National Rugby League's Junior Performance and Participation Initiatives: Evaluating Strategies (2019)

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Usher, Wayne
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Sport is a part of Australia’s national identity and has become a social capital. Australia is a highly active nation, with a significant number of children reported as participating in sport and/or non-sport-related physical activity (ASC, 2017). Rugby League is one of four football codes boasted across the country; however, its participation rates are significantly lower than other club sports, due to it being restricted to specific regions of Australia and viewed as a ‘male only’ sport. Therefore, it is imperative that the National Rugby League’s (NRL) future participation strategies adopt and reflect national and international ‘best practices’, so as to maintain and heighten positive and quality sporting opportunities that are aimed to increase junior participation / retention, as well as build participants’ skills and personal development.
With this in mind, the review presented, has attempted to demonstrate the clear alignment between the NRL’s Player Development Framework (PDF) and national / international movements concerning changes in junior sporting models, with particular attention directed towards legitimising its approach concerning the implementation of the 7 initiatives across the 5 testing centres (Ipswich, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Toowoomba and Victoria) in 2019. These initiatives had a number of clear aims, being to, 1) attract and retain participation, 2) foster personal development and 3) transition and nurture performance. Importantly, the review goes to support NRL’s strategic junior development framework, demonstrating a thoughtful and planned approach, based on rigorous and contemporary research and literature in the field of junior sport development. The 2019 testing phase (7 initiatives) was in response to notable international trends concerning junior sport; with particular attention to addressing and increasing junior participation trends in organised sport. Of concern, was the expressed need to ensure that future junior Rugby League (RL) participation and performance remains child-driven, with an emphasis on recreational free play for enjoyment and not aimed to be adult-driven, highly structured, deliberate practice/play, or solely devoted to sports-specific skill development. The NRL has responded accordingly, to address such concerns, and as such, this review demonstrates the clear interplay and alignment between national and international ‘best practices’, participation statistics, policy directives, economic injections and philosophical shifts concerning junior sporting development models and the NRL’s strategic directions into the early 21st century. The following review will demonstrate the clear alignment with NRL’s ‘future orientated’ approach to securing and maintaining junior participation into the 21st century, by highlighting recent attempts across the globe to address the decreasing junior participation in organised, traditional sporting models. This review has demonstrated that a ‘common thread’ exists concerning approaches to heighten junior participation both nationally and internationally. These commonalities have resulted in providing a framework for existing, individual sporting organisations to follow, by way of adopting the practices that are / have proven effective in addressing the declining nature of junior sporting involvement. As such, it can be indicated that the NRL’s PDF is ahead of the game, is cutting edge, and has demonstrated an approach that will ensure the continual success of the game of RL across the junior sporting landscape throughout Australia.
This literature review has been developed from an extensive search across numerous research data bases and search tools, with an aim to ensure that the most contemporary and relevant information, pertaining to junior sports development models, was explored and presented. The result of such a search, has allowed for the presentation of national and international ‘best practices’, concerning junior sports participation models. The read and subsequent findings, has demonstrated an evidence-based approach, from a number of countries and sports models, and will go to legitimise the NRL’s strategic approach to secure the future of junior participation in RL.

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© 2019 Griffith University and NRL. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the publisher’s website for further information.

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Usher, W, National Rugby League's Junior Performance and Participation Initiatives: Evaluating Strategies (2019), 2019