Navigating organised sport for kids

Participating in organised sports is a fun way for children to stay physically active, learn new skills, and make lasting friendships. It is estimated that almost 8 out of 10 children (78%) participate in organised sport at least once per week. 

Organised sports allow your child to lead a more active lifestyle, engage in healthy social settings and potentially fall in love with a chosen sport for life.

Did you know?

75% of children who have at least one active parent participate in organised physical activity outside of school. 

Injury prevention and management

While any sport can lead to injury, many can be prevented, and parents and coaches play a key role in ensuring kids play sports safely.

Supervise training and games

It is crucial to have adult supervision and guidance when children participate in any organised sport. This could be provided by a parent, carer or trusted coach. It is recommended that you discuss with your child's sporting organisation to understand the specific arrangements for their club.

This can help manage expectations and risks through rules and guidelines. Coaching staff should also be trained in accredited First Aid and CPR before the season starts. 

See Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for children (over 12 months) for more information. This fact sheet doesn't replace accredited training courses for CPR or first aid.

Prepare your child

When starting a new sport, talk through some of the rules and expectations. This can be beneficial for your child as it will:

  • help your child understand the skills required
  • allow them to understand appropriate behaviour
  • teach them good sportsmanship
  • reduce the mental load when in a new environment.

Use the correct equipment

When your child starts a sport, it is important to find out what safety equipment is required or recommended. Safety equipment will help protect or minimise your child's body from injuries. For example:

  • helmets for cycling or horse riding
  • shinpads for soccer
  • pad protection for cricket
  • mouthguard and headgear for contact sport.

Once you find out what equipment your child needs, it is important to ensure that it is the right size for your child. Equipment that is too big or too small can be dangerous and increase the risk of injury. For example, you can check that your child has

  • the correct dimensions for their equipment, such as a cricket bat
  • protective gear, such as pads that cover the correct area
  • right shoe size for sport-specific shoes such as studs for soccer or football.

Using incorrect, faulty, or broken equipment increases the risk of injury in sports. Speak with your child's coaching staff or a sports store about the right equipment for their chosen sport.

Check the playing surface before play

Certain sports are played on certain fields, for example, wooden indoor basketball courts and outdoor grassed soccer pitches. Make sure that children are playing on the correct surface for their equipment and gear.

As a parent, official or coaching staff, it is important to check the area before children play. Look out for and minimise safety risks such as:

  • holes in the ground
  • debris on the field
  • broken goalposts or equipment
  • foreign objects, such as glass.

Explain and demonstrate the correct technique

Sporting coaches have usually spent years themselves either coaching or playing a chosen sport. This gives them the expertise to be able to provide feedback on certain techniques for your child. 

Completing movement patterns within a sport can be much easier and safer with the right technique, for example, tackling on the correct side in rugby or kicking a soccer ball with the right part of your foot.

Warming up and cooling down

Warm-ups are done before a game to help prepare the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the body for the movement patterns it is about to undergo. It's important to perform dynamic stretches and gradually increase your heart rate to prevent injuries. 

Dynamic stretches are exercises that involve moving your muscles and joints through a range of motion. It can be useful not only for physical injury prevention, but also as a great tool for mental preparedness.

Similarly, cooling down after a match can help aid recovery. Cooldowns can help lower your child's heart rate and breathing rate. It also helps to remove waste products from muscles, such as lactic acid, which helps to reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.

Stay actively involved in your child’s sport

When you know the coaching staff and officials at practice and games on the weekend, it’s much easier to approach them and get any feedback on safety, technique or equipment necessary to participate in sport.

Management of a sporting injury

It is likely that at some stage, your child may obtain some form of injury during organised sport. The most common injuries that surround sport include:

Acute injuries

These are the injuries that may happen suddenly when a child falls incorrectly or bumps into another player. These are most commonly sprains and strains and can be managed through the RICER principle:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation
  • Referral to a doctor

They are often seen through pain, swelling and redness around the site.

Overuse injuries

Overuse injuries are also known as repetitive motion injuries. These types of injury can happen when the load of sports and movement throughout the week or season become overwhelming for the body’s joints. This can be in the form of stress fractures which are tiny cracks or bruises in a bone  or tendinopathy which is some damage or injury to a tendon.

It is important to talk to your child regularly about how their body is feeling. If you suspect they are at risk of an overuse injury, book in to see a doctor or physiotherapist.

Growth injuries

As children grow, the development of their muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones can grow at slightly different rates. Bones tend to grow first and put pressure on the surrounding tendons and muscles, which may cause pain and uncomfortable injury. Examples include Severe’s disease in the heel and Osgood-Schlatter's disease in the knee. 

