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AFL Disability kids and mens are playing in AFL.

What is behaviour?

Sometimes, young people may behave in ways that could place themselves or others at risk of harm. This could involve physical actions (eg. overly rough play, damaging equipment), the way that a young person interacts with others (eg. shouting, saying unkind things), or difficulty engaging a young person in footy activities (eg. not listening to the coach, not following instructions, or running away).

Behaviour always serves a purpose. It is a means of communicating what someone is feeling, or a need or want. Things like differences in communication, social and cognitive abilities, and feeling anxious or scared can all affect behaviour.


What might this look like on the footy field?

On the footy field, behaviour might include rough play (eg. pushing, hitting, or heavily bumping others), running away, not listening to the coach, or verbal aggression (eg. yelling at others). These behaviours can impact the group session.

Players displaying these behaviours can participate effectively, if given the appropriate support.

  • Set understandable rules: Develop clear and simple rules for attendance, behaviour and sportsmanship. Make sure the rules are consistently enforced. Everyone should try to respond in the same fair and calm way, including coaches, helpers and parents.
  • Teach young people the rules: Help players understand the rules and why they are there. For example, explain why the rules are important and how they help us to play the game safely and have fun.
  • Teach parents the rules: Teach parents the rules too, so they can reinforce them with their child.
  • Have a consistent routine: Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session.
  • Provide a strong structure: To create structure, provide players with a list of activities for the session and information about what they will do as soon as they arrive at footy.
  • Focus on the behaviour, not the young person, and frame rules positively: For example, “Don’t shout at others” could be phrased as “Always use a calm voice”.
  • Encourage young people: Focus on and encourage the behaviour you want to see. Give positive, motivating feedback immediately when a player participates positively, so they understand what they are doing well. Young people respond best when encouraged for positive participation - this can be more effective than discipline.
  • Involve parents: If behaviours persist, involve the young person and their parents to discuss solutions.
  • Have an agreed backup or diverting activity: Have an agreed activity that the player can do if things become too demanding or intense. This would be an activity that they enjoy and are able to do well; for example, a calm, more structured activity that could support them to settle.
  • Allow breaks for players to settle: Some players might get upset if they feel like they haven’t done something the way they hope to. Allow them a break to manage how they are feeling.
  • Monitor group dynamics: If things in the group are getting intense or emotions are running high, intervene early and consider switching to a calm, more structured activity for the whole group.
  • Parents can help young people to feel calmer: Sometimes, young people might become angry and upset with other young people for no clear reason. A break, and time with their family can support them with settling their emotions.
  • Communicate clearly: Make sure you have the players’ attention before giving instructions. Use short sentences. Only give 1-2 instructions at a time. Try to use visual gestures or basic sign language skills if a young person does not use speech to communicate. Check the young person’s understanding by asking them what you have said.
  • Have a visual schedule: Use a visual schedule in each session that players can see at all times, so they know what is coming up. This may support players when transitioning from one activity to the next. You could use a whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Interrupt carefully: Some young people might get upset if someone interrupts the way they do something. Try to understand why they are doing something in a particular way. Allowing them to keep doing things their own way or giving them a break might help.
  • Use footy stories: A footy story might help young people to play. These are stories with text and pictures that you can find on our Parent Information Page.
  • Think about the lead up to the behaviour (trigger) and the consequence (outcome): Think about what the triggers of a behaviour might be, and change or avoid them. There is usually also a response to, or consequence of, behaviour, which might unintentionally reward it and make it likely to occur again. Consider providing the player with other options.

AllPlay Footy is a joint initiative by Monash University and the AFL. AllPlay Footy was founded at Deakin University in 2015 and has been part of Monash Education since 2021. The AllPlay Footy content and resources presented here have been developed with people with lived experience of disability, consultants from National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability, psychologists and researchers, and are brought to you with funding from a Department of Social Services Information, Linkages and Capacity Building: Social and Community Participation Stream (2020-2024) grant. We aim to use language that is respectful to everyone.


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