The Role of Professional Football Clubs in Enhancing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Young People

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Introduction: Football Club Community Trusts (FCCTs) that are attached to professional football clubs in the UK use the sport brand to engage marginalised populations in various initiatives designed to address public health agendas. Studies highlight the impact that FCCTs can have on adults’ mental health, yet less was known about programmes for younger age groups. Following the MRC and NIHR Framework for assessing feasibility and acceptability, the overall aim of this thesis was to explore FCCT interventions for young people, with the purpose of identifying recommendations to inform future practice.

Study 1: A systematic review of published physical activity (PA)-based interventions (N=54) found improvements in young people's mental health, yet only one was delivered by an FCCT.

Study 2: A mixed-method survey of UK FCCTs (N = 54) identified 32 mental health-focused initiatives for young people. Reported aims included promoting resilience (n = 27/32, 84.4%) and self-esteem (n = 26/32, 81.3%), as well as identifying young people at-risk of developing a mental health problem (n = 15/32, 46.9%). However, features of individual programmes varied. Some used football to increase social inclusion and overall well-being, whereas others included education sessions to improve mental health literacy (e.g., anti-stigma, strategies to promote mental health). FCCTs also reported challenges with evaluation, sustaining funding, and keeping up to date with mental health training.

Study 3: Interviews and focus groups with staff (N = 17) and young people (N = 19) involved with 6 FCCT programmes found that several features were important. This included: (1) the draw of the professional club badge, (2) opportunities to play football, (3) using sport examples to teach mental health topics, (4) ensuring facilitators were relatable role models, and (5) encouraging open mental health discussions. Areas for refinement included (1) understanding how to keep participants engaged, and (2) providing interactive activities.

Conclusion: This thesis showed that FCCTs programmes align with mental health promotion and prevention policy, by providing opportunity to participate in PA, develop mental health literacy, and identify young people at-risk. Recommendations for developing, delivering, and evaluating such programmes are presented in the final chapter of this thesis. Implications for researchers and practitioners, as well as directions for future research, are also discussed.
Date of Award2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPhilip Tyson (Supervisor), Nicky Lewis (Supervisor) & Deborah Lancastle (Supervisor)

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