Participation Pathways Review

What is the Participation Pathways Review?

The Participation Pathways Review is a review of the junior game, currently focusing on the 6-12 Years age groups.

Why is the Review taking place?

The last time a comprehensive review of the junior game was conducted was 30 years ago, so this review is being instigated to evaluate junior modified games by taking into account modern scientific principles and issues raised by key stakeholders from the grassroots volunteer to the elite coach. The Pathways Review arose from discussions, by the Rugby League Research Board and Rugby League Game Development stakeholders, that centred on modern growth and development principles, as well as long-term athlete development. Concerning trends were highlighted in relation to recruitment and retention of players at certain stages of the Participation Pathway.

Subsequently, a review of the junior game was instigated, focusing primarily on the recreational and broad-based playing pathways, but also obtaining information on a range of key areas including: coaching, refereeing, administration and parent/volunteer engagement.

This review prompted the questions raised earlier in this section.

What are the aims of the Pathways Review?

Several questions have been asked about the junior game
in recent times. In particular, does the junior game:

  1. Provide safe, enjoyable and community friendly participation opportunities?
  2. Encourage and foster lifelong participation?
  3. Provide the necessary skills to enable players to progress along the pathway and reach their maximum potential?

In short, the game wishes to improve recruitment, retention and skill development, and increase the extent to which it is an enjoyable, safe and community friendly sport.

We want to get kids involved for life.

Experience in other sports and countries

Rugby League is not alone in reviewing the junior levels of the sport. Other sports, both in Australia and overseas, have reviewed their junior participation pathways, and have trialled and introduced modifications to the rules at a junior level.

Soccer – The Football Federation of Australia has trialled
and rolled-out a series of Small Sided Games over the ages 6 to 12. Small Sided Games have also been trialled and implemented in nations such as England, Scotland, Brazil and the USA.

Rugby Union – in 2011, the Australian Rugby Union rolled out a National TryRugby Kids Pathway, between ages 6 to 12, across Australia. In December 2011, the ARU released a National Pathway Final Report to Member Unions as the culmination of a two-year project.

Rugby League has a good opportunity to evaluate how it can better tailor the game to suit the needs of participants, particularly young children.

Research and consultation into the junior game   

The Pathways Review Committee determined the scope and methodology of the Participation Pathways Review. The Committee conducted an extensive consultation of stakeholders across the country:

  • 21 Regional Stakeholder Forums were conducted Australia-wide with over 500 attendees, inviting participants from across the three major state governing bodies and affiliated states governing bodies.
  • 8 Targeted Forums consulted Representative Coaches from Community clubs.
  • 150 Public Submissions were received.
  • 12 NRL Coaches, National and current State of Origin Coaches were consulted.

Preliminary findings and feedback from the research and consultation process

The forums raised a range of issues relating to different aspects of the on-field rules and off-field support of the game.

PLEASE NOTE: Broad questions were asked by forum facilitators – the attendees raised ideas in relation to how the game could improve in terms of:

  1. Fun
  2. Active involvement
  3. Skill development.


  • The junior game is too focused on formalised competition, with short term results such as team performance and game results the key focus and indicators of success rather than developing the skills of the player.
  • Two NRL coaches raised concerns that the game focused on competition when players were too young and that skill performance suffered later on.
  • 90% of forum attendees supported informal competition (no competition tables) or a non-competitive period for the 6-9 Years age group.

Too many players on-field

  • In Mini Football inhibited active involvement and the opportunity to perform relevant skills of the game.

Two-pass rule

  • Most feedback about the two-pass rule stated that it discouraged players from developing game awareness and tactical skills.
  • 24% (5 of 21 forums) highlighted the rule as a concern for participants aged 6 to 9.
  • 76% (16 of 21 of the forums) highlighted it as a concern in children aged 9 to 12.
  • 33% (4 of 12 NRL and representative coaching teams) discussed the two-pass rule. All four raised concerns with the rule.

Transition between age groups

  • A significant number of forum attendees (8 of 21) also believed it was important to implement rules on a more gradual basis rather than a significant change from Mini to Mod League.

Number of chances in a set

  • 33% (7 of 21 stakeholder forums) proposed increasing the number of chances that teams receive in possession to increase involvement of each player.

More breaks

  • 24% (5 of 21 forums) proposed breaking the game into 4 quarters to allow for player rotation and more feedback from coaches.

NOTE: Specific questions were not asked about the issues highlighted in this summary. Attendees were given a series of general questions in relation to the suitability and effectiveness of the modified games program.

Rationale behind trialling modifications to Mini and Mod Games

  • Allows for better, and  more, opportunities to practice and develop their technical and tactical skills, and overall understanding of the game.
  • More gradual changes/increases in game conditions (rules and competition structure) to match stages of growth and development
  • Fewer players in Under 6, 7, 10s. Gradual increase year by year to suit physical and cognitive development. Aim is to give children more touches of the ball, and more runs per game, and thus increase fun and enjoyment.
  • Use of smaller fields at Under 6-7, 10-11. Gradual increases year-by-year, to encourage players to look for and create space within the defensive line, rather than
    run around the widest opponent.
  • Efficient ground use – from a cost and time perspective, smaller fields (and shorter games at younger ages) would allow more games to be staged simultaneously. This would allow players and volunteers to potentially finish their day      earlier, and free up their time to do other things, increasing satisfaction.
  • More game time – to increase involvement of each child, and increase their satisfaction.
  • Use of quarters – will allow for more opportunities for coaches to rotate their players, providing each player with equal opportunity to be actively involved.
  • Two-pass rule with armband – designed to develop:
    • Tactical skills
    • Game awareness and decision-making skills in key positions
    • Further overall game understanding in young players.

Increase ‘technical’ skill development

This refers to fundamental (core) RL skills:

  • Pass
  • Catch
  • Kick
  • Tackle

Increase ‘tactical’ skill development

This refers to game awareness, tactics and decision making skills.

David Waite, former coach for Newcastle, St George Illawarra and Great Britain:

“Spaces can be opened up, they can be closed, they can be maintained and they can be created. Even when I was a little kid, coaches used to say: ‘Run at spaces, not faces’. But how many coaches and players actually apply that? Every time the ball is in hand, it has an effect on the spaces which present themselves on the field. If young players were taught to run at gaps and create gaps at an early age, the game would be in much better shape across the board.” (RLCM, 2010)

For further information please download the below Participation Pathways Review Document

Pathways Review Image