Effects on Play on Altering Player Numbers and Field Dimensions in Youth Australian Football

In this study we compared the effects of altering the number of players and oval dimensions on possession characteristics in youth (u14) Australian football. The game form used to compare the full 'adult' 18-a-side game form was 12-a-side with three forwards, three midfielders and 3 backs in position for midfield starts of play and re-starts after a goal. The 12-a-side game was played on an oval 114m x 75m, while the  full field used for the 18-a-side game was on a 170m x 125m. The size of the 12-a-side field was determined by the need to play two games at the same time on the oval used for the 18-a-side game, meaning the 12-a-side game was played across the full oval.

We found the 18-a-side game led to more tagged events (technical actions), however, the number of tagged events per player was less than in the 12-a-side game. The 12-a-side game therefore created the opportunity for greater game engagement per player as there were on average, more technical actions per player. There was also more scoring in the 12-a-side game than in the 18-a-side game. Therefore, the 12-a-side version fits two criteria that young people tell us leads to 'joy' from the game - touching the ball and scoring goals. It could also be argued that 12-a-side providing more 'touches' per player creates a better development context for players as they are having a higher volume of 'practice' in the conditioned game compared to the full field 18-a-side game.

One of the interesting observations of this study was that in both games ground ball pick-ups was one of the main possession characteristics. This has implications for skill development at junior levels. The full field 18-a-side game had more ground ball pick-ups. We hypothesise that this is because there is greater distance between players in the 18-a-side version compared to the 12-a-side version, and often the players were not yet physically developed to be able to kick the ball the required distance that would create a marking opportunity for their team-mate. This seems logical as a 13 year old body is on average smaller and less developed than an adult body, and so the average kick of  13 year old will not travel as far as an adult. On its own, this observation creates a strong argument for scaling the size of the field for youth u14 football and junior football. Combined with the observation that the scaled version creates a context for greater game engagement, it simply 'makes sense' to be playing modified versions of the adult game suitable to the 'readiness' of the players and not forcing them into full field 'adult rules' games at this age group.

For more information about this study see this open access paper https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/ssr/24/3-4/article-p171.xml


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