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Purposefully engineering junior sport to maximise participation engagement and development

A few years back, I was asked by a state Australian football (AFL) sporting organisation to help them with a competition engineering project. The president of a junior football association had been to a few coach education sessions and become convinced of the merits of small sided game forms for juniors. He asked me and a few people in coach development from the state league to come along and talk to the association club delegates to convince them to change to 9-a-side football rather than the 18-a-side games being played at U8 and U9 grades.

Now, there is a lot of research on the merits of small sided game forms. That research consistently shows most junior players prefer it as they touch the ball more often and kick more goals - in other words, there is more engagement (ball touches) and fun (kicking goals). Most of that research is in football (soccer). At the time of our discussion with club delegates, there wasn't any Australian football (AFL) research we could lay our hands …

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