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The benefits of the beautiful game

On average, 12 men take their own lives every day in the UK. That’s your starting 11 and your manager, every single day. Scary, isn’t it? Today we’re supporting a new piece of research from The FA looking into the impact football has on society’s wellbeing, and it’s got us thinking about how football can be a force for positive change…

The FA’s survey of approximately 9,000 respondents, the largest study of this type to date for a National Governing Body in the UK, provides a look into the benefits of the beautiful game.

Over 12 million players participate in different forms of football in England. That’s a lot of people playing football. It’s clear that, on a cultural and societal level, football has an important role to play in the way we deal with issues including mental health, wellbeing and suicide.

“We have always known that football improves people’s health; this report quantifies exactly by how much, and also demonstrates football’s social contribution to players and society as a whole.”

Mark Bullingham, The FA’s Chief Commercial and Football Development Officer

AFC Oldsmiths, a founding CALM Club

You can view the whole report here, while some key findings are below:

  • Grassroots football players report significantly higher levels of happiness, general health, confidence and trust compared with those who play no sport (p14).
  • Grassroots football players report significantly higher levels of general health, confidence, and trust compared with those who play other sports (p14).
  • Grassroots football players report a stronger belief that playing football has improved their confidence, concentration, motivation, and social mixing, compared with individual and other team sports (p43).
  • Female grassroots football players report the highest levels of self-confidence as a result of playing football (p43).
  • Lower income groups experience some greater quality of life benefits from football compared with higher income groups, specifically in their health and confidence levels (p43).
  • 11-a-side footballers report higher levels of health and happiness compared to other types of football (p44).
  • In summary, playing grassroots football is associated with positive quality of life benefits to all layers of society, and in some cases these benefits are higher for those from socially disadvantaged groups (p43).

We firmly believe in using football to reach and help people, that’s why we’ll soon be launching a new initiative called the CALM Football Collective. This will be an extension of CALM Collectives, which are a brilliant way of connecting our supporters – online and offline – through interests like running and art in a way that’s conducive to good health. The CALM Football Collective will be a way for football teams of all shapes and sizes to join our movement against suicide, to make sure our football communities are positive and welcoming spaces, and to give clubs a way of showing they believe in using football as a force for good.

“Those who play football report significantly higher levels of general health, happiness, confidence and trust”

Michael Kitson, Economist, University of Cambridge

It’s going to be really good. Promise. And you can be among the first to hear more about this launch by signing up here. But don’t just take it from us, here’s what a couple of our supporters had to say…

AFC Oldsmiths

“Oldsmiths was set up in August ’09. We play Saturdays, train in Catford, the home ground is in Sidcup and everyone is sound. Men’s 11 a-side at grassroots level is in rapid decline – it can be difficult to organise players and facilities while keeping people hungry – so if there’s an extra element whereby clubs can support the wellbeing of players, fans and communities, maybe we can keep these players engaged and hopefully bring in new lads that want a bit more than to just play football.

Our association with CALM allows our club to say outwardly that we recognise the battles people go through every day and that we will embrace conversation, help where we can, and make a difference going forward together. We’ve always felt that if you can make one person less frustrated through playing football, brilliant. Football, and the CALM Football Collective initiative specifically, has the scope to lift thousands of football fans and those close to them.”

Marvin Sordell, pro footballer and CALM ambassador

“To me, the CALM Football Collective is a snapshot of what CALM is all about and it will get football teams engaging in the importance of looking after your mental health. Even with all the negative emotions and experiences that I’ve encountered throughout my life and career, I have always just enjoyed playing football. The driving force for me persisting in this career initially came from that love for purely playing and nothing has changed since. I love the way CALM thinks about creative ways to tackle such a difficult subject in a unique manner.”

CALM ambassador Marvin Sordell playing for Team GB

Matthew Legg, CALM supporter and FC Not Alone co-founder

“Football is such a great platform for having positive conversations around mental health. We know football is a key part of British culture and a conversation point for men across the country, so I believe it has the potential to play an integral role in developing the conversation around men’s mental health. Following my own struggles with depression, my cousin and I started FC Not Alone with that in mind and we’ve been working with CALM to try and use football as a way of getting people opening up about their mental health. The support and response it has received illustrates the vast potential of football in generating and facilitating the discussion around mental health. In both bad times and good, football plays a key role in men’s wellbeing and I believe CALM’s role within football via the CALM Football Collective could further improve the benefits men receive from the beautiful game”

FC Not Alone founders Matthew and Ian

Into your football? Play for a team and want to make them a CALM club? Join the CALM Football Collective here.

Photography by Adrihani Rashid.

Get support

Need support? Worried about someone? CALM’s helpline and webchat are open daily 5pm-midnight. Get access here. 

Have you been affected by suicide? The Support After Suicide Partnership is a hub for anyone bereaved or affected by suicide, where you can find emotional and practical support.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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