Starting A Junior Section - Developing an athletics club junior section
Most people involved in Athletics are aware of the problems relating to decreasing numbers of active athletes, coaches and officials in the sport. Many clubs are tackling the problem by ensuring there is a strong junior section so that the future of the sport is assured.
But how do we deal with common areas of concern or difficulty in providing for juniors?
"We would love to have more age group sides but we can’t find a coach"
"We tried to set up a junior section but there was nowhere for them to change or have a drink"
"The facilities are in such a state, it was a terrible experience for the kids"
This guide sheet aims to give practical advice on finding solutions to these and other common problems, so that your club can provide for juniors successfully and improve the chances of strengthening membership numbers in the long term.
Contact the Club and Coach Support Officer responsible for your area to find out how they, and local agencies, may be able to help you.
Key issues to think about before creating a new junior section
Reasons for a new section
Think about why the club wants to attract juniors, and how that compares to why children may want to do athletics... is there conflict? E.g. you may want to create a disciplined, talented side that wins; the juniors who join may simply want to have fun and be with their friends.
Can We Cope with the interest?
It is pointless building expectation simply to disappoint new participants when they turn up for training and there aren’t the bodies to look after them. This will do the athlete or the club no good.
Can you find a nominated individual who will be responsible for developing the junior section? Ideally this will be someone with a strong interest or experience in dealing with schools and children, and understands their needs as well as those of the club. There needs to be a specific project team approach to this, driven by a junior section development plan detailing:
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to be?
- How Will You Get There?
- Who Will Lead & Support This Work?
- How Much Will It Cost?
- How Will You Measure Success? - speak to your local Club and Coach Support Officer (CCSO) for more guidance or visit our CLUB Resources page for ideas.
How many coaches have you got who are trained in coaching children? Many courses exist which will help your existing or potential coaches (see our Coaching section for more information)
In recognition of the importance of protecting children, UKA has produced guidelines to all clubs and schools in an effort to ensure safety. A checklist and policy template for clubs and guidelines for coaches is available in the club resources section of this website, together with a sample certification form for junior sections.
Facilities, Activities and equipment
England Athletics have guidelines relating to track dimensions, specifications and on the UKA website section "Getting Started" you can find out more about how to access equipment and development programmes that will help coaches and your club - Star:Track etc... Contact the Club and Coach Support Officer responsible for your area to find out more.
Ensure coaches are providing a variety of activities, appropriate to the age group and ability - see links at bottom of page that may help with this.
Encouraging new participants of varied ability, gender and cultural background is important. Activity has to be progressive and exciting to retain participants during a time when there is a lot of competition from other sports and pass-times. There is far more choice for young people these days in a society with a number of other growing sports; speak to local Club and Coach Support Officer (CCSO) about how this may be actioned.
Some children may not be able to travel to and from sessions; perhaps the club could organise car sharing to support those without transport - again there are health and safety implication aligned to this so think about applying a risk assessment process to this. Using club coaches to go out into the community through working with Local Authorities, Community Organisations and Schools could be a good way of targeting potential new participants.
How will the section be financed? Make all fees affordable and be prepared to compromise. There are a number of potential grant aid sources that could be accessed to help you get started. Please see our Funding section to find out more.
Food and shelter
Remember the needs of young people are greater than the Senior Athletes - parents need to be confident that their children will be safe under your care.
Safety and first aid
It is vital to have easy access to first aid for children and young people, with a qualified person available to deal with emergencies during a session.
Rules and technical dimensions for young competition
Contact the Club and Coach Support Officer responsible for your area to find out more. A number of clubs provide hybrid competition for young athletes new into a club environment that acts as a stepping stone and easy integration into club life.
Involve the Parents & Community
How will you involve parents or other members of the community? - if you are short of coaches, officials and helpers then parents could be the answer - take a look at the way football, cricket and rugby are delivered in clubs - they are often run by parents.
Promotion and publicity for the sessions
How will you promote your club so that athletics is seen as enjoyable and fun?
Links with local schools
Creating a link with just one school will vastly improve your chances of attracting athletes, particularly if you offer to run after school sessions on the school site.
Festivals, championships and matches as well as coaching sessions
Young athletes enjoy a variety of different experiences. The same thing every week will not hold their interest.
Many local businesses, sponsors or funding agencies are more likely to respond to requests for funding junior development. Don't forget to consider your local options.
Junior club rules
A written set of rules can help to clarify what is expected on participants, coaches and parents. These could include issues such as fair play, respect for opponents, required kit and equipment, payment of fees, and rules regarding behaviour. There is a wealth of support material to assist you, as well as many development initiatives which it could be appropriate for your club to become involved.
Star:track provides an all-year round opportunity for children aged 8 to 15 to develop and hone their skills within structured and exciting coaching programmes. Many schemes run the Award Scheme, which enable children to gain their first taste of athletics and measure their success through the achievement of a range of dynamic awards. Star:track as a concept emerged in the spring of 1992 in order to harvest the interest generated by the major athletic championships each year. Star:track was a fun introduction to athletics for 8 to 13 year olds. The scheme’s first year saw 8000 children take part in Star:trackacross a total of 78 venues. UK Athletics developed star:track into an all year round athletics experience for all children between the age of eight and 15 regardless of ability, gender or background.
Last year, Star:track was the most successful star:track activity since the concept began, with 25,000 children taking part at over 500 venues across the UK. star:track is now delivered by not only local authority organisers but by athletic clubs, schools and other athletics development partners. UKA's key aims for the star:track scheme are:
- Raise the profile of athletics amongst children in the community.
- Introduce children to athletics in a fun and exciting format.
- Introduce athletics to minority groups.
- Introduce, support and develop coaches and officials.
- Help more children to stay involved in athletic athletics, through increasing the level of athletics ‘follow on’ activity – from school to star:track and from star:track to club.
- Help children to improve their athletic skill and give them the opportunity to progress their performance.
You can find out more at: www.uka.org.uk/academy
Developing Young Leaders Can Help You To Do More
Developing the leadership skills of your young athletes can help to benefit the growth of your athletics clubs. Working with your local School Sports Partnerships can present many opportunities to develop young leaders that can help to deliver activities to junior members, building capacity within the club.
Programmes such as Step Into Sport and Junior, Senior Community Sports Leaders Award and Sports Leaders UK Programmes can be applied to benefit your club. For further details on these awards please see the download documents and website links below
Top Link Information - Download information on the top link programme aimed at engaging young leaders
Step Into Sport Brochure - Learn more about Step Into Sport, a young leaders programme that could help your club and its junior section
A thriving young athletes section will help boost your club - but you need to plan carefully.