If your child is experiencing pain in these regions, seek professional help from a doctor or physiotherapist.


A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by sudden strong movement of the brain against the skull. This is caused by a collision with another person or object. A child does not need to be knocked out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion. Most concussion injuries do not involve any loss of consciousness, so it is important to be on the lookout for warning signs that could appear immediately after a bump to the head or body or over the following hours and days. 

See the Concussion and mild head injury fact sheet for more information.

If your child has obtained a knock to the head, it is important to note the time the incident occurred, record any symptoms and the severity of the symptoms. These include:   

Signs observed by others: 

  • appearing dazed or stunned 
  • repeating questions 
  • problems remembering before or after the injury 
  • confused about events 
  • showing personality or behaviour changes.

Symptoms reported by the child: 

  • headache or “pressure” in the head 
  • dizziness or loss of balance 
  • nausea or vomiting 
  • numbness/tingling 
  • feeling tired, fatigued or slowed down 
  • visual problems, for example, double vision
  • sensitivity to light or noise 
  • drowsiness 
  • trouble sleeping 
  • does not “feel right” 
  • feeling more emotional, for example, sad or nervous
  • trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering.

See the Australian Sports Commission- Concussion guidelines for youth and community sport for more information.

Concussion guidelines

The risk of complications from concussion is increased if a player is permitted to return to sport before they have fully recovered.

Return to sport protocol includes:

  • light exercise (non contact) after an initial 24-48 hours of relative rest
  • checkpoints to be cleared prior to progression
  • gradual reintroduction of learning and work activities after a 48hour period
  • at least 14 days symptom-free (at rest) before returning to contact/collision training
  • a minimum period of 21 days until the resumption of competitive contact/collision sport
  • consideration of all symptom domains including physical, cognitive, emotional, fatigue and sleep.

It is important to inform your child's school and any other sporting coaches if your child has had a confirmed concussion.

Learning life skills during sport

Engaging in sports and physical activity allows children to gain a wealth of life skills whilst having fun. Children often grow up with a simplistic mindset of what is good or bad or what is classified as winning or losing.  

Some simple lessons that come through involvement in sports: 

Following rules and guidelines

Organised sport teaches children to follow the rules, guidelines and etiquette of the game. Rules help to ensure that the game is safe, fair and more enjoyable. It can help prevent chaos and disagreements for players, referees, officials and spectators. 

Children learn that by following rules around safety and efficiency, you can have more fun while you're playing.


Sometimes, referees, umpires, officials, coaches or team members make decisions that don't go your child's way. Children learn to build resilience by accepting decisions made and learning to control what is in their power to control. 

If children spend too long dwelling on decisions against them or their team, their performance will likely be impacted. Staying focused on the game will help your child bounce back from setbacks and learn from mistakes.

Coping mechanisms

In sports, children are likely to experience both wins and losses during games. This is similar to life; sometimes, things go your way, and other times, they may not. Similarly, a situation may turn out as expected, or it may not.

Losing graciously takes maturity, resilience and emotional control. Like any life lesson, this comes with time and exposure to different scenarios. The advantage of learning these skills through physical activity or sport is that the consequences of losing are very slim. Children learn a lesson in life in a safe environment with little to no consequences. 


Sportsmanship is an important underlying value in sporting communities. Regardless of whether you win or lose, you respect your opponent, your players, the opposition and the officials. 

By playing sports and being exposed to different situations, children learn how to treat other people with respect regardless of the circumstances or who they might be. 

Your child may find it challenging, but they will eventually appreciate the value of good sportsmanship when they shake hands after a tough or close game.


Team sporting environments encourage cooperation. Working as a team can often result in better performance. The skills learned while collaborating can also benefit a child's social abilities, such as active listening and sharing. Understanding the value of teamwork can encourage children to work more effectively with others towards a common goal.

Teams also allow your child to create a sense of belonging in a community of like-minded children and parents. This can progress into life-long friendships.

Spectating children’s sport

As parents and carers, you always want the best for your child. This can often mean wanting them to win their local weekend sporting match. You and your child have likely invested some time and effort into your child being a part of a team, and you want to see them rewarded for that. 

As mentioned in life skills, things don’t always go the way someone anticipates. Understanding that sporting and community clubs often do their best to get your children active, involved, and having fun allows you to understand your role as a parent when on the sidelines. 

Below are some tips for you as a parent on the sidelines of sport and how inappropriate behaviour can affect your child’s development. 

Tips for parent’s sideline behaviour

Understand it is your child’s game and not yours

You are unlikely to contribute to the outcome by displaying inappropriate behaviour on the sideline. 

