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AFL Men holding ball and teaching kids.

What is cognition?

Cognition is another word for thinking or understanding. It includes skills like speed of thinking, attention, reasoning, and problem solving. All young people will differ in their cognitive skills. Some young people might benefit from simplified information being presented. They may also benefit from having extra time to understand, think and respond.

Some young people with disability or developmental challenge may need support with specific types of cognitive skills. These will vary depending on the young person.

Young people with intellectual disability may think and understand best when given more time, support and modified instructions. Other young people, such as young people on the autism spectrum or with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, may have strengths in some areas of their thinking skills (such as understanding visual information or language) and may require support in other areas (like concentrating for long periods or processing information).

Each young person is unique and will need a tailored approach to learning new skills at footy.


What might this look like on the footy field?

  • Players may appear to do activities incorrectly because they have not understood what they are meant to do.
  • They may become tired quickly from having to use their attention when trying to watch and copy what others are doing.
  • As new tasks can be hard to understand or learn, players may become frustrated. It may look like they are misbehaving, when what they are really showing is that the instructions are not clear to them.

  • Repeat and simplify instructions: Some players might benefit from the use of simple words to give instructions, which may need to be repeated multiple times. Learning a skill might require coaches to break it down into smaller parts and teach one part at a time. Ensure players understand before moving onto the next part.
  • Check in with the young person to see if they have understood: You can do this in a supportive way by asking them to tell you in their own words what they have to do for a particular activity. Try to do this in a way that doesn’t draw attention to the player.
  • Use visual instructions: Visual instructions about how to do a skill might be helpful for some players. Consider using a flip chart of visual instructions when you are coaching.
  • Slow things down: Slow down an activity the first few times it is played so young people have time to learn. For example, encourage walking rather than running in an activity the first few times it is played.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning skills: Some young people might benefit from extra practise for skills. Allow them to do more repetitions to learn the skill, if needed.
  • Use delayed defence: Consider using a delayed defence rule. For example, the coach could call out “One, two, three”, before a defender can approach a player with the ball.
  • Shorten activities: Shortening activities may help some young people to stay focused on the activity while it is being played.
  • Use 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 to transition from one activity to the next without having to remember. You could use a whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Change the rules so everyone can play: Make changes to the rules where appropriate so everyone can play. For example, allow players to throw the ball rather than handball.
  • Offer all roles: There are many roles on the footy field. Young people can do other roles (eg. umpire), if they find game play challenging.

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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