Football boosting young girls' mental wellbeing and confidence

Girls’ mental health in schools is being helped through football, new research from children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust and The Football Association (FA) has found.

It has been revealed that girls’ confidence, motivation and life skills have been improved following participation in Game of Our Own - delivered by the Youth Sport Trust in collaboration with The FA.

“If you’ve had a bad day, the rest of the team will cheer you up and make you feel happy. It’s like a sanctuary. You won’t get judged for having a bad game and you’ll make friends.” These were the words from one of the girls at Forge Valley School, Sheffield, after participating in the programme.

Game of Our Own is focused on introducing more girls to the game by teaching leadership skills, which can then be applied in girls’ own schools to engage their peers. It also supports schools and teachers to have a better understanding of barriers to participation and how to engage girls.

40% of the girls who took part in a post programme survey said that their mental wellbeing had been improved by taking part. It also revealed that 90% of girls who had helped to lead and deliver the programme said their confidence had been improved generally – with more girls feeling that their confidence to play football had been boosted.

Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said:

At a time when children’s mental health is in decline, it is fantastic to hear girls’ stories through Game of Our Own and understand how it is helping to develop their mental health as well as confidence and self-esteem.

This research adds to a growing international research base which shows that physical activity not only improves physical wellbeing but is an important outlet for decreasing stress and anxiety, managing emotions, building a sense of belonging and having fun.

The research revealed that to engage more girls to play football in schools and further develop their mental and physical wellbeing through the game, there should be:

  • Greater focus upon team building and socialising than competition, leading to wider participation in the sport.
  • Providing opportunities to play away from boys, by not allowing them to watch or be nearby to pitches, as some girls reported that judgment from boys had discouraged them in the past.
  • Consider the value of a ‘passport’ system making participants aware of the life skills they are gaining allowing them to record this information in their own ‘passports’.

Louise Gear, Head of Women’s Participation at The FA, said: “We are delighted that Game of Our Own is yielding such positive results with regards to participant’s wellbeing and development of key life skills. It is great that the benefits of the programme will be felt by over 20,000 girls, as we continue to support Youth Sport Trust in delivering Game of Our Own in schools across England”.

After taking part in the programme, 95% of girls were found to have better leadership skills.

Rachel Yankey, who represented the England Women’s Senior team over 100 times, said:

Projects like Game of Our Own help develop different skills which could be crucial in girls’ futures - there is so much you can learn from sport that can help you in the wider world. Providing the right environment is key, especially for those who have never played the game before and I have witnessed first-hand how this initiative is helping to improve that.

A teacher using the programme at Plympton Academy in Plymouth, said: “The impact of this programme has been huge. We have seen vulnerable students and individuals who have never committed to after school clubs in PE and who lack confidence in sports and PE activities, attend our football club every week.

We have engaged our 'hard to reach' students in football activities. The club has enabled girls to develop their confidence, social skills and self-esteem. They have made friends with older and younger girls because of it. Historically, the most girls we have ever been able to recruit to after school football is around 10 girls.

“Now, this club led by our student football activators has seen 34 girls in years 7 and 8 attend every week and enjoy the club and football.”

Game of Our Own has already reached more than 11,600 girls since launching in January 2018. It is expected that more than 20,000 girls across England will have been engaged in the programme by Autumn 2019.

For more information, case studies and to read the full research report visit the YST's FA Partnership page here. To register interest in receiving support for your school to engage girls in football please email FAgirls@youthsporttrust.org

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