14/06/2014 21:10 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Why Talking And Playing Football Gives Our Children Skills For Life

Why talking and playing football will give our children skills for lifePA

"Can't we watch something educational dad, or read a book, or go out in the fresh air? Maybe I could even go to bed?"

"No son, you're staying up to watch Ireland v Croatia. It's important."

OK, this conversation hasn't actually happened – yet. But I can see it happening one day, when my son snuggles up to me on the sofa expecting warm milk and Toy Story 3, and we switch on just in time to see Adrian turn to camera and say it's time to hand over to Gary at the stadium.

I realise this – and I – sound like a massive cliché: the football mad dad who wants a football mad son (give me a chance though, this is a piece of two halves). But that's not the reason I want to get my son into football, starting with Euro 2012. Or at least, it's not the only reason.

There are a host of sound scientific, um, excuses for instilling a love of football in your kids. According to new research from a Swedish university, football players are cleverer than average in areas like creativity and multi-tasking.

Football is also excellent aerobic exercise, and studies have shown that people who watch football often go out and kick a ball around in the park. It's fun in a way that running or going to the gym frankly aren't.

I've played football three times this week, and I'm 42. In other words, kicking a ball about has helped to keep me in shape for roughly 36 years.


I fell in love with the game sitting with my dad and brother watching FA Cup finals and World Cups, then going out and acting out killer passes and spectacular goals in the park. Football has kept me fit ever since, and I want my children to have that benefit.


But I'd go much further than that. Football is an essential life skill, particularly for boys. You can rail all you like against football's ubiquity, its vulgar commercialism and everything else. But if your son can talk a good game or play a half decent one – or better, both – he has a shortcut to an easier life.

Really, I don't think I'm exaggerating.


In a nutshell, football gives boys kudos that being proficient in algebra or the Fosbury Flop never will.


My five-year-old son's classmates already ask who he supports. They don't care if he supports a different team from them, or nobody at all, but they do want to talk football.

Why talking and playing football will give our children skills for lifePA

I know how they feel. In my own junior school career, being good at football, and knowledgeable about it, gave me a status my natural shyness and slight frame didn't deserve.

When I made the transition to secondary school - a skinny kid with a bigger house than would normally have been good for my health - being a decent footballer got me in with the toughest kids in the year.

I remember the trial for the school team, which took place in the first week of term. Before we started, the hardest kid in the first year turned to me and asked me what size I wanted my coffin (I learnt later that he'd asked this of lots of boys, just to make sure everyone understood the pecking order).

I was terrified. So I spent an hour feeding him passes (and at the time, though I say so myself, I had a pretty sweet right foot). We were both picked for the team and I had a friend in high places.

Even if you don't play the game, watching brings its own rewards. My friend's teenage son is both academically gifted, which is not cool, and a season ticket holder for his local club, which is. Better still, older boys from his school have clocked his presence at away matches – the sign of a true fan – and nodded their approval.


His passion for football gives him a standing in the playground that, sadly, getting an A in his Chemistry homework never will.


Of course, you can instil a love of running, rugby or taekwondo into your pre-teen child if you want, but be prepared to watch their interest implode when teenage attitude kicks in. But football is never entirely uncool. Kicking a ball about can even be thrillingly anti-social, if you do it in the wrong place.

And 26 years after leaving school, football is still serving me well, beyond keeping middle age spread at bay. When we moved to the town we live in three years ago I didn't know anyone. When I'm not badgering my son to watch the remaining Euro 2012 games with me, I'll be watching them in a pub with a bunch of blokes I know from playing football.

So forget the Olympic 'legacy'. For my own son, I'm making the most of Euro 2012. Quite simply, football - playing, watching, supporting - has made my life easier. I want him to have that advantage too.

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