Football has come a long way since it was first thought up. The contemporary history of football spans more than a century, originating in 1863 when rugby football and association football branched off and created the Football Association, the sport’s first governing body. It has since grown in popularity and is now heralded as the world’s favourite game, with followers in every country across the globe.
There are many reasons for youngsters to get involved in football, either through their school or local clubs. Playing football brings a host of physical, psychosocial and cognitive benefits. There are numerous studies that note a strong correlation between participation in sports such as football and an individual’s level of fitness. A review into the health promoting effects of recreational football (Krustrup et al, 2010) investigated the physiological demands of football training on central health variables. They highlighted the various types of aerobic activity carried out during recreational football, such as multiple high-speed runs, sprints, turns, jumps and tackles, which provide high impact on muscles and bones. This type of activity results in clear improvements to maximum aerobic power, blood pressure, muscle capillarization and intermittent exercise performance in untrained individuals. Additionally, there are enhancements to fat oxidisation during the exercise, which results in higher fat loss and elevates bone mass. In simple terminology, football appears to be very effective in stimulating improvements in an individual’s muscles and bones, and reduces the risk of developing lifestyle diseases.
Another study by Randers et al (2010) showed that the improvements to overall health and fitness could be sustained, even with a reduced training frequency. The study followed previously untrained participants through an intensive 12-week football intervention, and measured the improvements to muscle mass, bone density, plantar jump force and sprinting velocity. The training frequency was then reduced over the rest of the year, and the individual’s fitness was measured again. The research concluded that the positive changes to cardiovascular fitness made during the intensive 12-week training were still existent at the end of the 1-year period. The findings highlight the long-term advantages that sports such as football can have on an individual’s physical fitness. Poor physiological condition can arise as a consequence of a physically inactive lifestyle, and is a major contributor to the increasing prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and musculo-skeletal disorders. Any activities that can help to reverse this trend should therefore be encouraged.
Studies have shown improvements to various psychological and social indicators such as an individual’s self esteem and social confidence and a reduction in depressive symptoms. A review by Eime et al (2013) looked at the psychosocial benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents and found a strong link between team sports and improved health outcomes. Eime et al noted that although sport tends to be a popular activity amongst children, participation seems to peak around the ages of 11-13 years before declining during adolescence. They concluded that community sport be advocated as an important form of leisure time physical activity for children and adolescents in order to not only lower the obesity rate, but also boost psychological and social outcomes.
Additional cognitive benefits can be linked to the hand-eye coordination developed through sports such as football, as researchers at Jacobs University have discovered. Voelcker-Rehage, Godde and Staudinger (2011) investigated the effects of cardiovascular and coordination training on cognitive performance and neural processing and found improvements in both executive functioning and perceptual speed. Their findings indicated more efficient information processing when performing an executive control task, with coordination training resulting in an improved use of the visual-spatial network.
The English Schools’ Football Association, founded in 1904, promotes football through the provision of competitions between schools set up by local districts and support for young people who want to develop skills in association football. This spring, the ESFA (2015) will be holding nine events across the country in order to update educators and organisers on the work the ESFA is doing and find out how those involved with football on a daily basis view the current provision of the sport.
Visit the English Schools’ Football Association at ‘Have Your Say’ for more information.