How do I start playing football? And what are the health benefits?
World Cup 2018 is in full swing, and all of the hype around the tournament will be inspiring fans across the country to lace up their boots, pull on a jersey and give the beautiful game a go themselves.
And there are plenty of good reasons to start too – football is one of the best sports going for our bodies and brains.
So if you’re considering joining a team for the first time but don’t know where to start, here’s what you need to know.
What are the fitness gains?
It keeps your heart and back happy. Emma Barnes, a football coach and women and girls football development officer for the London Football Association (londonfa.com), says: “Football is a great cardiovascular exercise, with running up and down the pitch, but it’s a good overall body workout, too.” You’ll be working your quads, hamstrings and calves, which can also help ward off osteoporosis.
Say hello to a toned upper body – perhaps surprisingly, playing football provides you with a serious upper body workout. “You use your arms a lot for moves like throw-ins, or if you’re defending in goal,” adds Barnes.
It beats running and lifting weights. Researchers at Copenhagen University discovered that playing football is better for your health than both these activities. This is because the intensity of the game and varied range of movements – kicks, twists, turns and sprints – provide greater overall health benefits than a long run or a single weights session, helping reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. (Of course, that’s what we all admire most about David Beckham, his low blood pressure…)
Who can do it?
More people than you might think. Despite the health benefits, many women are still put off getting into football. Research conducted by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (wsff.org.uk) reveals many of us are embarrassed by poor ball skills and this lack of confidence stops us signing up. “But that’s often due to a lack of practice,” points out Barnes. “A little bit of coordination does help, but this will improve every time you get on the pitch.”
If you’re not sure about what position you’d be best suited to play, don’t worry. “Beginners will rotate through positions. As your skills develop, you might decide you want to be a goal scorer, or your coach may think you’d make a good defender,” says Barnes.
Football can also improve your team-building skills: if you don’t communicate with each other and work towards the same goal (winning!) you’re less likely to be successful. “The social side to football is important, too,” says Barnes. “A night out with your team-mates can be just as significant in boosting wellbeing as the match.”
Where do I start?
The London FA has started Fit-ball sessions; fun fitness sessions for women based around football skills with a quick game at the end, or you can find a local venue and drop in for a kickabout through the FA’s Just Play! initiative. Visit justplay.thefa.com to find a participating centre, or go to www.thefa.com/findaclub to find out about games, practice sessions and available positions at your local women’s club.
You don’t need any fancy kit to get started either: trainers, and comfortable clothes you can move around in. Once you start playing more often, or progress to your local club, you will want to invest in football boots and shin pads.
If in doubt, give it a try! Football could be your new go-to fitness activity. “Have a go,” urges Barnes. “I’d say 99% of the women who try football get hooked.”