How Soccer Can Help Autism


How Football Plays An Inclusive Role For Youths With Autism

There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that’s more than 1 in 100 folks, according to the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care. Autism is a complex neurobiological, developmental disorder that is primarily characterized by struggling to communicate and relating to others socially. Playing football, however, can provide positive benefits to a youth with autism by offering an inclusive social experience.

Making The Pitch For Youth Football

For most families who have a child with autism, football is seemingly an unlikely sport that their child will play due to the endurance and communicative skills a team requires for success. “Autism is really having a persistent and functional deficit in communication and social interaction,” says Dr. Tisa Johnson, the medical director for Henry Ford’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. However, participating in a club sport like soccer has been shown to help nurture social skills through teamwork, collaboration and friendship.

Preparing Autistic Athletes For The Game Of Life

Managing a person’s autism can be difficult, but putting a youth in a place to succeed can be eased with a few behavioural patterns. Sleep is important for any young footballer for muscle recovery and improved focus, especially when travelling to different away matches. Developing healthy sleep patterns can have significant benefits to counteract socially difficult behaviours. New research from Case Western Reserve University of Toronto neuroscientists found that the brains of autistic children generate more information at rest which helps bolster the communication skills when awake and participating in a team sport.

Like writing or playing music, being a part of a football club also provides a creative outlet to improve communication. By being included in a group sport like football, a youth with autism can dramatically improve his social skills. The key is the notion of being included as part of the team and not excluded because of behavioural differences.

Team Work Over Homework

In many cases, sports like football where the youngster feels included in a bonding, team experience, provides uplifting experiences not available alone in the home or classroom. Inclusivity on the field can also improve one’s attention span, which often translates into a better performance in school. Studies have also shown that repetitive exercise in a group environment can help bolster confidence and social performance among kids with autism.

Adolescents with autism really thrive on sameness and adherence to routine. Unlike other faster-moving or physical sports, the strategic structure of soccer puts a youngster with autism into a more comforting zone. Since repetitive behaviour is often a characteristic of autism, soccer’s inherent structure of each player being an inclusive and important part of every play, naturally engages and focuses someone with autism. Developing the teamwork structure, communication and routine on the football field at an early age can help these kids better comprehend the importance of social interaction. In turn, the bonding on the field will help them achieve greater inclusiveness off the field in business and interpersonal relationships as they age.