A role for football in mental health: the Coping Through Football project

Sonia Smith: Project Coordinator for Coping Through Football – pic from http://www.copingthroughfootball.org/


The Psychiatrist (2012), 36, 290-293:

  • Received August 11, 2011. , Revision received April 23, 2012., Accepted May 9, 2012.

  1. Oliver J. Mason1,2 and 
  2. Rebecca Holt1

Author Affiliations

  1. University College London
  2. North East London Foundation NHS Trust

Author Notes

  • Oliver J. Mason is a senior lecturer at the Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at University College London, and Deputy Director of Research and Development, North East London NHS Foundation Trust. Rebecca Holt is a clinical psychologist at the Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at University College London, UK.
  1. Correspondence to Oliver J. Mason (o.mason@ucl.ac.uk)
  • Declaration of interest None.


Aims and method Coping Through Football aims to improve well-being and reduce social isolation for younger people with severe mental illness in a deprived area of North East London. Interviews were conducted with 12 service users, 5 referrers and 2 coaches to obtain their views of the project’s implications for health and well-being, quality of life and social/community relationships. A qualitative approach was used to derive themes from interview transcripts using some of the tools of grounded theory.

Results Themes included: identifying with past self; service with a difference: opening up the social world; safety; empowerment; and feeling good. Coping Through Football was seen by stakeholders as leading to increased well-being and social opportunities within a safe and understanding environment.

Clinical implications For many service users the football project played a key role in their recovery of personal and social roles. Social and community-based mental health projects benefit greatly from active community collaboration, in this case a professional football club and several non-statutory sport/leisure bodies.

Growing evidence supports the use of physical activity interventions across a range of mental health problems;1 and has led to recommendations that exercise programmes should be an integral part of their management.2,3 How such interventions effect symptomatic and lifestyle change has not been extensively studied. Clinicians value empirical evidence about who is helped and how when making choices about patient care. Semi-structured qualitative interviewing of clinical psychologists about their perceptions of exercise4 revealed that although it is favoured as a lifestyle option, the lack of an explanation for clinical change reduced their willingness to consider it as a treatment. Quantitative studies have suggested a variety of physiological mechanisms as well as psychological factors such as self-efficacy, distraction and self-esteem playing a part. As an alternative to quantitative studies, Mutrie5 has suggested that qualitative methods may ‘hold the key to a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the effect of exercise on life quality’ (p. 307). The current study applied qualitative methods to explore how one physical activity intervention based on football may lead to change for service users with severe/enduring mental health difficulties.

Coping Through Football (CTF) is a multi-agency collaboration between an east London professional football club, Waltham Forest Primary Care Trust (public health body), North East London NHS Foundation Trust (public health body), London Playing Fields Foundation (London charity), Capital Volunteering (London charity) and Sport England (national charity). The project was first conceived by the London Playing Fields Foundation, who initially liaised with the football club’s community sports programme and local National Health Service (NHS) bodies. It was launched in May 2007 with the aim of improving mental health service users’ physical and mental health, with additional emphasis from the start on improving social inclusion by enabling ‘exit routes’ into social and occupational activities based in the community. We aimed to understand service users’, referrers’ and professional coaches’ views of the project’s positive and negative implications for mental and physical health, quality of life and social and community relationships.

To read the whole of the study, follow this link

UPDATE: “Groundbreaking mental health programme continues excellent work” – Leyton Orient Football Club website


One thought on “A role for football in mental health: the Coping Through Football project

  1. Hi… Alan Pringle who was at the University of Nottingham has also been involved in a lot of mental health/football related activities and research. I’ve added a couple of links that include a list of many of his papers & publications, some info about the ‘Positive Goals’ league in Nottingham & the ‘Its a Goal’ national website.




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