Walking football: You’ll never walk alone
Mark Blythe discusses the latest way to get older men back into sport and very simple ways in which churches can get involved.
Walking Football could be both the fastest growing and the slowest form of football around! It is what it says, a new form of football with only walking allowed. Running with or without the ball into space is penalised with a free kick to the opposition. It is also non-contact, very different to the professional game.
The game is now about four years old, however, it is still relatively unknown to its target audience. Barclays Television ads on prime time TV have really helped boost the game however and their target audience is generally folks over 50 years old. However, some groups allow younger people, those who are returning from illness or injury, suffering from mental illness, unemployed or just available to join in.
The statistics are showing that as we live longer those over 50 are becoming less healthy, less active and many are struggling with loneliness due to isolation. While this is costing the NHS millions, walking football is proving to be an answer to this problem. Surveys report that attendees are losing weight, having fun, returning to exercise, making friends and reducing loneliness.
But is it popular I hear you cry? Sessions of this sport are popping up all around the country, with more than 800 at the last count. They are being run by Leisure Centres, County Football Associations, Professional Clubs, Senior Citizens and other health groups. Checking the local County FA website is the best place to find existing WF Teams.
What can your church do? This great sport is growing exponentially and is bringing many opportunities for churches to engage with the community of walking footballers and their families. One such example is Alan Ritchie of St Mary’s, East Molesey, in Surrey. He attends local sessions and is making good friends with a large number of guys. Some have said this sport has life changing, allowing them to make new friends, lost weight and feel healthier. The pre-match chat by the leaders has been a great for Alan to invite teammates to church events at St Mary’s, and now he has developed relationships and great trust with others in the group.
Church halls across the UK are being used to host walking football. To make it easier, football coaching qualifications aren’t needed and any help required will be readily supplied by County Football associations or from the contact below. ‘Just Do It’ is the slogan of a well-known sports company, what a great call to action for Christians. Join in with a local session or start your own if there aren’t any nearby and you have facilities. Then make friends and pray for opportunities to say something about your faith when appropriate.
Mark Blythe works with Refresh Church Surrey, Christian Vision for Men and the UK Sports Ministries Network in London as a full-time Sports Evangelist.