Let kids be kids! They are learning and developing in a sport that may be new to them and other children alongside them.

Avoid the win at all costs mentality

Winning isn’t the most important thing in children’s sport. When parents or carers put too much pressure on their child to win every game, it can create unnecessary stress and take away from the enjoyment of the sport. This kind of pressure can even discourage children from continuing to play. 

It is important to ensure that children are having fun, developing new skills and getting active in a safe environment with friends. This will allow them to learn and grow in a safe environment. 

Be a good role model

No matter how involved you are with a sporting club, your actions and behaviour play an important role in shaping the culture and environment your child is a part of. Children are always watching and learning from others. By being a good role model, you can teach your child what appropriate behaviour around the sporting field looks like.

Be considerate of your language

Be aware of the language you use when supporting your child. You can foster a positive sporting environment by being respectful towards parents, coaches, officials and players from the sideline. Swearing, abusive or negative language is never OK, even if you aren't necessarily talking to anyone in particular.

Similarly, when discussing the game with your child or others, keep feedback as positive as possible. Focus on the effort rather than the result.

Be aware of your behaviour toward referees, coaches and officials

Referees, coaches and officials are also just humans doing their best. They often give up their own time, sometimes unpaid, to allow sporting matches to take place. It is never OK to abuse or yell at referees or coaching staff. 

Organised sport also relies on retaining officials. So, it is important to treat them with respect, appreciation and kindness to allow your child to continue playing their chosen sport.

Understand abusive behaviour may be against the law

Codes of conduct are often displayed by entering public venues and sporting fields. By entering, spectating or playing at these venues, you agree with the terms and conditions of the governing body. Spectators or players may be ejected or even face criminal charges if there is violence or any property damage.

Clubs have a legal responsibility to address behaviour that offends community standards or is against the law, for example, racial vilification, sexual harassment or common assault. 

If you witness behaviour that you think may be illegal, you should report it to the police. Similarly, if a bad situation escalates and becomes dangerous, play should be suspended and the police may be required to intervene. 

For more information, see Play by the Rules.

How yelling at officials can harm your child

Even though children may not react or respond in certain scenarios, they are always listening and learning from their adult role models. Showing inappropriate behaviour towards sporting officials can be hurtful to children. Children may:

  • think that mistakes are not okay when parents negatively react or respond to officials
  • learn to disrespect authority which may carry over to police, other parents and teachers
  • learn to be rude and selfish when parents or carers interrupt games and ruin the experience for others
  • develop bad behaviour as they have negative role models to learn from
  • learn to make excuses that separate them from responsibility
  • not become resilient and give up easily in the face of adversity.

For more information, visit the Play by the Rules resource. 

CHANGE IT principles

The CHANGE IT principles are designed for coaches, teachers, educators and parents to deliver fun, engaging sports-related games to children. They can be used with one child or many children, and the more you know, the more likely children will get involved in and enjoy sports. 

It offers simple variations to games to maximise participation and accommodate a range of different abilities. By using the principles below, you have the ability to challenge different children’s skills within the same game, allowing them to learn and grow. 

CHANGE IT principles explained:

C - Coaching style

Adjust your coaching style to suit individual players needs when demonstrating, providing instructions or giving feedback. Provide discrete coaching without interrupting the game, where required. Use questions to set challenges for specific aspects of a game, e.g. ‘When do you think you should move to receive a pass?’. 

H - How you score

Modifying the size of the goals or the amount of passes needed to score. For example, if the goal area is too small and it becomes difficult for players to score, the game can quickly lose its excitement within 10-15 minutes. This can help create more space and more opportunities to score points. It can also help shift the focus of the activity to allow children to build a particular skill.

A - Area

Modifying the size or shape of a playing field can help manipulate the way a game is played. Larger areas can benefit attackers while smaller areas can benefit defenders. If one fast child is using a large play area to score the most points, reducing the playing area can be a great way to include more children and give an advantage to the defensive team.

N - Numbers

Consider using different team sizes or varying the number of turns. For example. playing 3 v 2 to allow more creative play or focus on a particular outcome. Decreasing team sizes can increase player involvement and maximise participation. 

G - Game rules

Change the rules slightly to vary the challenge or provide more opportunities for the players. For example:

  • allowing 2 bounces before hitting it in tennis or cricket
  • specify that 3 team members must touch the ball before scoring a point
  • allowing a player to roll rather than throw the ball.

Communicating the objective of changing rules for a specific purpose can encourage the team to focus and develop the necessary skills.

