Football or soccer is an active, contact (although some would debate) sport played by millions across the world. But why should you play? I might not be a betting man, but I would be very confident in saying that almost everybody knows at least one person who plays football. Why do people do it? What are the benefits of playing football?
This is going to be a long series of mini posts about the benefits of football and why you, your friends, your kids and anyone else you know should play the game. So, we are going to start off with the obvious. The physical benefits.
One of the most well documented pros of playing football is its positive impact on cardiovascular health. A good level of cardiovascular health or cardiorespiratory health is linked to a lower risk of developing serious health issues. It lowers the risk of certain cancers, heart attack, cholesterol related problems, stroke and type 2 diabetes. So, having good cardiovascular health is very important.
Now, how does football achieve better cardiovascular health? Running, and lots of it. At professional level players travel on average 10km per game. This 10km is not at the same pace throughout. It involves a combination of running, sprinting, walking, jumping and even running backwards. It is because of this that football is a full body workout not only because it uses all the muscles in the body but because it also uses all 3 energy systems. It is as a result of all this that forces the body to adapt OVERTIME. If you play 1 soccer game and think you will never get diabetes in your life then you are wrong, but over a whole season that usually lasts about half a year, then yes you would see a marked increase in your cardio fitness that would then relate to a decrease in the issues above. PROVIDED YOU BACK IT UP WITH A GOOD DIET. Fact, if you eat more calories than you burn you will put on weight and still be at risk.
But what about my kids? Surely, they would not be at risk of those? Sort of, they are not at risk now but its in the future that they will have problems. And today it is even easier for them to be totally inactive and just sit-down to get entertainment with all the available gaming devices, streaming services and online social networking. By playing football however they can reduce the risks associated with being inactive and achieve the same benefits as an adult would in terms of better cardiovascular health.
That is post number one in what will be a very long series on the benefits of football, next post I will be rambling on about footballs effect on body fat and muscles.
Football also has a postive effect on body fat. Body fat itself is a necessary component of what makes our body function. It keeps us warm; it cushions vital organs and is a major source of energy. The average body fat percentage of professional football players is around 10%, give or take each way depending on the individual and where they play.
But what about someone who is overweight? Or a better way of describing it is an individual who has a very high body fat percentage say around 30%. Is football a good way for them to lose weight. The simple answer is yes. Football is a great way to lose weight. On average football players can burn anywhere between 1000 and 800 calories in a game. When you add that on top of training let’s say another 1000 split between 2 training sessions that adds up to 2000 calories extra burned a week.
As an example, let’s take a person who is overweight. On average they burn 2000 calories a day. They have decided to lose weight and have brought their calorie intake down to 2000 calories a day as well. This individual has now decided to pick up football. Using the figures above, over the course of a week they will have a caloric deficit of 2000. There are 7000 calories in 1 kg of fat. Over the course of a season (for me that’s Jan – Sept) you would lose just over 9 kg of fat.
For kids it is a little bit different in terms of the figures, but the principle is the same. Football provides a great way for kids to play and expel excess energy. Therefore, kids who play football are less likely to become overweight and obese. Childhood obesity as well as type 2 diabetes are continuing to rise in Australia, football a long with a healthy diet can combat this. Active kids are also likely to become active adults meaning that they are less likely to develop health problems in the future.
There is one very important point that I do need to make, weight loss is a two pronged approached. A good exercise routine, which football covers and a healthy diet. It is the combination of these two that leads to results not just one. I am also not a healthcare professional, qualified personal trainer or dietician. These are just some of the benefits that I have experienced myself that I believe can apply to anyone.
Still on the physical benefits of football, in this post I will be talking about the effect of football on an individual’s muscles. Exercise itself can have a different effect on an individual’s muscles depending on what goals that individual wants to achieve. Body builders and marathon runners for instance will exercise there muscles differently to achieve different results. Keeping this in mind football is a full body workout, there is running, walking, jumping, sprinting, and tackling.
