Talented teenagers are at risk of switching sports or dropping out of sport altogether if officials fail to communicate well with them and show them the support they need.

The preliminary findings of a Griffith University research project involving sports focus groups throughout Australia shows important work needs to be done to develop communication strategies in codes like cricket and AFL, particularly in relation to development squads.

“All these kids want is some sort of personalised communication, some constructive advice, a little bit of guidance to keep them motivated,” Dr Anthony Beaton from Griffith’s Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management said.

“They need to be told ‘Thanks for coming, you’ve got talent, go away and work on this, and maybe next time it will be your turn’.

“While this is definitely happening in some places, we encountered numerous examples where coaches lacked the necessary rapport. A very important part of a teenager’s personal development is not being taken into consideration in these situations.

“In this day and age, it is just not acceptable to hear a coach say ‘They know why they didn’t make it, they’re just not good enough’.”

Players and parents told researchers a lack of constructive and thoughtful feedback was not uncommon when development squads were cut.

The focus groups, involving players, parents and officials, were run at cricket and AFL clubs in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Analysis of the research shows talented teens excelling at multiple sports willing to jump ship and change sport in the event of non-selection or a breakdown in communication. Others turned their backs on sport entirely as they struggled with the disappointment.

“This is a very critical time in a teenager’s life. Most of the players we heard from were aged 15, a time when emotional support is so important,” Dr Beaton, a senior research fellow at the Gold Coast campus, said.

“A guy might not make the cut at 15, but by 17 he has very possibly developed into a different player, a different person, both mentally and physically. So it is crucial that youths meet properly-trained and properly-prepared officials along their talent pathways.”

In the focus group feedback, some parents described “hard times” at home and their struggles to keep children motivated after the disappointment of non-selection.

“We had a chat,” one parent reported, “and I was curious to find out whether he’d lost the passion or not, whether he still really wants to keep going or whether he wants to take a break and do something else.”

Dr Beaton said the Griffith University team will complete research analysis with a view to designing communication strategies for sports organisations.