Walking football is among the fast-growing sports in the UK. This slower-paced, low-impact version of soccer is opening up the game to all ages and abilities, and is ideal for stroke survivors looking to get more active and meet new people.
Cyril Loubon is a regular member of the Hillingdon Stroke Association Walking Football Group. “Since my stroke, I’ve had to cope with a lot of extra pain in my body and I’m not able to bend as much,” he says.“Walking football has played an important part in my recovery. It’s helped with my physical symptoms, especially my balance. There’s been improvement with my talking and it’s helped my memory. Some people come to a game with their walking aids. We all have restrictions, but we play together, encourage one another, and learn from each other.”
Nick Symonds is one of the group coaches at Wealdstone FC. "The team plays at our local leisure centre. At the start of each session, we do some exercises to get them moving, thinking and trying new things. It’s all about getting movement and coordination back at a pace they can manage. The level of support the players give one another is amazing. It’s a very good all-round therapy."
Cyril agrees. “Football helps us to socialise and have fun together,” he says. “We have the opportunity to communicate with other stroke survivors who perhaps have different experiences, which they’re able to share. I’ve met new people who I would never have met otherwise and I enjoy the contact.”
Coach Nick’s top tips
- The key to walking football is the walking – you’re not allowed to run!
- It’s a non-contact game so no tackling – it makes it much safer.
- Warm-up with some gentle exercises such as dribbling or passing the ball. Slow continuous movement is best.
- Take it easy and don’t overstretch. If the ball is out of your reach, just leave it.
- Take time to understand other players’ capabilities. If you pass the ball to someone less mobile, leave them to control it and pass it back in their own time.
- Most importantly, let’s make it an enjoyable experience – you’re here to smile, so make it fun!