Football isn’t something that’s going to get you looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Its just not that type of exercise. Playing football will develop lean muscle mass that can lead to more toned muscles. This is largely due to the fat burning properties of football spoken about previously. As body fat decreases and muscle mass increases muscles become more visible. Fun fact about this process although you can spot increase muscle mass. For example, only working out your arms to get big arms. You CANNOT spot reduce fat.
The muscles that will usually develop and get bigger and stronger in an individual who has gone from a sedentary lifestyle to playing football are the legs and core. Legs is an obvious one, all the activities above require moving your legs. This requires your muscles to work, they then break down and then hopefully recover stronger. The types of activities effect muscles in different ways as mentioned constantly through out the last two posts. Running and walking are more likely to increase muscular endurance, jumping and sprinting are more likely to develop a muscles power and tackling and striking the ball are likely to develop muscle strength.
Football will also work an individual’s core, provided it is activated! Some lucky people do this naturally. I am not one of these people and it has been the main cause of my back problems. I have decent core strength, but I cannot switch it on and that means that I use my back to support myself when I do most activities. There are ways to activate your core before training and a match, I am not going to get into that. All I do is do a quick 2 minute plank before a game and then my core is definitely activated and ready to go.
Football players will constantly use their core throughout a game to support themselves. Whenever a player turns, crouches down, jumps up or takes a hit the core should be supporting these actions. This will increase an individual’s core strength as well as endurance.
As for upper body, football players do use their upper bodies but it’s a lot less prevalent in football when compared to rugby. Football players use their upper bodies when jumping, running, taking throw ins and when trying to protect or win the ball. When compared to the legs and core, playing football will not get you a significant increase in muscle mass or strength that is why professional level football players also go to the gym.
Football requires coordination in order to play the game and is a great way to develop someone’s coordination especially at a young age. Football also requires the use of both fine and gross motor skills in order to play the game successfully.
An individual undertaking football will learn both hand-eye coordination and foot-eye coordination. You are not allowed to use your hands in football apart from one position, goalkeeper. In Australia there are no goalkeepers until players reach the under 8 age group. Once they reach this age teams can place a goalkeeper in the goals. It is my belief that players should all be given a chance to play goalkeeper through the ages of 8 – 12 or at least until they play on a full size field. Learning to play goalkeeper means that you have to use your hands to stop the ball by either parrying it or catching it. At the younger age’s players are also encouraged to roll or throw the ball out when distributing. The repetition of this as well as throw ins develops an individual’s ability to properly control a ball when receiving it and when releasing it.
Outfield players also need hand eye coordination, although for a very different reason. The use of a hand by an outfield player results in a free kick or penalty to the opposing team. It is therefore essential to be able to keep your hands away as much as humanly possible especially when controlling the ball and blocking a shot.
Foot to eye coordination is the predominant type of coordination used in football. The ability to know where your foot is in relation to what your eyes see in order to execute something with the ball. For example a shot at goal. Foot eye coordination is hard to learn, the feet are less dexterous than the hands and the legs are a lot stronger than the arms making it a difficult ability to learn. Just look at any person regardless of their age starting out at in football.
However, over time and with the right coaching players can learn to do incredibly complex physical movements with their feet. Just look at the most ridiculous moves pulled off by football freestylers. Although these are not overly practical in the game of football they demonstrate a high amount of fine motor skills and foot-eye coordination in order to pull off.
In game foot -eye coordination culminates in the amazing and dazzling over head kicks and scissor kicks we see players execute. The ability to judge the flight of the ball and coordinate what is almost a half backflip all whilst being able to kick the ball down and toward the goal shows how just how much football can develop an individuals coordination.
