Is junior football too politically correct ?

Under-age football is becoming too precious and the AFL’s new code for junior footballers is an act of political correctness gone mad.

At the start of the year the AFL, in conjunction with Deakin University research, developed new guidelines for junior football with a philosophy of promoting participation rather than competition.

Children are banned from playing to win, keeping score and best and fairest awards under the nation-wide changes made by the AFL.

This is condescending, perhaps even insulting, to the thousands of junior footballers that live and breathe the game.

Our over-protection of children is not just confined to the sporting world, but also something that is prevalent in the wider society.

School reports make failure seem like a success and sports carnivals reward everyone with ribbons for simply participating.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging and celebrating participation but where do you draw the line?

Sporting champions credit overcoming failures as the backbone of their success.

But children these days are missing out on valuable life lessons because they are not allowed to lose or fail at anything.

The current cottonwool generation that promotes an “everyone’s a winner” mentality is making children soft and giving them a lack of resilience.

The AFL has become obsessed with participation numbers but let’s face it, football is not for everyone.

Modified rules may result in some of the more delicate children persisting with the sport but it will only be a matter of time before they quit altogether.

We cannot shield children from the realities of life – such as disappointment or failure – and we should not remove the competition aspect from junior football.

AFL national development manager Josh Vanderloo stated “our research shows that kids play the game to have fun and not just to win”.

That may be true, to an extent.

While they may play the game for enjoyment and not “just to win”, it does not mean that scoreboards should be scrapped.

As a junior coach, if I told my kids that they were no longer playing for points they would be shattered.

This sentiment is echoed at the highest level with North Melbourne star Nick Dal Santo believing that children should be given the opportunity to deal with defeat.

“It’s a good lesson in life that things don’t always go your way.

“Learning to cope with winning and losing is an important part of a young footballer’s development and if I was at that age again I’d like to know if we were winning or losing a game”.

Commonsense needs to prevail when it comes to junior football.

TWITTER – @jclark182

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.


  1. Jackson, I too feel that these modified rules for our younger kids, are well beyond that which is necessary… mollycoddling nonsense.

    Is this not the purpose of Auskick?… to introduce our youngest footballers to the ways of the game in accordance with both their physical and emotional maturity.

    If so then why is the AFL modifying the rules at competition level. If they deem this necessary, then maybe the broader question should relate to the age levels offered in the junior level. Should we (parents, community, footy club etc.) be putting our seven, eight and nine years olds into the competition?

    Perhaps we should be considering a minimum age, thereby avoiding the supposed need for strident modifications.

    It is a challenging game and as the junior comp stands now, it is demanding of time and commitment for those who participate. 

    As a parent, when my nine year old plays, I want to see him play the real game and he, the aspiring Dusty Martin, wants to play the real game…..otherwise what is the point?

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Totally agree and the stupidity of it as umpiring juniors each sat don’t worry they all no the score and are trying to win it is pointless this supposedly not keeping the score rubbish ! While Josh is totally correct kids move on after a loss quicker than adults and do just enjoy the game they still want to win . Modified rules my bug bear of anal idiocy , were bumping is encouraged with no tackling the exact opposite of senior footy and it is a nightmare to try and umpire get rid of it It doesn’t work !
    The over all biggest and totally correct message from , Jackson’s article is allow kids to grow , learn and experience loss and the whole emotions of life , TOTALLY agree !
    Thanks Jackson

  3. Bert Bollard says

    Great article Jackson.
    The changes to Junior Footy seem so ludicrous as to be unbelievable.
    How could this happen?
    How could we allow this to happen??

    Looking back at Junior Football in the 1970’s; it was anything but politically correct.
    It was a pathway to an adult world, a pathway to learning about being an independent person. Packed with life lessons and concepts about honour, bravery, honesty and YES toughness that still resound in my thinking and behavior today and every day.
    That was what was so great about it; for an afternoon or day (or two or three) a week, to be treated as something more than a child and to glimpse into an adult world.
    Furthermore, this pathway to participate in an adult world was one of the great draws of the game to kids with lousy home and lousy lives. It was a place to go.
    A pathway to escape (and learn) and gain acceptance into a (broader) community.

