Goal to improve player well-being in junior sports

Dec 24 2018

George and Rose Rafty, with Dr Narelle Eather and Peree Watson (HMRI)

If you’ve attended a junior sports game or training session, you’ve seen it happen – children asked to focus on complex skill drills instead of game-based playing, parents being recruited as coaches and eagerly shouting tactics, while less experienced players remain benched.

A new study being conducted by University of Newcastle physical education researcher Dr Narelle Eather, with funding from First National Newcastle City, aims to change that scenario by providing more positive sporting experiences focused on player well-being.

Called the MASTER Coaching Project, it will ‘coach’ the coaches with innovative education and mentoring techniques, while evaluating the impact on player performance, enjoyment and motivation.

“We think there is a correlation between the experience and skills a coach has, and the enjoyment levels the players in the team end up having,” Dr Eather, an affiliate from the Hunter Medical Research Institute Cardiovascular Program, said.

“Often parents are recruited as the coach of their child’s team ... they’re doing a community service but have very little support throughout the season. Some might get a one- or two-day coaching certificate whereas our program will be ongoing throughout the season so they can bounce ideas and self-reflect.

“Kids usually don’t need to do more training, coaches just have to make it more valuable.”

Having conducted a pilot program in netball, Dr Eather will focus on junior soccer for the next phase in 2019. Twenty volunteer coaches will be recruited from community-level teams, gaining access to a researcher and a peer who will advise on best practice for nurturing junior participants.

The long-term goal is to improve retention levels in grassroots sports and prevent players from becoming stale, according to Dr Eather.

“I’m really grateful to First National Newcastle City and HMRI that I now have the funds to work with coaches who, in their own right, will be affecting hundreds of kid’s experiences with their sport,” she said.

“With greater support, we believe Australian kids will stay with their sport for longer. A lot of this has to do with bringing joy back into the game, avoiding stress on the kids which can lead to early burn-out, and letting players of all skill levels have a go.

“Teenagers are at such a formative stage in their lives when they make decisions on whether or not they will continue their sport. A nurturing and happy sporting experience affects their relationship with sports, health and community.”

Principals of First National Newcastle City, George and Rose Rafty, are excited to support their third consecutive research program through HMRI as it reflects their family’s passion for grassroots sport.

“We support HMRI because the work they do benefits all of us, and this year it’s particularly fitting because we have three loves in our life: family, sports and work,” George Rafty said.

“I think it’s the best way of giving back to the community. We’re talking about sport, but we’re also talking about our kids’ welfare. Keeping them playing sport is so important.”

Rose Rafty adds: “Our kids have all played or are playing sports. Our girls have played netball and have experienced the importance of a supportive coaching environment. Our son is playing for the Jets academy in their under 12s squad.

“A coach sets the culture in the team. We just want our kids to be happy at school, with their sport and at home.”

First National Newcastle City team donated $20,000 from its annual Spring Fling auction campaign.

* Dr Narelle Eather is the Deputy Head of School (School of Education), Program Convenor of the Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and the Bachelor of Teaching (Health and Physical Education Hons) at the University of Newcastle. HMRI is a partnership with the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.