This has benefits outside of football as well. People who are more coordinated are less likely to hurt themselves when doing activities. Such as playing with the kids. Being more coordinated means there is less chance of you falling or tripping over, or even if you do be able to recover your balance and avoid injury. The same goes for kids, although everyone starts out a little clumsy, kids who are more coordinated are less likely to get hurt playing with their friends then someone who is more uncoordinated.
One of the first mental benefits of football is the ability it must develop an individual’s concentration skills. Concentration is important for anyone and the earlier someone can develop an understanding of not just what concentration is but also why they need it the better.
So how does football achieve this? Firstly, in the development an individual’s skills in order to play the game and then the playing of the game itself. In order to play football, you need certain skills, first touch, striking the ball, running with the ball are the basics. In order to learn these, you need to be able to focus on how to do them. This might take the form of someone watching a YouTube video, or more likely at a young age someone learning from a coach. If the individual is not concentrating, then they are likely to not understand how to perform the action. Therefore in order to learn new skills players must learn to concentration. Furthermore, the players we see on TV seem to perform actions as second nature and for them it is. But, that’s not how it starts out. You must first become focused and concentrate on doing the move slowly and correctly before attempting to make it difficult by doing it faster or under pressure.
Secondly the game of football requires concentration to play. To be able to focus on the ball, teammates, opposition and where the goals are, takes a lot of concentration. Its one of the main reasons that the game is adjusted to shorter lengths at the younger ages. It is simply too much to ask of young minds to be able to concentrate for the same amount of time as adults. But if a player continues to play for a couple of seasons then they will develop a greater ability to concentrate for longer periods of time. This has a carry over affect into an individual’s life outside of football as well creating better concentration in the classroom or at work.
As mentioned in the previous post the increase in concentration that football provides to individuals especially at a young age carries over to their school environment too. Students who play football are generally speaking less aggressive and experience fewer behavioral problems. One of the reasons for this is that football provides an outlet for kids to expend their seemingly endless amounts of energy. Without a release for these kids they may start play fights as a way to expend this energy, if left unchecked this may lead to aggression. Football provides a perfect activity for kids to do, its physical, outdoors and a contact sport.
With less aggression and increased levels of concentration kids enrolled in football also experience less behavioral problems. Seems obvious, although it is important to note that not all behavioral problems are related to fighting. Not willing to work with others, overreacting when losing or failing at something and selfishness are all behavioral problems that can arise in childhood. Football addresses all of these and in some cases I will go into deeper detail on them in the upcoming post but here is just a little summary. Football is a team sport and in order to have sustained success you need to able to work together as a team.
In football eventually kids are going to lose, or not accomplish something straight away, that’s the way it is. But, what I try to install in the kids that I coach is that failing is just an opportunity to learn something. Similarly the more you fail or the more you lose, although not desirable does mean that you get used to it and understand that failing a 3rd grade math test just like losing an U8 soccer game is not that important.
Selfishness tends to be stamped out by a combination of the two above. If a player is selfish for example a player is simply “hogging” the ball and not passing it to anyone else. Everyone else on the team will undoubtedly get frustrated and start complaining to “the hog” about him not passing the ball. This may trigger “the hog” to pass the ball more often or it may make the coach aware and they may wish to ask the player “why they are not passing the ball and then suggest that in some situations it may be good to pass the ball to someone in a better position. “the hog” will also likely continued to get tackled, leading to the player failing repeatedly. This could lead to frustration as a result of losing the ball and in some circumstances the game and this is where the coach needs to step in with the same points as above. However if the player is successfully dribbling through entire teams and scoring 3+ goals a game then the coach has the difficult task of trying to challenge that player further by setting them individual based tasks or playing them out of position, not that they should have positions before 12 anyway.
Football can also be a preventative measure against antisocial behavior. A lot of times when individuals get themselves into trouble it is usually through the teenage years where the search for identity and to “fit in” is strongest. It’s something that I definitely went through in my teenage years.
