By Matt Fotia
The 2020 season will see the AFL Outer East grade all of its underage male competitions, with the league set to see two divisions of Under 16’s and three divisions of Under 18’s for the first time in its history.
The move is based off a desire to increase the competitiveness of all games in the league and increase the retention of players in these key transitional age groups. It follows on from the success the league has seen in recent years after the grading of the Under 12 and Under 14 age groups.
In the Under 16’s, teams will be graded at the start of the year using a combination of last years results and the movement of players in and out of said club/side. In recent years this system has seen an increase in team numbers across the aforementioned Under 12 and 14 competitions, which usually see a decline.
Early indications suggest that the AFL Outer East will have 16 sides competing in the Under 16 age group in 2020, the highest ever in competition history.
The Under 18 competition will be split into three divisions in the 2020, using a model similar to those used in the Eastern Football Netball League and the Northern Football Netball League. It will see clubs placed in the Under 18 division that best suits their ability, not just the one that their Senior side competes in.
This grading will occur on a club to club basis, following conversations with each club on the needs of their club. Wholesale changes from the Senior competition make up are not to be expected, with movements to be ones that come from thorough assessment, with an aim to create competitive and balanced games for all players in these age groups.
AFL Outer East Region General Manager Aaron Bailey says that the League understands that the new Under 18 structure will see a drop in the traditional country day at the football, with the Under 18’s, Reserves and Seniors all playing the same opposition, but feels that the increase in player numbers and player retention takes precedence.
“It is understood that this may see less of the traditional three games in a day, and clubs have identified this as a major concern, mainly for logistical reasons but we believe that a system that better encourages player retention, competitive balance and ensures that more clubs field Under 16’s and Under 18’s takes priority.”
Mr Bailey stressed that the Under 18 sides will be away from their Senior side as little as possible, but encouraged clubs to think outside the box when it came to filling an empty time slot on Saturday mornings, putting forward the idea of playing womens games before the Reserves when possible.
“The Under 18’s will still be with the Senior competition for the majority of the season, however with the increase in womens sides, there is scope to play these games in the traditional Under 18 time slots, should it become available,”
“There is also the opportunity to play increased games in non-traditional time slots such as Friday Night’s, should the Under 18’s be separated from the Seniors.”