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AFL Disability kids playing in AFL.

What are motor skills?

‘Motor skills’ describes our ability to control and coordinate movements. This can include fine motor control (eg. small movements of the fingers and hands) and gross motor control (eg. large and coordinated movements of the trunk, arms, and legs).

Every young person is unique. Some young people with disability may require support to learn and master new motor skills. For example, some young people with cerebral palsy and acquired brain injury (eg. following a stroke) might find it challenging to control and coordinate both fine and gross motor skills. Some young people on the autism spectrum may find it challenging to coordinate complex movements, such as handballing, and kicking while running.


What might this look like on the footy field?

Players who experience difficulties with motor skills may benefit from additional support while learning to coordinate movements together, like running and kicking the ball, or handballing on the run. They may benefit from being given longer to learn new skills.

Think about the way you communicate and teach new skills.

  • Slow things down: Model how to do the skill slowly, and allow more time for players to learn. For example, encourage walking rather than running in an activity the first few times it is played. You could also divide the activity into small parts and teach one part at a time. Only move on once players understand the previous part.
  • Repeat and simplify instructions: Some players might benefit from instructions being simple and repeated multiple times. You may need to limit the amount of information given at once, so that only 1-2 steps are explained at a time.
  • 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 extra repetitions when learning skills: Some players might benefit from extra practise for skills. Allow them to do more repetitions to learn the skill, if needed.
  • Use visual instructions: Some players might benefit from seeing visual instructions when learning a skill. Consider using a flipchart to show the visual instructions when coaching.
  • Allow more time to learn skills: Some young people might benefit from having extra time to learn skills, such as kicking and catching.
  • Use footy stories: An engaging footy story can help young people to play.
  • Think about the activity.
  • Allow alternate ways to play: If a player needs support to kick a drop punt, they could kick the ball off the ground, or practise kicking it off a stand instead. Or, if a young person needs support with kicking or handballing, allow them to carry the ball between two points.
  • Modify activities so everyone can play: During activities, adapt the size of the target used or the distance the player is from it. For example, you can use a bigger target or add extra targets that are closer to the player for handball drills.
  • Modify equipment so everyone can play: Consider using a different type of ball such as a soccer ball, bean bag, balloon, tennis ball or beach ball rather than an AFL football, depending on the activity. Allow players to choose the equipment they would like to use.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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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