    Will junior footy go the way of our state schools? Where they have done away with proper sport (and PE) and then employ councillors to talk to the children about obesity and resilience.
    Australian Academics and PC nut jobs have destroyed everything they have turned their hand to, from Australian History, to how (they pretend to) teach kids to read now.
    Destroying Australian Rules Football would just be another day at the office, for the bastards
    The Football Community should stand up against these ridiculous changes or risk losing our game into the morass of idiotic and eggheaded politically correct nonsense and mumbo-jumbo.

  4. kath presdee says

    We had our Auskick gala day two weekends ago. The group my boys (our lone 7+ girl wasn’t able to come) were in had two teams overstrength so they had top-ups from the other teams playing with them.

    No score was kept, but they all knew who was winning and who lost.

    My kids range in age from 4 to 10. The really little ones get excited if they kick a goal – they don’t care about the rest. Actually they get excited if they kick a behind or take a mark. The older ones are disappointed if they “lose”, but are more concerned if the umpiring is one-sided than if the other team plays better than they do.

    I understand that U9s and U10s in NSW were no scores kept in any event. The loss of “Best and Fairest” is a bit of a worry though. Kids need to learn that even if they can’t win, there’s an element of sportsmanship that needs to be learned no matter how talented you are.

  5. Is there any chance of introducing the “No Scores Kept” principle into AFL??
    I would be enjoying the Eagles season so much more.
    Perhaps the panel from Dancing with the Stars could rate the sides on artistic merit?

  6. Jackson

    I enjoy your pieces and like the fact that you speak from a footballer’s perspective as you did the other day about the plight of the EFC players.

    In junior footy, not all rules have changed, so it depends on what is meant by juniors. At present, Under 10 up, which will include 9 year olds, play for points, B&Fs and ladder position. Tackers, which is effectively under 9s, haven’t has scoring (or tackling) for a few years anyway. Auskick play games in which they don’t scopre, although as others have said, all kids know the score.

    The weird thing is that some kids do Auskick in Year 6 and club footy too, so are scoring in club footy whilst not in Auskick. Also, schools play competitive footy in Years 5 and 6, so also score.

    Bt it isn’t right to say all junior footy will change.

    In watching junior football for a few years, the kids know who is winning and losing and are actually OK with scoring at any level. You can’t do anything about kids being upset if they don’t win, as that will happen. My son is 14 and is still peeved if he loses, so being introduced slowly to non scoring games wouldn’t have mattered now.

    I agree the politically correct stuff is driving us all mad. I do like the idea of participation awards at the end of the year (not everyone wins a prize stuff) and think B&F votes are good. But agree we are going too far in wishing to protect kids from every potential negative outcome in life


  7. I’m coaching an U10 team with slightly modified rules and no scores. The kids ‘know’ the score but have been coached to judge the game about how well they have played as a team. Have passes gone in chains from one to another to another?l Are they in the right places? Did they gets kick, lay a tackle, have a run, etc? At the end of each game, after shaking hands and three cheersing. We sit in the middle of the ground and I ask them what we did well and what we could do better next week. At the next game, before running on, I remind of those things and off they go. They love it.

    Now, at risk of being the climate change denier in the room, I wouldn’t change the way it is now. In previous coaching stints, it has been my desire to win that over rode the focus on getting kids to develop. Kick it the good players, don’t kick blind, why are you not in the right place? I was a terrible coach and the kids didn’t enjoy footy for it’s own sake.

    The thing they like best is that they all get to run around in the same jumpers as their mates, get a kick, lay a tackle. And if they’re real lucky, maccas after the game. Not who won. They are not in any way worried about the score. The more competitive kids have had a chance to play up an age group which they were nervy about but enjoyed, seeing it as a natural progression. They know that winning and the scoreboard are important here but they more than anything else, just want to get a kick.

    These “politically correct” changes, from my understanding, come from the kids after surveys and were not something that someone in an office dreamed up. It was more to stop the ugly parents on the sidelines imparting their own insecurities on their kids . That is still the biggest problem with getting kids to play the game. There is a gun kid in my elder son’s team who could be anything but his dad projects his frustrations on the kid and I would be surprised if he plays past the U14s.

    The modified rules allow a progression through the stages of the game in a way that keeps them involved for longer. At the beginning of the year, the kids were concerned about tackling and being tackled. After two training sessions, they were into it because it was controlled and they were ready for it.