I had what I would call a weird circumstance where I was one thing in school and then a completely different person outside of it. In school I was very shy, unconfident and afraid to say the wrong thing and would go as far to say I felt like I was walking around on eggshells. I sort of attribute this to the school I went to I went to a school where academics came first, and sport was a very distant second. I mean that’s what you want when you enroll your kid in school, for them to come out hopefully smarter than they went in. The sports that the school did endorse though were rugby and basketball. Now, for those of you who do not know me I am 5’4 on a good day … as a 23 year old. Imagine what I was like as an 9 year old!!! So, those were not really an option for me plus my sports were cricket and football. So in terms of being able to relate to people in school and have something to talk about besides school, I didn’t have much.
Now I think this could have 100% become a problem if it wasn’t for who I was outside of school. Outside of school I was confident, talkative and comfortable. That’s because most of the time I was outside of school I was playing sport and not to toot my own horn but I was usually good at it too. Its also a different circumstance when you are at a game or at training for sport. Everyone has school so you can talk about that, then there is the sport that you are actually playing. That you know people are interested in because … if they weren’t then why were they there? So, you can talk about your favorite teams, players, the national team and so on. In all honesty I think that the outside of school me was definitely the realer version of myself and is who I am today.
The point to all of this though is that if I was not playing sport and the only interaction I had was the one I had at school then things could have gone down a different road. I think that a lot of the time teenagers compromise who they are in order to try and fit in. I know some people will cringe at this because its cringy and cliché but that’s why teenagers try things in an attempt to be cool or popular that they do not fully understand. Teachers may convince some people to stop but it is the ignorance of youth that when shown the potential consequences of there actions teens often say “Yeh, but that won’t be me”. Then they try something once, either they like it or they keep doing it because they like what people think of them when they do it. But because they do not understand the nature of the things they are trying they then become addicted to both the thing itself and the attention it brings with it.
I was literally having a kick around the other day at an oval across the road from a school. A group of kids came over and were what I thought just hanging out by the club house about 10 meters from where I was kicking the ball in the goal. I thought nothing of it the kids looked about 14 but were definitely in school clothes. Two teachers then came thundering around the corner catching the group off guard. All I could really here was “Can’t you kids go one day without smoking?” and “is that the cigarette under your foot, that’s pathetic”. 14 years old and from the sounds of it repeat offenders at getting caught smoking, 14!
Now, I do understand that not all football players are smoke, drug and alcohol free and that not all drug users do not play football. But football and sport in general does provide another way for individuals especially at that age to find a place to fit in and another path to go on.
Football for kids is one of the best ways for them to learn how to interact with others. Social skills are just as important in life as being physically active and well educated. At football kids will learn how to introduce themselves, to talk about themselves, to talk to others and to respect authority just to name a few. In doing so they will be equipped with the skills that will stay with them throughout life. One thing I forgot, NO FIGHTING. Kids love a good play fight but this is should probably stamped out as it can lead to injuries especially if there is a large size difference between kids. Furthermore kids are very impressionable and if it is perceived to be okay at football they may think that’s ok to do it anywhere which can lead to problems at school or at home.
Football is a team sport, and even in its 5 aside form where there are less players on the court meaning individual skills may be more present you still need to work as a team to be successful. Therefore, football teaches cooperation. Cooperation is an essential social skill that enables people to work together in order to achieve a common goal. In footballs instance to score goals and prevent the other team from scoring goals as well. In the game itself there are isolated examples of individuals cooperating. A goalkeeper telling his teammates who to mark at a corner, players performing a free kick routine where everyone plays a part in order to hopefully fool the opposition and score a goal. Both are examples of players having to cooperate. This would therefore hopefully translate to there outside of football life and enable them to cooperate with classmates and work colleagues.