E - Equipment

Modifying the type or size of equipment to suit the capability of the children playing. This can make it easier or harder depending on the equipment. For example, use a tennis racquet instead of a baseball bat or use a larger softball instead of a cricket ball. This allows children to complete movement patterns with greater precision and execution.

I - Inclusion

Allow children to be involved in the process of changing the game. As long as it is safe and within some basic rules and boundaries, children can get creative with any of the CHANGE IT Principles. Ask them how they would improve the game or involve everyone.

T - Time

Extend or reduce the time based on how engaged children are. Giving more or less time can modify how children make decisions in sports. For example:

  • "how many passes can be completed in 30 seconds?"
  • "you have five seconds to hit the ball from the tee"
  • "let's add an extra two minutes to the game to slow down the pace and focus on our technique".

This can introduce some pressure, targets and goals which can make children more motivated to participate.

When you are too rigid about how a game is ‘meant to be played', you often miss out on the skill development and fun that comes with sports and activities. 

Instead of asking children to wait their turn, the CHANGE IT principles aim to involve all children to enhance participation and enjoyment. It allows children to develop skills outside of traditional game structures, enabling sports to be fun, inclusive, and creative.

When setting up a game for your children, stipulate the boundaries of play and some safety rules. Being overly descriptive before an activity can sometimes take too long and lose the attention of children. By keeping instructions short and focusing on some small safety features, children can engage the creative side of their brains to modify play as they start. 

For more information, visit the Playing for Life resources

Strength training for children

Strength training is a form of exercise that involves resistance to create muscle contractions, which result in the shortening and lengthening of muscle groups. It can be done using body weight, weighted machines or gym equipment like free weights, medicine balls or resistance bands.

Strength training for children doesn't have to include weightlifting or powerlifting in order to be beneficial. Encouraging your child to engage in strength training activities can offer multiple advantages. 

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children aged 5-17 should participate in strengthening exercises at least three days a week. See Movement guidelines for more information. 

Introducing children to strength training

Children can utilise body weight activities as soon as they are comfortable and confident enough to do so. This can include activities such as climbing, hopping, jumping and running and should be encouraged regularly as part of their daily movement. 

When it comes to a supervised resistance training program, the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association's position states that children are ready when they are participating in organised sport and have the emotional maturity to accept and follow instructions. This maturity and development means the age will vary from child to child and will rely on their ability to follow the instructions of a coach or trained exercise professional. 

The position statement outlines that the youngest age at which a child should engage in weighted resistance training programs is six years of age, which follows extensive research into the risks and rewards of these activities for children. As children get older, they will also gradually be able to handle an increase in resistance. 

Unsafe practices with children and weighted resistance training usually come from one of the following:  

  • unsupervised movement 
  • using equipment as toys or  
  • poor technique when utilising strength movements.

Starting strength training 

Before your child starts any weighted strength training, it is important to discuss your plans with a professional such as an exercise physiologist or your local doctor. Exercise or health professionals will be able to provide the correct resistance for your child’s ability and age. Other considerations for beginning strength training include:

  • always ensure your child is supervised when starting out, by a parent, carer or a trained exercise professional
  • starting out with body weight exercises can ease your child into strength training 
  • if weights are added, keep them light - it is better to have good form throughout a movement than trying to lift too heavy
  • if your child is a part of a strength training group, make sure there are enough instructors for the amount of children in the class 
  • always warm up and cool down to prevent injury and help recovery
  • don’t overdo it, and rest between sets 
  • make sure your child is having fun.

Did you know?

A general strengthening program for children should address all major muscle groups and exercise through the complete range of motion.

Programs for children

The following are a number of ways your child can increase their physical activity through community sports or school programs. Click through the links or ask your child's teacher to find out more: 

  • Active Kids vouchers: vouchers valued at $50 for school-enrolled children to put towards organised sport and recreation activities 
  • First Lap vouchers: vouchers valued at $50 to be put towards the cost of swimming lessons
  • Munch & Move: a fun play-based program offered to all early childhood and care services in NSW that promotes healthy development of children 0-5 years by promoting physical activity, healthy eating and reduced small screen time
  • Live Life Well @ School: a collaboration between NSW Health and the Department of Education to help increase physical activity and healthy eating patterns in children 
  • Go4Fun: a free program for NSW children aged 7-13 who are above a healthy weight, and their families
  • The Premier’s Sporting Challenge: a program aimed to have more students, more active, more often 
  • Think, Eat and Move: a free program for 13-17-year-olds providing guidance for healthier lifestyles including physical activity 
  • Go4Fun: a free program for NSW Children aged 7-13 who are above a healthy weight
  • Search your local council, sporting club or PCYC to get your child engaged in sport in your area. 
Last updated Monday 6th May 2024