    The current system is not namby pamby all the way through, only up to U10. After that the only difference is there is no kicking he ball off the ground. If it is keeping kids in the game, what’s the problem? If there are U10s who feel the scoreboard is the game, then get permission to play up an age group. Ask yourself if you are upset about the rule modifications for you, or for your kids?

  8. Dave Brown says

    Yeah, probably not time to storm AFL House (does such a place exist?) just yet. As others have said in non-scored games the kids who care about it know the score. A line clearly needs to be drawn between the point at which you encourage participation and get kids used to the concept of losing and developing the resilience required to deal with that. It may not be exactly where we want it but I’d suggest it’s in the ballpark.

    Part of the problem is that kids start so young these days. There are three year olds at our Auskick whereas when I was a lad (in nineteen tickety three) Under 8s was the youngest you could start sports. As a result sports administrators have to deal with these issues of child development much more than in days of yore.

    As for teaching kids to read, the current methods (if we are talking about phonic/phonemic based instruction) are effective and backed by much more evidence as to their efficacy than earlier instruction methods.

  9. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Gus we’ll done on recognizing your weakness as a coach and then being honest enough to improve , but the no score bit you answered yourself the kids no any way and you are totally correct that it was aimed at some shocking parents but the over riding bit is every 1 is aware of the score so really what purpose is there ?
    Modified rules wise negatives outweigh the positives in my book we’ll and truly
    Back to the core point we all have to learn about winning and losing it is life

  10. In the Western Region Football League (the large comp encompassing Melbourne’s western suburbs), there have not been any scores kept in the u9s & u10s for over 10 years. It has always been accepted, and I never heard any complaints about it in my time as a parent/coach at Williamstown Juniors.
    And I had not really paid too much attention to this “no score” stuff until it was given a bit of publicity lately.

  11. Bert Bollard says

    My memories of Junior Footy are rooted in the 1970’s.

    Back then, we had (from 1973) Under 12’s and Under ’15’s and when you were game enough you could make up numbers in the Under 17’s and be part of the senior club.
    With school footy, that meant about three games a week, training about four nights and a whole weekend – – – travelling hither and yon – – – devoted to footy.
    Us kids had so much freedom then, and could just wander around, do stuff, often with no supervision and little structure.

    It was great but so different to today as to void comparison.

    I note with interest the comments from those involved in coaching and how these changes combat ugly parent-ugly supporter syndrome.
    Only last week, I returned from watching a game of lower division country footy and I said to my wife, I thank my lucky stars I dont have a kid involved in a sport marred by ugly behavior.
    Even watching AFL games on TV I am routinely apalled by crowd-supporter behaviour.
    It is a blight on our game.

    So, anything that combats this, is worth investigating.

    My first coach in Under 12’s was a much loved maverick, sometimes insurance salesman, and fulltime con man (RIP Dill Pickle), who, between scams, was training to be a Primary PE Teacher. I remember him telling me and my old man, once, how there was a plan to introduce modified rules in Junior Footy that was increase participation and allow kids to experience all the different roles and positions in the game. It was, I recall based on zones and players being rotated through them (Oh my god, it is genus of the modern AFL game plan).
    That was coming out of the Burwood Teachers College back in the mid 70’s.

    One last question: what age do the revised rules stop?

    (AND Dave, I’m with you Phonics Rock!)

  12. Rick Kane says

    My answer to the question: No.

    Agree with Gus, Smokie.

    Interesting point raised by Rulebook, that “we all have to learn about winning and losing, it is life”. Do we? Is it? Or rather, what is winning actually? One of the things I like about kids playing sport is that they can learn the value of teamwork. Teamwork applies where-ever you are on the ladder. And so on.


  13. Jackson Clark says

    Thanks for all of the replies guys. My main concern surrounds where the line will be drawn. There’s already a mercy rule in my local competition up until I think U16s. Fair enough, we don’t want kids to be humiliated if their side cops and absolute thrashing. But there were a number of new rules and guidelines that were proposed for an U12 competition that simply should be left for AusKick.

  14. Glen Potter says


    I agree with you in principle that political correctness can have a detrimental effect on the development of our children. I don’t know the specifics of your league’s stance on this but I agree in part with the AFL’s stance in this situation. In part-playing devil’s advocate here, I hope to explain why.

