In today’s society where the world is at our fingertips, it can sometimes feel like a very big and very lonely place. While it’s easy to communicate with complete strangers online, achieving a similar sense of belonging in ‘real’ life can be extremely difficult.

One tried-and-tested method of uniting peers and opening up lines communication between individuals is through organised football.

Playing on common ground

Forget any boundaries created — or assumed — by race, gender, age, class and physical ability, football has been proven effective at bringing together people from many walks of life through the connection of a mutual passion.

Far from being an ‘ideal world’ aspiration, inclusivity in football is rapidly becoming a day-to-day reality. Organisations such Kick It Out have made great progress in eradicating all forms of discrimination on the football pitch, with ongoing campaigns successfully supporting issues around disability, faith, sexuality, racism and sexism in the sport.

This is backed up by the FA’s zero tolerance approach to disrespectful behavior in any shape or form – be that on the pitch, in the changing room or on the terraces – ensuring that the sport is a welcoming, accessible arena for all involved.

One strip one team

It’s no coincidence that countless teams across the leagues boast the word ‘united’ in the title. A strong team mentality transcends the differences between players, with the simple act of donning a team strip bringing individuals together as one. Although a seemingly small action, donning a team kit has many emotional connotations, from pride and comradery to security and acceptance.

This also applies to the wider football community: the supporters, managers, coaches and sponsors are equally committed to the team and are just as invested in its success. No matter how big, professional or successful a team may be, what holds it all together is the ‘family’ behind  the team – giving young players a increased sense of belonging.

Kicking bullying in to touch

Unfortunately, at one time or another most children experience bullying in some shape or form. In a small number of cases this can end in devastating results, but even seemingly minor incidents can still create long-term psychological damage. This is a serious issue, and one into which the FA has invested a considerable amount of resource to provide a safe, fair and inclusive environment.

As a result, the football community can provide a welcome haven for young people who may have fallen victim to bullying in other areas of life. Often, children experiencing difficulties fitting in at school will shy away from extra curriculum activities; however, the structure of a team and the need for cooperation means it is difficult to remain an outsider when you join a club. The very nature of the sport demands that players support each other, leading members of the team feeling valued and respected.

It’s not all about the ball

There is a lot more to a game of football than simply scoring goals. The benefits that come hand in hand with the game are immeasurable, for example:

Communication – Without even realising, players develop communication skills both verbally and through body language. As part of basic training, players need to be able to encourage, motivate and negotiate with each other — traits that can be difficult to master in every day life.

Trust – Trust building is also a huge area where football can benefit a child, as the game relies heavily on working together, supporting team-mates and relying on each other to get down the pitch to score. Feeling trusted also helps build a child’s self worth, ultimately raising self-esteem.

Coping skills – The way that teams celebrate and commiserate together can help instill coping skills into young players. When a team loses a match it is important not to single out individual players but rather take it on the chin as a group. This is a great way of helping more insecure individuals put failure into perspective and not take it personally.

Skills for life

For these very reasons, charities such as Street League use football as a tool to improve the lives of young people, highlighting that the skills learned on the pitch are very much applicable to every day life. The confidence, trust and respect built through the sport has proved to help many young adults step into the working world, giving them the chance of a successful future where opportunities were previously limited.

Likewise, the benefits for children with additional needs are immeasurable. Research cited by the English Federation of Disability in Sport (EFDS) shows that seven out of 10 disabled people have stated that they want to be more active, but psychological barriers play the biggest role in preventing them from joining in. With EFDS claiming that one in five people in England have an impairment, huge amount of potential sports men and women could benefit from the inclusivity and acceptance synonymous with being part of a team.

One big team

No matter who you are and where you come from, we all desire acceptance. And dressing in a club strip, surrounded by team-mates willing you on, is one of the best ways to achieve this.

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