Football is also a great way to make new friendships. Players tend to come and go throughout a teams dynamic especially when people start getting to seniors. Life tends to get in the way whether that be family or work or something else. This means that there is a constant flux of new players coming into the team and this provides an excellent opportunity for people to create new friends. This can have other benefits too, my football team has a very wide range of occupations some are in accounting, marketing, finance your typical white collar types where as others are in blue collar occupations such has plumbing, construction and landscaping. Deadest if ever I need something fixed all I have to do is call up a teammate and its sorted. I would not have that opportunity if I didn’t play football.
At a young age as well its so important for kids to make as many friends as possible, because at that age they can manage it. As you get older its no secret that the amount of friendships that can be consistently maintained tends to dwindle. Plus a child who enters a completely new team apart from maybe 1 player who was an existing friend will hopefully gain another 6 or 7 by the end of the season depending on how many are allowed in the team. If they are completely new to a team in the junior age groups in my area, then they would have the opportunity to become friends with another 15 players.
I touched on this a little bit before, but football also provides an opportunity for people to maintain friendships as well. How often are you able to hang out with at least 10 – 15 mates if its just one team and up to 20 – 30 people if it’s a squad twice a week for roughly 6 months continuously. Not a chance you would be able to do that without football. Maintaining friendships is key to having a healthy and fulfilling life, it feels good to have friends and be a part of a team. We are social creatures after all.
Mental health is something that has almost taken center stage over the last 10 years and it would be silly to think that football does not influence this. Lets start with how can football effect mental health. Buckle up this is the last of the what I would determine to be the three main areas of what makes up someone’s life and its going be a big one. So, how can football help mental health? Its actually largely a combination of the other two areas physical and social.
In combination with the physical aspect, exercise releases endorphins which make you feel good. The feeling good part is what I would say is an effect on mental health. The lines are blurred as we are one holistic system not 3 separate components. Footballs benefit is that for most teams this occurs twice a week once at training and once at the game. As you get to a higher level this increases even more.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has actually put on weight during a football season (injuries aside). Football being the very active sport that it is can certainly contribute to an individual losing weight and gaining muscle. This would therefore make someone appear more athletic which is what many people desire, what guy wouldn’t want to look like Cristiano Ronaldo. This change in body composition can lead to a better self image and a sense of pride in what an individual looks like. How many people do you think can confidently say I am proud of what I look like. Not many, people may say that they wouldn’t change a thing regardless and I 100% agree but even myself even though I am not fat I would still like to have a 6-pack (Pasta and Ice Cream be damned). The point being, football can lead to a more athletic look that can make an individual happier with how they’re body looks.
Football as a result of the two points in the last post can also lead to less depression and anxiety issues. I should point out that is not just relative to these two it is a consistent theme throughout footballs benefits to mental health. This won’t be the last time I bring these up. Anyways back to the point. Body image issues is the main culprit when talking about depression and anxiety to do with someone’s physical appearance. By releasing endorphins whilst playing football someone is less likely to suffer from depression or if the individual is already suffering from depression may lessen the extent of it.
Similarly, with anxiety, if someone is anxious about how they look and they start playing football and over a season start seeing some physiological changes then they would have less anxiety over how they look. This works also works by reducing the stress levels associated with anxiety which lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and I think (not a doctor) can lead to weight gain through disrupted sleep patterns. I also hypothesize (not a doctor but used a big word to sound smart) that spiked cortisol levels directly relate to the cravings we sometimes get when we are stressed or anxious. One of them being overeating.
From a social standpoint it feels good to belong to something. The vast majority of us want to be a part of a team, group or culture. Football provides this as it is a team sport making people interact and work together towards a common goal all of which I covered in a previous post. Having that sense of belonging can help elevate someone’s self esteem leading to less of chance of developing mental health issues. One of the best parts about football is you don’t have to even be a player to be able to enjoy these aspects. There are thousands and thousands of supporter groups out there for people who don’t play but have a favorite team. They may simply support a team because their partner does or because their friends do but even still they have an opportunity to belong to a group
Similarly, it can also help relax individuals as they have a group of friends who they can trust, maybe they feel more comfortable talking about things in front of group rather than just one individual. By being able to talk about things, get advice on the little things and be reassured that everything is ok individuals will feel less stressed and anxious leading to better mental health overall.