    I coach an U12 team in AFL Barwon (Geelong area). ‘Competitive’ football, if you like, begins at U10s, and with the U12 section, neither age-group plays for competition points, there is no ladder, there are no finals or premiership, but we tackle and there’s no real modification other than you cannot soccer the ball off the ground. From U14s, the teams play for points and a premiership. We (in U12s) are not discouraged from showing the score. We keep score in fact quite openly display it on our scoreboard. So do the U10s. I have no problem with the kids seeing the score and knowing whether they’ve won or lost. They are, in all reality, practicing to win games as part of their development, aren’t they? I feel it’s important my kids experience winning and losing and they are talked through the result at game’s end. After a win or loss, a bit like what Gus stated, I’ll pose a range of ‘philosophical’ questions: How does they feel? Do they like it? Do they want to experience that again? Are they going to win all the time? What could they do the same or differently next time? Were they gracious with the loss, or the win for that matter? Wins and losses can teach these kids a hell of lot. If I’m not mistaken, I think you agree with this view of how I aim to educate my team but disagree with my local governing body’s stance on not having the kids play for premiership points and cups, etc.

    I’m satisfied our league doesn’t play for premiership points and cups and I believe the view to not apply this at U10 and U12 level in our region (and I’m not privy to the AFL’s reasoning) is based on, as Gus also suggested, the protection of children from nutbag adults, be it spectating parents, or coaches. If we had an official competition (playing for a flag) at U10s or U12s I could see ambitious parents in all clubs using their children’s football as the stage to play out their own theatre. I would see a win-at-all-costs mentality creeping in and believe that many young kids don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with disappointing parents who command ‘conditional’ love (“Do as I bloody-well say or you’ll disappoint me”). Furthermore, couldn’t we just see Johnny Hopeless being kept off the ground for as long as possible if a win was imminent? I think so. Is that good for him? It’s not going to help his desire to play footy, which is probably in part where the AFL is coming from. I reckon by U14s, Johnny has probably developed the resilience to cope with an extended stay on the pine if he’s loving his footy and keen to keep playing. Your question about what age do we draw the line is pertinent. It’s horses-for-courses about what age you think children might need to face these situations independently. Some kids mature emotionally faster than others. The AFL needs to draw a line somewhere. No-one in their right-mind could say they have not witnessed ‘ugly’ parents placing undue pressure on their own kids. I’ve experienced this in coaching first-hand with a player who’s parents have placed all sorts of psychological demands on their boy. The kid’s a mess, emotionally. He cries abruptly, he lashes out in anger. He’s probably not the only one. I think the minute we begin to lower our guard on the age we expose our kids to ‘competitive’ sport we need to be mindful of the potential ramifications. I cannot vouch for the restrictions placed on other leagues outside my own local league, and by the sounds of it things are a bit radical with the enforcement on no scoring, but I feel my region has got the mix about right. My U12s tackle hard, play hard, celebrate a win, get pissed off with a loss, and love being part of our local town’s club. If you asked me if they could cope in a competition playing for points and a flag, I’d probably so most of them would be okay with it but I’m happy to protect the status quo as I fear the potential negative influence of less-discerning, ‘nutbag’ parents would be too detrimental at this age-level.

    A great discussion point and hope you appreciate where I’m coming from.


    Glen Potter

  15. Le Thrillby says

    I’d rather have this than what it was like only twenty years ago. Young blokes (like myself) excluded from playing footy because they had mental illness or were socially excluded and idiotic boofheads coaches/parents were acting like four actual premiership points were on offer.

    On that basis, not having scores for the younger kids is far less of an evil.

  16. Paul Carrigan says

    The SMJFL (Southern Metro juniors, Melbourne) introduced the rules from under 8-10 this year, they still hold a lighting premiership and group teams in groups of 4, you play three games and the winner receives a flag. This works well.
    The zones this season has worked very well and allows all children enough time and space to get involved.
    The league also got teams to supply the umpires, this has been a master stroke and the umpires escorts also are asked to go over and ask the ugly supporter go calm down, these rules have been fantastic.
    I do feel though the scoreboard for each game should be used and once a team is in front by more than 5 goals the score does not get altered to save embarrassment. 2014 in under 9 was a great sucsses due to the new changes but children need to build the resilience that life is not all about participation.

    The AFL are a money making machine, participation and by in from parents = $$$$

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