Athletics Australia, with the support of Coles Little Athletics Australia, have today released a Position Statement aimed at ensuring a child’s experience in athletics, both at school and within the community, is safe, inclusive, age appropriate, and fun.
The Position Statement is the result of extensive consultation with industry and experts, a review of domestic and international research, consideration of models of best practice, and the review of community submissions.
Such in-depth analysis was vital, as for many of Australia’s nearly four million school children, their first structured sporting experience is through the delivery of athletics within the school setting.
“It is imperative that athletics provides a positive first sport and physical activity experience for Australian children”, says Athletics Australia’s GM of Participation and Community Strategy, Adam Bishop. “This is because positive sport experiences delivered to children in their formative years act as a significant determinant of physical activity levels and overall health in adulthood.”
Athletics Australia engaged the services of Benita Willis to assist with the consultation and development of the Position Statement. As well as holding a bachelor of secondary education degree with a major in physical education, Willis is an eleven-time Australian record holder, four-time Olympian, two-time Commonwealth Games representative, 2004 IAAF World Cross Country Champion, 2003 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships bronze medallist and three-time Australian 5,000 meters Champion.
“I was thrilled to be engaged to help develop this policy,” says Willis, “as I am passionate about this area and cannot stress enough how important it is for coaches, parents and teachers to understand how hard kids should be pushed in sport at various ages. Throughout my childhood I enjoyed team sports, loved competition and always had fun. This upbringing was so important for my overall development, enabling me to choose to specialise in athletics after high school and have a wonderful career. It was this personal experience as well as evidence-based research that I feel is vital for all to read, understand and take action on.”
As outlined in the Position Statement (attached below), there are six areas considered important for the experience for children in athletics:
1. Holistic child development, safety, health and wellness
2. Coaching and the role of the coach
3. The role of parents and guardians
4. Age appropriate activities and competitions
5. Athletics in schools and the role of the teacher
6. Meeting the changing needs of families and society
These six areas will provide a framework for a series of future actions, including the development of a number of resources that will translate the position statement in to tangible outcomes. Such resources will include parent education programs, training and recovery guidelines, as well as coaching and officiating courses.
Coles Little Athletics Australia CEO, Martin Stillman welcomed the release of the Position Statement. “The release of this document represents a united approach from Coles Little Athletics Australia and Athletics Australia to ensuring that Australian children are afforded a safe, inclusive and fun environment to participate in athletics at all levels. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Athletics Australia to develop and deliver education and resources within the community”.
Darren Gocher, CEO of Athletics Australia, added, ”it’s our goal to ensure that children continue to love the sport throughout their lives. As a foundation sport, athletics is uniquely positioned to develop fundamental movement skills and make a vital contribution to the development of physical literacy in all children. We want to help children have less screen time and participate in sport for the sheer joy of it.”
Central to this Position Statement is the responsibility to deliver a sporting environment that is caring, nurturing and safe. In creating this environment, we are committed to keeping children and young people safe from abuse and neglect. Athletics Australia and Coles Little Athletics Australia, have policies and procedures in place that individuals and organisations in our sport must abide by. In delivering athletics activities to children at all levels, their safety and welfare is of foremost consideration and of paramount importance.