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AFL disability people in wheelchair playing AFL

What is communication?

‘Communication’ is a broad term that includes many skills, such as talking, understanding what other people say, and body language. Body language includes using and understanding gestures (eg. pointing, waving hello, nodding your head to mean ‘yes’, shaking your head to mean ‘no’), using eye contact, and showing how you feel by using different facial expressions.

Some young people may communicate using a range of different methods (eg. speech, sign language, gestures, picture cards, iPads). These will vary and be unique to the young person. Some may prefer spoken language (ie. talking), while others may prefer visual communication (eg. gestures, eye contact).

A young person's understanding of spoken language may differ from their ability to use spoken language. For example, a young person might be able to talk and express themselves clearly, but they may need support to understand instructions, especially if the instructions are complex or lengthy.


What might this look like on the footy field?

  • If a player needs support to understand spoken language, they may misunderstand long or complex instructions. This could make it look like they are not following the rules on the footy field.
  • Having difficulty communicating can be very frustrating. If a player does not feel understood, they may appear angry on the footy field or they may withdraw from an activity.

  • 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 when moving from one activity to the next. You could use a whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Use visual instructions: Visual instructions about how to do a skill can be very useful for some young people. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when coaching.
  • Use visual demonstrations: Show the players how to do the skill or activity. This may help them understand how to do the skill or activity.
  • Simplify instructions and limit the information given at once: Some players may get overwhelmed if they are given too many instructions at one time. Break the task down into smaller steps, and only give a small amount of information at once. For example, try to limit instructions to 2-3 key steps. Teach one part at a time and ensure players understand each part before moving on.
  • Repeat instructions: Instructions may need to be repeated multiple times.
  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimising background noise while giving instructions can help players to hear.
  • Avoid abstract language: Use specific, clear, and concise language. For example, “put the red ball in the blue hoop” rather than “put the ball over here”. Keep sentences simple by avoiding complicated words and concepts.
  • 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.
  • Be aware of your body language: Using gestures and actions when talking can help a young person’s understanding. Make your body language (eg. facial expression, body posture, tone of voice) as open, friendly, and supportive as possible.
  • Use footy stories: A footy story can help young people to play. These are stories with text and pictures that you can find on our Parent Information Page.
  • Offer all roles: There are many roles on the footy field. Young people can do other roles if they don’t want to join the game as a player, like throw the ball back in or umpire. They should be supported in their preferences.
  • If you’re unsure, ask the young person or their parent: Some young people will have developed different skills to help them communicate, like using an iPad or pictures. If you are unsure about the best way to communicate with a player, you can ask the player or their parent.
  • Try to use basic sign language (Auslan): Encourage the coaches, volunteers, officials and players to learn basic Auslan skills. Try to use these often so that everyone becomes comfortable with using them during the sessions. For example, use signs for handpass, kick and mark when describing activities.

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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