The biggest areas of concern were “early sport adopters” – children aged four to nine – and older teenagers.
“In 2019 and 2020 they didn’t have preschool, they didn’t have school, they didn’t have sports, and they didn’t have the opportunity to learn fundamental movement skills and literacy. physics and learning to catch and throw,” said Eime.
“So with the absence of all of that for two years, how do they come to the sport if they don’t have the skills and the confidence and the competence to play?”
For those between the ages of 16 and 17 interested in sports like Aussie Rules, coming back after COVID-19 meant immediately entering an open age category that pitted them against opponents between the ages of 18 and 30.
“You’re in reserve, and you haven’t played for two years, you’ve put on a few pounds, you’re not in great shape. You’re not going to tip over,” Eime said.
Youth participation in the AFL has been “patchy” since 2019, according to the league’s executive general manager of game development Rob Auld, with the most consistent decline among seven-to-eight-year-olds – young boys in particular.
“They are your next generation of coaches, the next generation of volunteers, the next generation of administrators,” Auld said.
“So it’s not just the immediate impact of a decline in their participation. This is a potential longer term issue for the game.”
Auld said there had been an increase in women’s participation, but stressed the importance of critically analyzing the data to avoid “falling into a false sense of security” as mainstream participation continued its decline. downward trend.
“The fantastic and dramatic growth in the number of girls and women playing needs to be taken into account when looking at your overall participation, as it has the potential to distort the participation of boys and men,” Auld said.
At the Gisborne Rookies in northwest Melbourne where Jensen Pollard played, players are down a quarter from before the pandemic.
The club’s junior development officer, Matt McKenzie, said about 20 players returned after the third round of this season, including some from families who returned from interstate travel in the past two years.
“It took a long time to get that buy-in,” he said.
In March, McLachlan said age bringing the lost 10-14-year-olds back to local sport was the AFL’s biggest challenge at community level.
“I think that’s that age group that teenagers are, socialization is important, and they’ve leaned into their phones, and digitally and kind of started living on their screens,” McLachlan said.
“That’s what I believe and there, at that age, they begin to live independently and in a larger way. It’s harder for parents to say, ‘Come on, let’s get out of the house and go practice.’ ”
Annette Maloney, chairman of the Port Colts Junior Football Club committee, said there was initially some concern over the number of children returning to the oval in 2022, particularly for the under-10s.
They offered a 50% discount on the general entry fee for girls under 10 and made personal calls to families to “cajole” them to come back for the season.
Although the confident participation of juniors in the AFL would eventually return, Auld said they were open to considering changing the format of the sport to make it more attractive, affordable and accessible to young children. This included potentially shortened games and games on different days of the week.
“We are not in a position where I feel the future of the game is in jeopardy, but we are realistic in our post-COVID assessment. There are pockets of participation, boys and seven- or eight-year-old girls, and certainly young boys, where we focus our energy to make sure we maximize the return of the game.”
According to an AusPlay survey of over 20,000 Australian residents (updated to 2022), fewer Australians rely on sports clubs or organized venues for exercise. Instead, they are turning to independent activities that can be done in a “COVID safe” way and closer to home.
The number of people walking, mountain biking and doing Pilates has increased, along with online forms of exercise like online yoga or console games like Wii Sports. According to the survey, participation in these forms of physical activity increased 100 times between 2019 and 2021.
Based on data from AusPlay, junior netball participation has increased from 320,528 children in 2019 to 291,683 in 2021, according to a Netball Australia spokesperson.
“As the lifestyle, economic and technology sectors have evolved, so has the way people engage in sport and physical activity. It was only accelerated by COVID,” they said.
The sports body was optimistic that the numbers would start to rise in the second half of this year and into the next, however, what internal data appeared to suggest was a possibility.
“Netball is the ultimate team sport, a place to belong, do your best and be bold. Netball Australia is committed to ensuring that as many Australians as possible enjoy the benefits that the activity physical activity, and in particular netball, has for their health and well-being.
Football Australia saw a 21% drop in community football programs last year, citing COVID-19 and the inability to promote programs through A-League matches, gala days, fans or community visits.
Participation in MiniRoos Victoria has increased from 31,822 children in 2019 to 24,112 in 2021. Although female participation has increased by 3%, overall participation has decreased.
Bucking the trend, basketball participation rates in Victoria have actually increased. Unexpectedly, more and more young children and teenagers are taking a basketball instead of a football, netball or soccer ball.
Latest data from AusPlay showed that basketball was one of the few sports to show growth after COVID-19.
They recorded 9.9% growth in the first and second quarters this year compared to last year. In 2021, despite the interruptions caused by COVID-19, some states saw participation increase by 13.6% compared to 2019.
“Basketball’s success can be attributed to a number of factors, such as the recruitment of Australians into the NBA, good pathways into American colleges – we currently have over 450 athletes in the American university system – the success of Boomers and Opals,” a Basketball spokesperson said Victoria.
They said their concern is a lack of facilities due to growth over the past 10 years, but they “devote significant resources to recruiting, developing and retaining coaches.”
Sports seemed to become less of a priority for school-aged children who were desperately trying to make up for missed paperwork, travel and time spent with friends. But the absence of team sports meant fewer opportunities to engage in social connections, as well as lower mental health, life satisfaction and resilience.
“We know that if kids play sports when they’re younger, they’re more likely to be physically active when they’re older. This can have a whole range of implications in terms of obesity and various chronic diseases,” Eime said.
“Sport for kids, they learn a whole range of skills that you don’t get in a lot of other settings. Learn teamwork, learn to win or drive to succeed, learn leadership, dedication or commitment.
Sport for kids, they learn a whole range of skills that you don’t get in many other settings. Learn teamwork, learn to win or drive to succeed, learn leadership, dedication or commitment
Professor Rochelle Eime
Vicsport chief executive Lisa Hasker said they plan to collect data at the end of winter to see how sports have been affected by declining participation rates.
With numbers dwindling, Eime said there was a greater need to improve physical education in schools and create more quality opportunities alongside competitive sports to help children get back into the groove. .
“We need quality early childhood educators in schools or primary schools, but unless it’s part of NAPLAN, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.
“We also need more sports to think about having other opportunities for kids who don’t necessarily have those skills or maybe want a non-competitive focus model to be able to come and learn those skills and play games. games, but maybe not in traditional competition. club.”
With Jackson Graham
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