Psychology should ultimately be about common sense. So when a policy is proposed that is just so jaw-droppingly loopy, the urge to reach for my lap top is overwhelming. But in this case I’m conflicted, I’m on the philosophical fence and the pain is sharp! Let me explain.

 

According to football legend Graham Cornes, writing in the Adelaide Advertiser (9/11/18) some undoubtedly well-meaning, caring, compassionate officials in the South Australian National Football League have requested that all the junior football clubs under their jurisdiction adopt the AFL’s rules and match conditions, as outlined in its booklet Australian Football Match Policy – AFL guidelines for the conduct of Australian Football for players aged 5-18 years.

 

The booklet is a straightforward – actually quite well written – declaration of how these people say that junior AFL games need to be played with no tackling, no scores, no record of goals, and definitely no premiership ladder, goal-kickers or best players. The rationale behind this policy is simply that by not having any scoring mechanisms, the children will somehow gain more enjoyment from the game and presumably the league will attract zillions of little players and build the AFL stocks for the powerhouse Adelaide-based clubs for decades to come.

 

As a psychologist that obsesses about the wellbeing of our young people, the single most upsetting issue for me this year is the research results on kids’ physical activity levels. Evidence is emerging that Australian kids are indeed falling behind their international peers and are performing worse in skills such as kicking, throwing, catching and jumping than they were 30 years ago.

 

2018 research shows more than 90 per cent of girls and almost three quarters of boys aged 12-17 are active for less than an hour a day. An overwhelming number of these kids are cemented to screens for excessive periods of time. The findings published in journal Preventive Medicine reveal up to 85 per cent of children get more than the recommended two hours of screen time per day. This year in March 2018, VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter warned today’s kids could be the first generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents. From a physical point of view, the real headline grabber is that a staggering 92% of teenagers are not meeting daily physical activity targets, study do not meet the minimum requirements for daily physical activity.

 

So clearly, all right thinking people would be in favour of anything that actually gets young people into team sport.  I assume that the AFL have consulted, researched and investigated and found that this does actually work. Please tell me that the ‘no tackling, no scoring, no recording of goals, and no league ladder, goal-kickers or best players’ does get more bums on seats. The only problem is that I cannot find one single jot of properly conducted peer reviewed research that supports this contention. Nothing, nada, not a sausage of serious literature.

 

I am ready to admit that my research skills may have deserted me after 30 years of clinical practice and if anyone reading this, could shove the peer review evidence for this practice, I’d be eternally grateful and grovel before the football bureaucrats who dreamt this up.

 

But while waiting for this uplifting epiphany – may I point out that the most up to date and carefully prepared research literature is abundantly clear that the physical and mental health of our young people is in an increasingly perilous position.

 

Just ponder some of the latest mental health statistics around our young people. According to Emerging Minds, 1 out of every 3 12 to 25-year olds report high or very high psychological distress. 1 out of every 8, 12 to 17-year olds report a mental health problem and 1 in every 10 14-15 year olds self-harmed in the previous 12 months.  

 

This learnt helplessness is now being seen in our adolescents in the annual Mission Australia Youth Survey which in its 2017 report that surveyed over 24,000 young people demonstrated that that the number one issue in the lives of young people is an inability to cope with stress, with 45.3% saying that they were extremely concerned or very concerned about this ability.

 

It seems to me, that we are seeing the progressive ‘wuss-ification’ of our young people from schools that have actually banned ball games, best friends, somersaults and cartwheels, and even hugging!

 

The unpalatable fact is that by any objective measure, today’s children have much worse mental health than their parents – who grew up in an environment where ball games, best friends, cartwheels, hugging, scoring, winning and losing were all part and parcel of life!

 

So perhaps it’s time for us all to reconsider this arcane idea before even more damage is done? Besides do you seriously think the kids aren’t keeping score anyway?

 

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg BA(Hon) MA, PhD MAAIP

Child and Adolescent Psychologist