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SOCIAL SKILLS

Social skills Types of disability image

What are social skills?

Some young people find social settings easy to be in, while others find it hard (eg. they find it hard to take turns, share, and listen to others). Socialising requires many skills, including talking, expressing thoughts, showing interest, sharing, taking turns, and understanding others. Socialising also relies on non-verbal behaviours, like using and understanding gestures, reading facial expressions, and knowing how close to stand to someone, or whether it’s okay to touch someone.

Social rules or norms can be difficult for some young people to understand and learn. They are not written down anywhere. For example, some young people might be unsure of how to start a conversation or how to have a back-and-forth conversation with someone.

Who may need support with social skills on the footy field?

Many things impact our social skills and the way we interact with others. This includes personality traits (eg. a shy and quiet player versus an outgoing and energetic player), mental health (eg. feeling sad or low, compared to feeling happy and energised), our ability to regulate emotions (eg. coping with stress or frustration), and our cognitive and communication skills (eg. talking, using and understanding gestures, reading facial expressions, controlling our impulses).

Some of these characteristics may make social situations more difficult to navigate. The amount of challenge experienced may change depending on the activity or the group of people (eg. large or small groups, older or younger people), including how socially confident and inclusive others in the group are.

Some players with disability can find specific types of social situations challenging. For example, an autistic player may be happy playing with one young person, but may feel overwhelmed when two or more young people are involved. A player with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may talk loudly and find it uncomfortable to play quietly, may act before they think, and may need support to wait their turn, which can impact their friendships.

What might this look like on the footy field?

Players might need support to say hi and chat to others, make new friends, share items, and play in a group. A young person may stand away from the group and appear to be alone. It may look like the young person doesn’t want to talk or play with others, when they might actually be avoiding it because they are feeling nervous or worried.

Quick tips

  • Model desired behaviour: Model social skills that are important at footy, like saying hello, listening, asking to join in, sharing items, and being a good sport.
  • Encourage social skills: Encourage social skills by explaining exactly what you want the player to do. Be specific. For example, ask them to say “Can I please have the footy after you?” when they want a turn. Avoid instructions like “Be nice”, as this doesn’t give a specific ‘action’ and might be confusing.
  • Always have full participation: Avoid games where players are eliminated. Have full participation at all times from all players who wish to join in.
  • Joining in may take time: Allow players to join the group in their own time. This may not be at the start of an activity.
  • Pair young people with buddies: Creating a buddy system by pairing a player with a buddy can help players during activities. Older or more experienced players can be good mentors for others.
  • Assign teams to prevent exclusion: Assign teams rather than allowing peers to select their team members. This will reduce the chance of a young person feeling excluded.
  • Use small groups: Some players might feel more comfortable in smaller groups.
  • Match groups by skill level: Matching young people of the same skill level in small groups may help players feel more at ease and confident in their abilities.
  • Use footy stories: A footy story might help a young person play with others.
    Let parents or siblings help: Ask the player if they would like a parent or sibling to help. This might encourage them to be more involved and feel safe to play.
  • Parents can help calm young people: Sometimes, young people might become angry and upset with other players and the reason for this might not be clear. Giving them a break and time with their parents can help them feel calmer. Make sure a clear code of behaviour is known up front and provide it visually.
  • Clarify what’s appropriate: Be clear about what is and isn’t appropriate when talking and interacting with others. For example, tell players that it is more appropriate to give a high-five than a hug at footy.

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 (2020-2021) grant. We aim to use language that is respectful to everyone.

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