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AFL disability kids are playing in AFL.

What is learning and memory?

Learning and memory describes the ability to take in, process, store, and recall information. This may be information that we have heard (eg. spoken instructions) or seen (eg. being shown the location of items). Learning and remembering information relies on many different skills. First, we need to take in the new information. This relies on sensory processes (eg. hearing, seeing, touching) and cognitive processes (eg. paying attention, concentrating, processing information quickly, and storing information in an organised way). Once information is learned, we also need to be able to get that knowledge from our memory.

Learning is required to adopt new movements or actions, like learning how to kick a footy. Learning new motor skills (‘procedural learning’) is thought to be developed through experience, with the process of learning controlled by different parts of the brain compared to when we learn new information about things we see or hear. This means that young people who require support to learn new verbal information may not require support to learn motor skills.

Some young people with motor conditions (eg. challenges controlling or planning body movements, knowing where their body is in space, and/or being able to monitor and change body movements) may require support for learning motor skills.


Who may need support with learning and memory on the footy field?

It is common for young people to differ in the way they learn information. Some young people are very good at learning verbal information, which means that they may only need to be told something once for them to recall it. Other young people may be better at learning and recalling things they have seen.

There are many things that can impact learning and memory. Some young people with disability may learn and remember best with support. Young people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may only sustain attention and concentrate for short periods of time. If instructions aren’t adapted to how they learn and pay attention, it can be more difficult for them to take in information, making learning more challenging.

Young people with intellectual disability may require information to be simplified and repeated to support their learning.

Some young people, such as those on the autism spectrum, may have strengths in their visual learning skills but might need support with verbal learning. This means that using visual aids (eg. pictures) and hands-on tasks are likely to make learning easier.

Young people with acquired brain injury (eg. stroke, head injury) and cerebral palsy may have learning and memory challenges, depending on how the brain has been affected.

When a young person is anxious or worried, learning is also more challenging, as their thinking is focused on the things that are concerning them, rather than the information they are meant to be learning.


What might this look like on the footy field?

Players who require support with learning and memory may take longer to learn new information. If a player is having difficulty learning new information, it may look like they are not following instructions, when in fact, they are unsure of what has been asked of them.

Develop routines and use visual aids:

  • Have a consistent routine: Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session.
  • 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 transitioning from one activity to the next. You could use a whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Use visual instructions: Visual instructions might help some young people to learn a skill. Consider using a flipchart to show the visual instructions when coaching.
  • Think about how you communicate and can teach skills.
  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimise background noise while giving instructions to help players hear.
  • Present new information in different ways: Present new information to learn in multiple ways, such as by talking, showing pictures, showing videos and demonstrating.
  • Repeat and simplify instructions: Using simple instructions and giving instructions multiple times as well as reminders may help players remember how things are done. You may need to limit the amount of information given at once, so that only 1-2 steps are explained at a time.
  • Provide feedback after a task: When needed, provide 1-2 coaching tips/any feedback after an activity has finished rather than during, so players can focus on the activity they are completing.
  • Slow things down: Slow down an activity the first few times it is played, so players have more time to learn. You could divide the activity into small parts and teach one part at a time.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning skills: Some players might benefit from extra time and practise for skills. Allow them to do more repetitions to learn the skill if needed. Only move to new, more complex skills once players have mastered the previous skill.
  • Use footy stories: A footy story might help young people learn about and play footy.
  • Think about how the activity is structured.
  • Use small groups: Some young people might benefit from working in smaller groups, so they feel safe. Small groups can make it easier for players to concentrate, which can help their learning.
  • Start with just a few rules: Start with activities that have only a few rules to remember. Introduce additional rules one at a time when players have learned the flow of the activity.

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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