Chris Johnson

Chris has extensive, varied experience within grassroots and professional football.

He has coached his own junior team for six seasons, holds the UEFA B Coaching licence and offers 1-to-1 coaching as part of a football development programme.

He also works as a scout for an EFL League 2 club and has completed FA Level 2 in Talent Identification.

Previously he's been the assistant commercial manager for a club in the EFL Championship.

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Football, beyond being the wonderful sport we all enjoy, has emerged as a powerful tool in the journey towards improving mental health, particularly at grassroots level where it has an almost unrivalled capacity for positively affecting hard-to-reach young people.

The profoundly positive impact that participation in junior grassroots football has on mental health has been found to be vital to groups of young people and there is growing anecdotal evidence that highlights the transformative experience of players with new studies shedding light on the mental health benefits of the game.

At the heart of the grassroots football community are countless personal stories that illuminate the positive impact of the sport on mental health.

These stories reflect the mental resilience, camaraderie, and personal triumph over adversity that football often provides.

I was moved to read recently about Emma, a young player dealing with anxiety who found comfort and safety in her grassroots football team.

The camaraderie on the pitch and the unwavering support from her teammates became a powerful remedy to her mental health difficulties.

Emma's story is a testament to the therapeutic nature of engaging with team sports, especially football.

As a teenager battling self-doubt and low self-esteem, Emma discovered her strength on the football pitch.

Scoring goals and contributing to her team's success became a journey of self-discovery, boosting her confidence and lifting her away from anxiety.

The physical activity, coupled with the social interactions, provided Emma with support and a coping mechanism.

Her experience shed light on the benefits of engaging in regular physical exercise.

Scientific research consistently supports the idea that participation in grassroots football has a positive impact on mental health.

Studies reveal a range of benefits that extend beyond the physical aspects of the game.

A study published in the ‘Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology’ demonstrated a significant reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression among individuals regularly engaged in team sports, including grassroots football.

The study emphasised the role of social interactions and shared experiences in promoting mental well-being.

A second study, conducted by the ‘British Journal of Sports Medicine’, highlighted the cognitive benefits of participating in football.

The combination of physical exercise and strategic thinking during the game contributed to improved mood and enhanced cognitive function.

Further research published in the ‘Journal of Applied Sport Psychology’ explored the stress buffering effect of physical activity.

Engaging in regular football sessions was found to mitigate the impact of stress, providing young people with a healthier way to cope with challenges.

Grassroots football clubs can play a pivotal role in constructing supportive environments that prioritise the mental health of their players.

I’ve read about examples where Clubs organise mental health workshops to raise awareness and provide resources for players, coaches, and parents.

These workshops address topics such as stress management, anxiety coping strategies, and the importance of seeking help when needed.

Arguably the strongest and most positive affect on a young person’s mental health comes from peer support within their team.

Some clubs have extended this by establishing peer support programmes in older age groups where experienced players or team captains take on the role of mental health ambassadors.

These individuals receive training on active listening and providing support, creating a network within the team that encourages open conversations.

In addition, grassroots junior football clubs in the United Kingdom have the potential to be instrumental in overcoming some of the challenges on young people’s personal mental health posed by the post-pandemic era.

As schools grapple with soaring absentee rates, junior grassroots teams have emerged as vital pillars of support for many young individuals, enhancing the mental wellbeing of their players, boosting confidence, alleviating anxiety, and even potentially supporting their reintegration into the education system.

We know that in the aftermath of the pandemic, schools have witnessed unprecedented absentee rates, with young people grappling with disruptions to their routines and uncertainties about their future.

Junior grassroots clubs stand out as crucial havens of structured activity, providing a reliable and consistent outlet for physical and social engagement.

For some players, their grassroots team may be the only source of regular, organised activity in their lives.

By their nature, junior clubs develop a strong sense of community and belonging amongst its players.

Junior football team huddle

The comradeship often developed on the pitch extends beyond the games, creating a supportive network of teammates and coaches.

This sense of belonging can be especially impactful for those who may be experiencing isolation or struggling with mental health challenges.The club environment becomes a space where players feel understood, accepted, and valued.

Success and achievement on the football field contribute significantly to boosting a player's confidence.

Whether scoring a goal, making a crucial pass, or playing a pivotal role in the team's victory, these moments become building blocks for increased self-esteem.

Junior football clubs can intentionally structure training sessions and matches to provide opportunities for players to experience success, cultivating a positive mindset that extends beyond football.

Regular physical activity has been consistently linked to improved mental health.

Exercise releases endorphins, reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Junior football clubs, through their training sessions and matches, offer a structured outlet for players to engage in physical activity and the rhythmic / repetitive nature of the sport provides a calming effect, aiding in the reduction of anxiety and promoting overall well-being.

Football serves as a powerful outlet for self-expression.

Through the highs and lows of the game, players can channel their emotions in a constructive manner.

Junior clubs can encourage open communication among players and create an environment where expressing feelings is not only accepted but encouraged.

This emotional release can be therapeutic and contribute to a more positive mental state.

Recognising the positive impact of junior football clubs on mental health represents an opportunity to leverage this positive influence to support the reintegration of players into the school system if needed.

By creating a sense of routine, discipline, and achievement on the pitch, clubs can directly and indirectly contribute to a player's readiness to engage positively in a school environment.

If harnessed correctly coaches can work collaboratively with educational authorities to create a supportive framework for players transitioning back to school.

Coaches in junior football clubs often serve as mentors and role models, sometimes even parenting by proxy.

They can play a pivotal role in providing guidance, not only in terms of football skills but also in navigating challenges in life.

Junior football clubs have the potential to be transformative agents in the mental wellbeing of their players, particularly in the context of the challenges posed by the post-pandemic era.

As schools grapple with absenteeism, clubs offer structured activity, a supportive community, confidence building experiences, anxiety alleviation through physical activity, and a platform for expression.

Leveraging the positive impact of junior football on mental health can extend beyond the pitch, and as pillars of stability and support, junior football clubs stand at the forefront of promoting positive mental health outcomes for young people.

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