniques with training in postgraduate level Pilates methodology. Pilates in Dee Why has never been this advanced. Classes that are designed with each individual in mind are evidently suitable for all ages and levels of fitness. I’ve had a 93 year old in Clinical Pilates. Pilates has statistically the least number of injuries … hence the least number of excuses you can use to get out of it!

But what’s it good for?

Movement problems, injury rehabilitation, muscle imbalances, postural problems and even sports specific movements. Once your mind and body are working together, Clinical Pilates exercises are designed to aid in the re-education and correction of the specific movement or function problem. This aids in not only getting rid of the pain, but keeping it away. Your local Clinical Pilates instructor will help educate you on your injury and exercises, teaching you how to identify and work on any issues.

  1. Back pain

Back pain sucks. I know, I’ve been there. Over 4 million Australians are currently suffering from back pain. Remember when we said the invention of Pilates took a bit of engineering and ingenuity too? That’s because Joseph Pilates also invented the Reformer Machine, a pulley system apparatus on a bed-like frame designed to “universally reform the body”. The apparatus is still used today as the cornerstone of Pilates exercise. The versatility of the reformer means it is able to provide extra support to your back if you need it during exercise, helping you work on the postural muscles needed for balance and spinal support, it’s actually a lot more comfortable than it looks too, I promise. We use ours with each patient, every class.

  1. Core strength

Strengthening your core is the key to spine stabilisation and keeping a correct posture. Clinical Pilates focuses on targeting those muscles that are most important, while bringing your attention to the control and feel of these muscles to increase your own awareness of your body. Many people are not aware that core strength plays a part in a number of everyday activities like sitting for long periods of time, lifting weight, playing sports and even standing. The more you work on and are aware of your core, the less pain you’ll find in your back.

  1. Increasing awareness of your body

During your clinical Pilates class your physio will focus on your individual movement problems. Pilates requires you to focus on completing each movement in a deliberate and specific way, allowing you to address all imbalances you currently have. This process is repeated to allow you to build a heightened awareness of how your body moves and works as the moves become for natural and fluid. This increased awareness of your body, posture, movement and breathing will carry on outside of your Pilates class and you will become more adept at identifying and remedying niggles and flare ups before they become unbearable.

Clinical Pilates is an amalgamation of scientific physiotherapy methods, strength and conditioning protocols, tailored bespoke rehabilitation programs and Pilates. A Dee Why Pilates studio with access to all of the latest functional training systems and musculoskeletal knowledge and techniques allows an unparalleled scope of treatment. Prior to undergoing your Clinical Pilates program, a thorough physical assessment is undertaken to understand the ins and outs of your body movements and to tailor the program to your individual goals. Having a bespoke program allows it to be dynamic to the extreme; it can be altered and updated as you need it and as your results progress.