How children can benefit from playing the beautiful game
It can be said that football has a ubiquitous power: the ability to unite people, to break down barriers and to inspire people from different walks of life. In fact, playing the beautiful game can have a positive effect on an individual’s social development, education and awareness of health – particularly for children.
For children, the opportunity to play football will not only provide fun and entertainment (coupled with the chance to burn off superfluous energy) but, it will also teach essential life skills which will prove to be real assets in the professional working world. Qualities such as team spirit, confidence, dealing with conflict or disappointment, self-discipline and pride; each a skill as valuable – and powerful – as the next.
What football can do for young girls
In fact, new research conducted by UEFA released in May, suggests that football can have a greater, positive impact on the self-confidence of teenage girls than any other popular sport. The largest study of its kind – concerning 4,128 worldwide respondents – UEFA identified 80% of teenage girls exhibited more confident behaviour thanks to playing in a football team. Whilst 54% of young female footballers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: ‘I am less concerned what others think about me’; compared with a far fewer 41% who played other sports.
In summary, the research details some encouraging insights into football – a sport that is set to see enormous growth across Europe in the next few years. UEFA’s women’s football advisor, Nadine Kessler comments: “This study shows that girls who play football have greater self-confidence than those who don’t play the game. Drawing upon my own experience, I can’t emphasise enough how important this is.”
Certainly, since UEFA launched its Women’s Football Development Programme in 2010, the game has expanded at all levels across Europe and, with many of the 55 UEFA member associations investing more energy and resources into the game; elite women’s football has improved significantly.
Furthermore, the recently launched ‘Together #WePlayStrong’ campaign aims to make football the number one participation sport for girls and women in Europe by 2022. A ground-breaking initiative, which highlights that a connection to the sport may have the power to push girls further; should they wish to participate.
What football can do for young boys
Football can be a vital tool for boys and young men to utilise too; perhaps in a way we never expected.
The suicide rate amongst men is exceedingly high; with just over 3 out of 4 suicides (76%) being male. In fact, suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 35 and many men who commit suicide will have had no previous contact with support services.
For men with a passion for football, participating in the game can provide a way for them to comfortably engage in – and express – their concerns; in a relaxed and relatable environment. A concept explored in a project called ‘It’s a goal’, directed at men aged between 16 and 35, suffering from depression, poor confidence or low self-esteem, which used football metaphors to frame group therapy programmes.
‘It’s a goal’ participant, John Snape had a tremendously positive experience with the programme and comments: “I was quite shocked at the number of things people were saying that I could relate to. It just blew my mind that all these years I’d been feeling so alone and now I was with all these people who I could finally speak to – who actually knew where I was coming from.”
Sometimes, it can help to talk about personal struggles through a medium which feels safer, familiar and shared. As our national sport, which is also universally revered, football can act as the ideal platform. For men, engagement with football in some small way can lead to an opportunity to relax and open-up, and may even encourage the ability to see – and think about – the different choices and options which are available to them.
Undeniably, encouraging men to talk about their mental health issues is still supremely difficult – particularly regarding the working class. Working class males are rarely offered therapy and often don’t have access, or the ability to afford it. However, the value of football is that it still embodies myriad, positive working class qualities – such as loyalty, commitment, solidarity and community – and so it can provide a non-threatening atmosphere for working class individuals to speak freely about what is on their mind.
What football can do worldwide
Likewise, for children who find developing key skills a struggle, playing football may just be the unassuming answer to the problem; providing an opportunity for individuals to create a healthier mind, body and soul – through participation, determination and subsequent self-belief.
For example, Russia – host nation of the 2018 FIFA world cup – has recently begun efforts to encourage more children with Down’s syndrome to get into football. Irina Menshenina, Director of Development at Downside Up comments: “Children with Down’s syndrome rarely play sport because often there aren’t the right conditions for them. Parents are even unaware that it is possible.”
However, football is the perfect tool to broaden communication and to interact as a team, children can learn how to coordinate with one another and how to listen and take instruction from the coach too – all extremely beneficial lessons to learn and grow from. Continually, football has had a hand in HIV / aids education, conflict resolution, gender equality, social integration of people with intellectual disabilities, peace building, youth leadership and the shaping of important life skills.
To harness the game’s momentous potential, and to continue the support of existing football-based community projects, FIFA launched the Football for Hope initiative in 2005. It was launched in a bid to improve the lives and prospects of young people; offering funding, equipment and training to organisations, as well as organising events for experts and young leaders to meet to exchange ideas and learn from each other. Through Football for Hope, in the decade that followed since its launch, FIFA has benefited 450 programmes run by 170 non-governmental organisations in 78 countries, serving hundreds of communities and tens of thousands of people across the world.
Showcasing football to truly be one of the most important sports our children have access to, the world over.
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By Mike Valverde