Reflection from Football in the Community

Working in the Football in the Community arena you don’t see many opportunities to present research to totally relevant audiences and specific FitC events. I have attended a range of conferences from BASESECSSBHFNC and EASM to name a few, however this event was really interesting – the Football and its Communities symposium.

The event was hosted by Manchester Metropolitan Uni and its purpose was to explore:

The apparent globalisation and commercialisation of football has led to much criticism from both academic and media commentators that it is no longer the People’s Game. The changing structures of ownership within top level football are characterised by the increase of international financial investors keen to associate themselves and their businesses with globally recognised club brands, personified by teams such as Manchester United and Real Madrid. That said, most football clubs continue to be firmly embedded within local contexts and often within close geographical proximity to traditional fan bases. Despite commercialisation, even the biggest football clubs remain committed to local community development, contributing huge social value in otherwise deprived neighbourhoods and cities.

The event keynote was Richard Giullianotti,who presented a thoughtful football and its communities presentation. We (Kathryn Dunn and I) followed shortly after presenting on our experiences of working within an English Premier League Football Clubs community programme – Everton in the Community:

Football as vehicle for social change: reflections from the field

The presentations covers a number of health promotion and beahviour change projects. The conclusions are that FitC schemes coaches are good people who provide a fun services. However a shift in skill base is required in order to meet the demands of new social agendas (i.e., obesity for example). A ‘new age’ practitioner is needed to attend to the more recent and more complex social projects – whom possess a broader skill base Evident that psychosocial/lifestyle behaviour change is present across programmes, as opposed to major physiological health changes.
Discussion following the presentation with applied practitioners and managers from FitC (in the audience – making this a brilliant event for people researching in this area and something we were made up to see) confirmed that the English Premier League had called clubs representatives together to discuss the shifting skill base required for coaches the previous week. This highlighted the problems of trying to create a ‘super coach‘.
The applied FitC people in the audience also highlighted “How can we do this – create a ‘super coach’ with the short term (and small amounts of) funding”. With this we empathised totally. Again bringing us back to the point that more support is needed for FitC in helping them attend strategically and coherently to social agendas.
Simply, throwing £30K per 3 years is not enough to tackle cultures associated with obesity (i.e., inactivity, poor diet). If we want to really tackle such issues some ‘real’ support is needed.

The advice I can give from my experience is that in the short term FitC schemes should:

– build partnerships to develop research skills (to gauge the impact of their projects and begin to improve effectiveness),

– provide relevant career professional development for practitioners and coaches alike (something I was pleased to see at DCitC & BACT) and;

– build bespoke programmes to suit participants with appropriately skilled practitioners (so keep it focused on clear measurable outcomes.

Finally, I feel that within FitC schemes the foundations are in place for greater success! Its now time for us (and associated organisations, companies, bodies) to act.

Lets get with them, behind them and support them to capitalise on the full potential football offers as a vehicle for social change.


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