Gareth Bale MBE is inarguably the greatest athlete to ever come out of Wales. Once considered the biggest talent in world football behind the superhumans that are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Premier League odds frequently had him as favourite to score whenever he was on the pitch. The superstar retired as a five-time Champions League winner and a three-time La Liga winner as well as a whole host of personal accolades and a knighthood. He inspired an entire generation of Welsh children to pick up a football and his influence is now being felt with The Dragons’ international successes.
One of the biggest benefits of children playing football, whether they were inspired by Bale or encouraged by their parents, is the improvements it has on the physical and mental health of your child.
Physically, the benefits are there for all to see. Football is one of the most active sports in the world and the effect it has on your cardiovascular system are incredible. It can vastly improve stamina as well has helping with weight loss and the prevention of obesity.
In fact, the long-term benefits that playing football regularly has is quite extraordinary. Researchers at the National Centre for Biotechnology Information showed that football increased maximal oxygen uptake and muscle and bone mass, and lowered fat percentage and blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure reduces the chances of heart conditions later on in life and leads to overall better heart health.
The mental benefits are excellent for young people too. The social aspect of football is great for forming relationships and helping your kids to make new friends. This can be especially helpful if your child struggles to do so or suffer from social anxiety. It can increase confidence and self-esteem as well as reducing stress. Partaking in exercise releases endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in the body and is where the term ‘runners high’ comes from.
All of this is perfect for putting your child a step ahead in life. It is a great way of raising happy and healthy children and in the age of technology, it is perfect for getting them outside and active.
One of the biggest upsides is its cost effectiveness. It is not a prohibitive sport by its nature and all that is needed is some space and a ball. Whether you take your child and their friends down to the local park or have them in your garden, you can limit your spending easily.
If, however, you want your child to train and join a team then you may have to loosen the purse strings, though not by much. Subs are usually paid each training session and Sunday game, but these are usually no more than £3/£4. You will also need to provide the relevant equipment like football boots and shin pads, but these are also areas where you can find cheaper purchasing methods, especially if you want to buy second hand. Luckily there are some excellent football training programs for youths all around the country. Let’s take a look at a few of the best.
Footballing giants Juventus have training programmes for children aged between 6 and 16 in over 80 countries. The programme aims not just to build on their sporting skills but also to develop their personal qualities, their guiding concept being “Develop people first and footballers second”. The year-round training will help your children on and off the field and has over 22,000 active members.
The Welsh Football Association have their own academy programme that sits above the grassroots level but just below professional. This is perfect for more experienced children with talent that could see them progress into the higher level of the game beyond their youth. This may be slightly harder to get into, but if your child has the talent then this is an excellent first step into realising their dreams.
Another programme ran by the Welsh FA is their ‘Just Play’ initiative, which is exactly as it sounds. The 10-week programme aims to get children aged six and seven playing football and is completely free. These after school sessions are run all around Wales and are great opportunities to get your child active and social free of charge.
These holiday camps and coaching sessions run throughout the six-week Summer Holidays. Their aim is ‘to provide young players with an opportunity to develop and to learn new skills in a fun and friendly environment’. They even won the Northeast Wales Fun Football Provider of the Year award in 2020 and 2022 from the FAW/McDonalds Grassroots Football Awards. Fully licensed and DBS checked, these coaches are experts in getting the best out of your kids while maintaining a fun atmosphere.