Sports coaches and male health

Balls Out Coaching Manual coverSports clubs at all levels promote the value of physical activity as beneficial to our health; the role of the sports coach has been intrinsic to this, providing encouragement, building skills, promoting discipline and teamwork. Football and rugby  ‘in the community team’ coaches employed by clubs to deliver work on social inclusion and grassroots sports projects have also been involved in the  delivery of health improvement work on male health. The most high profile example has been Premier League Health, an initiative developed by  Premier League and Championship clubs with support from the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) to help raise awareness of men’s health issues, and encourage men to adopt changes in health-related behaviours.

Other examples include It’s a Goal, a football stadium-based initiative focussed on men’s mental health, Rugby League’s State of Mind initiative also with a focus on mental health, and Football Fans in Training addressing weight management. Many clubs,  both football and rugby have instigated other health improvement schemes, utilising the association of club supporters with a club’s badge and locality to encourage men to invest in their health.

This type of health improvement activity is to be applauded as a vehicle for engaging men  – with a proviso that not all men like sport or will engage with sports clubs; however as a targeted intervention for groups of men who do affiliate with sport,  these initiatives should be encouraged and disseminated with appropriate support to clubs who have not yet bought into men’s health work. For clubs there is also the incentive of raising their profile in terms of visible community-based health work, and also an opportunity for income generation if projects are commissioned via public health or bought in by other services such as schools. Cheltenham Town FCs Know yer Balls programme  provides an example of commissioned schools-based work with sports coaches delivering mental and sexual health sessions with groups of boys in schools.

Training in male health for coaching staff ?

A criticism of  health improvement work by coaching staff is that whilst the power of the club badge can attract men to sports-based male health initiatives, the delivery of work can be hampered by a lack of knowledge of health topics. A 2013 research paper notes this as a shortcoming of such schemes, commenting that as well as ensuring that the right people are recruited for the role, coaches should also receive training related to the health work they deliver to ensure they possess the relevant knowledge and skills:

“Football in the Community (FitC) schemes must make sure the right people with the right skills are employed (i.e., including the coaches’ skill base, qualifications and experience across populations) in order to ensure that FitC schemes can attend to the increasingly complex social and health agendas that they are being asked to tackle. Moreover, FitC schemes must provide newly recruited (and existing) coaches with relevant and specialised training opportunities to ‘skill up’, as part of a commitment to relevant continued professional development (CPD).”

Parnell et al, 2013

Mengage provides an Award in Male Health for practitioners, including sports coaches, who have an interest in or are employed to deliver male health; in addition there is also the Balls Out programme developed as an off-the-shelf resource for use by sports coaches delivering work on health topics in schools. This incorporates the Award in Male Health providing coaches with practical information on delivering male health improvement work. To find out more about the Award in Male Health and Balls Out take a look on our relevant webpages.

For further reading on men, sport and health improvement work take a look below. The book Sports-Based Health Interventions: Case Studies from Around the World by Professor Alan White and David Conrad is particularly recommended, providing a good introduction for practitioners to this type of work.



Hunt, K., Gray, C. M., Maclean, A., Smillie, S., Bunn, C., and Wyke, S. (2014) Do weight management programmes delivered at professional football clubs attract and engage high risk men? A mixed-methods study. BMC Public Health, 14, p. 50

Hunt K, Wyke S, Gray CM, Anderson A, Brady A, Bunn C, Donnan PT, Fenwick E, Grieve E, Leishman J, Miller E, Mutrie N, Rauchhaus P, White A & Treweek S (2014). ‘A gender-sensitised weight loss and healthy living programme for overweight and obese men delivered by Scottish Premier League football clubs (FFIT): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial.’ The Lancet, 383(9924):1211-21

Further academic papers on the Football Fans in Training initiative are available on the FFIT Publications page

Parnell, D., Stratton, G., Drust, B. and Richardson, D. (2013). Football in the community schemes: Exploring the effectiveness of an intervention in promoting healthful behaviour change. Soccer and Society, 14 (1)

Pringle A, Zwolinsky S, McKenna J, et al (2014) Health improvement for men/ hard-to-engage men delivered in Premier League football clubs. Health Education Research 29(3): 503–20

White, A. Zwolinsky, S. Pringle, A. McKenna, J. Daly-Smith, A. Robertson, S. Berry, R. (2012). Premier League Health: A national programme of men’s health promotion delivered in/by professional football clubs, Final Report 2012. Centre for Men’s Health & Centre for Active Lifestyles, Leeds Metropolitan University

Recommended reading

White, A. and Conrad, D, eds. (2015). Sports-Based Health Interventions: Case Studies from Around the World. New York, Springer-Verlag