AFL Talent Pathway

The AFL’s Talent Pathway provides identified players aged 16-19 years opportunities to develop their football in leagues and Academies around the country. Our senior AFL and AFLW competitions provide both inspiration and aspiration for young people seeking to play the game at the highest level, and the Talent Pathway creates a space to provide talented young footballers the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Our talent programs aim to transition players to the next phase of their lives and footballing careers through a holistic developmental experience.

A Primary Prevention Approach
Recent research demonstrates that a focus on mental health literacy in sporting environments whilst important, on its own is not enough to support wellbeing. The AFL understands and acknowledges that adolescence and young adulthood are critical life stages for the development of physical, social and emotional wellbeing. High performance sporting environments and cultures for young athletes such as those cultivated in Talent Pathway Clubs and Academies are important influences during this developmental stage because of their impact on both on field and off field development. The AFL Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy acknowledges high performance sporting environments and cultures have powerful potential to promote wellbeing to protect young athletes against mental health challenges during their sporting careers and later in life. Equally, high performance environments have sport related risks for mental ill health and unless wellbeing is prioritised, have the potential to contribute to mental health challenges during a sporting career and later in life.

A Framework for Wellbeing
A wellbeing framework requires an approach that emphasises the prevention of mental health challenges, along with early detection of mental health symptoms and intervention to restore athlete wellbeing & ideally optimise performance for our young athletes. A prevention framework can respond rapidly to mental health symptoms & challenges as they emerge, to best maintain the athlete’s overall function and ability to fulfil their own potential in the Talent Pathway programs.

A Model of Mental Fitness
The concept of mental fitness suggests that a mentally fit person has a reserve of psychological resources and skills that can be called upon in times of opportunity or adversity to increase the probability of successfully navigating life events.

‘Fitness’ is a term that enjoys central meaning and understanding in the community. Physical fitness (for example building strength, speed, endurance & flexibility) is an enabler toward realising the potential of an athlete through the practicing or training of intentional physical activities. These activities require sustained motivation and intentionality, and all athletes know that without continual practice their physical fitness will diminish over time.

Mental Fitness is proposed as something very similar: a proactive and preventative strategy to support higher levels of mental health, requiring continual effort and motivation over time, based on regular activities and practices.

The AFL Talent Pathway focuses on the delivery of a wellbeing curriculum by a team of Wellbeing Officers to build mental fitness in our emerging players. The curriculum is a primary prevention approach to mental health and aligns with the Industry strategy’s focus on prevention of mental ill-health early in life by boosting protective factors for wellbeing. By aligning with the Industry Mental Health and Wellbeing model, the AFL Talent Pathway wellbeing curriculum operates through a wellbeing framework and model of mental fitness to support the wellbeing of our aspiring athletes.

The mental fitness model emphasises the building blocks of wellbeing, and is an adaptable framework that also encompases early detection and intervention to support any symptoms of mental ill-health in young athletes.

Read more about the AFL's Mental Fitness Model.