Another mental health benefit that comes from football is confidence. The confidence benefit comes from all of the points above. Looking good and feeling that you look good is a massive boost to an individual’s confidence. Being social and having plenty of friends gives someone confidence. Being able to focus at work so that you can have a successful career also gives someone confidence. There are not to many successful, athletic people with large friend groups that suffer from crippling depression and anxiety. Confidence maybe the most important benefit that football provides for individuals of all ages.
Kids too, I used to be a shy kid, until I started playing sport and becoming good at it. Then I became more confident and I have massively benefitted from this. Being a shy kid is hard, you have to rely on others to come up to you and introduce themselves as opposed to you being the one to approach them. This can make it hard to make friends and be able to approach teachers or coaches if you need help with anything. Confident kids as well as kids who are good at football is what I also try and achieve. I have had kids who appear afraid to say hello then by the end of the first session are having an open dialogue with me, which I think is great.
Confidence is also important as it adds to a kids and really any individuals sense of self and who they are. Now in some instances you want people to change who they are, if they are overly arrogant and ignorant well then yeh maybe they need to think about how they behave. But for the most part individuals should own who they are and be confident in acting how they want to. Football provides this through the confidence it can create in players.
Lastly, unless I remember something and forget to edit this out. Football teaches us as individuals how to cope with failure, to control our emotions and resilience. Losing a football game is not a pleasant experience. It can feel heartbreaking especially if you are truly passionate about the sport. Even if you only play for the social side of things you may feel bad for your teammates. But football teaches us that there will always be another game, whether that’s playing, watching or coaching. Its ok to lose, its not fun but its okay, at the end of the day it is just a game. This ability to deal with a loss can also help us in life. Being able to deal with failing a test or not doing as well as you wanted is a similar situation that an individual may be able to draw on their experience in football.
We have all seen people for lack of a better word “Snap”. They lose their cool and all of a sudden its on. Football players are no exception to this two of the greatest players in recent history Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham have got into trouble for lashing out at other players. Both were at the world cup, high pressure situations, weight of a nation on their shoulders. In football, as in life there are annoying players that specialize in the dark arts of football. Pinching, tripping when the referee is not looking, quiet verbal abuse, stepping on the backs of your heels at set pieces, the works. Football teaches us to not lash out at these instances otherwise we may be punished instead of the offender. Quite often this player is also very convincing at “diving” meaning that more than likely the retaliating player will be the one who gets sent off. So, in football we must learn to control ourselves and try and focus on something else in game. Or do what I do and tell the referee and linesman. Yes, I am an in game taddle tail and I couldn’t be prouder. I stand on the goalkeeper at corners and on one such occasion the keeper was constantly shoving me in the back with two hands, I’m 5’4 not 6’8 just reach over me? Anyways it got to the point where I had enough, so I told the Referee and his assistant and sure enough next corner, two handed shoves in the back and we got a penalty and won the game. Being able to do this in life as well as football is also important, there is always going to that one annoying individual whether it’s at work or school who it seems has made it their life mission to annoy you. But from an individual’s previous experience in dealing with the dirty diver in football they may be able to control their emotions and simply walk away.
Football can also teach us resilience, the other side of learning to deal with loss. Being resilient takes many forms in football. A player having a shocking run of form after being bought for big money. A team losing a big game. A player who has a devastating injury. How they respond is down to their resilience. I have won grand finals. Lost grand finals, I have missed a penalty in a semi-final, I have been told I was not good enough, I have been told that I have not improved enough, I have been out injured for a year and pretty much every year I get insulted for being short. But I am resilient. Because I have failed many times before and know how to get up and move on from it. I largely attribute this to the time I have spent and experience I have gained playing football.