Autism Friendly Football
A story by Rangers Charity Foundation SCIO
Autism Friendly Football allows young people on the autistic spectrum to take part in weekly football sessions providing the opportunity to have fun, become more physically active, develop life skills and raise confidence. Sessions also allow carers some respite and the opportunity to socialise.
What Autism Friendly Football did
The Rangers Charity Foundation delivered 48 weekly football sessions for young people with Autism aged 5-16 . Sessions were based at Pro soccer Newton Mearns on a Wednesday night and were split into 4 different age groups. This has been our 5th year delivering the project and we continue to work with the parents and young people to identify ways to better meet the needs of everyone involved.
We have a team of 5 coaches who have all been through specific autism training that lead on our sessions. They create a positive atmosphere and adaptable structured activities that allow the participants to express themselves and engage regardless of ability level.
A large percentage of the young people we work with are unable to take part in any mainstream activities out with the sessions as they can become overwhelmed if the environment is not suitable for them. The project created a platform for the participants to develop their communication, build confidence, develop social skills, increase their physical activity levels and have fun.
The cares/parents also took a lot from the being part of the project. Along side watching their young people thrive in an environment that would often be challenging we ensured they had a variety of options on how they were able to take advantage of their break. This included fitness classes at the venue, a quiet café area to relax, access to a local shopping area just 5 minutes from the venue and the opportunity to socialise with other parents in similar circumstances to themselves.
The project aims to create the best possible opportunities for the the young people to play football at their level. Our links with Team united and Autism Scotland have allowed us to continue to upskill local grassroots coaches on autism awareness which has created a pathway into main stream football for some of participants.
For our oldest age group we now participate in Team United's Autism football league which allows our young people who are not able to transition to mainstream football the chance to play competitive matches against other autistic teams in a safe and friendly environment.
Overall Feedback has been very positive.
What Rangers Charity Foundation SCIO has learned
After delivering in this area over the last 5 years some of things we have put in place that could help other originations looking to support autistic young people are:
When working with young people with Autism having consistent staff that participants can build relationships with is key to the success of the project.
Use a venue with access to a quiet area for young people to take time out if they become overwhelmed or frustrated.
send out imagery of the venue, the changing facilities, the pitches and the coaches to all the participants before they attend the sessions, as often visuals of what to expect before arrival can go a long way to helping people with autism adapt to their surroundings.
When signing up for the sessions ask carers/parents to provided information about their young person such as triggers and things that calm them to give the coaches as much background information as possible leading into the sessions.
Finally remember that everyone with Autism is different, they all have their own unique personalities and triggers so providing staff with additional training around autism is hugely beneficial to help them adapt to situations as the occur.
How Rangers Charity Foundation SCIO has benefitted from the funding
The backing that the Rangers Charity Foundation has had from Better breaks has been Fantastic. They are a modern day funder that provide much more than just financial support. they are easily contactable, have a real understanding of what makes a project work, provide networking opportunities and link you in with other organisations that could add value to your work. Without this incredible support we would be unable to offer this service and provide much needed activity and breaks for our young people and their families.
Young people with autism will take part in fun sporting activities and feel more confident in a social environment resulting in new friendships.
80% of parents/carers said that taking part in the project has increased their young persons social circle. Being part of the project creates the opportunity for the participants to interact, build friendships and learn from each other.
L (9) has been attending the sessions for a couple of years. Mum F said “L is much more sociable & chatty since taking part in the project as she is not worried about her peers not understanding her or bullying her due to her Autism since everyone at the football sessions has similar difficulties. The coaches have built an excellent relationship with L who is happy to chat away to them every week. L was also thrilled to see a photo of herself in the Rangers Charity Foundation annual review.”
Parent/Carers increase their social groups and support network with people in similar circumstances allowing them to share coping mechanisms and feel better supported.
80% of parents/Carers said they felt the project had help support them in their caring role. Interacting with other parents in similar circumstances has been a huge help for parents along with knowing their young person is in a safe environment.
J (5) joined the sessions this year. Dad S said “The project has been a huge benefit to myself as a Parent as it has giving me the chance to watch my Son take part in a sport that makes him very happy. Being able to interact with other Parents/Carers who have similar children is a huge benefit also. I’d also like to say that the coaches that run these sessions are absolutely brilliant and have such a great level of patience and understanding with the children but especially J who’s encouraged to take part but not forced to. It has been amazing to see how happy and excited he is every Wednesday when he knows he has his football training and has helped bring us closer together.”
Autistic young people will be more physically active and better able to express themselves allowing carers to feel relaxed and less stressed.
95% of parents/carers said that the project increased the amount of physical activity their young people took part in and 90% said that the the project had improved their young persons ability to communicate with other. It can be challenging for autistic young people to take part in mainstream sessions so without projects tailored to their needs they can often be excluded.
A (15) has been part of the project for a number of years. Mum L said “A has become much more relaxed and sociable on account of his football. A is better able to express his feelings and also control his temper at times due to working as part of a team. He is much more confident and therefore better at communicating in general. A has become a confident young man with more faith in his own abilities. Also it has encouraged A to play football outdoors out with training which he was never keen on before.”
Additional project outcome
Local boys/girls clubs coaches will feel supported in including young people with autism into their mainstream teams.
GM community coach and Collage Lecturer said " the autism awareness workshop gave me a great understanding of the challenges the come with teaching people with autism, I now feel better prepared in creating lessons and dealing with challenging behaviour when the arise."