We expanded our highly successful modified football program for seniors, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Having started with one program in 2015, we now offer five across the state, attracting participants from 48 to 82 years old.
Walking football sessions are delivered by young leaders who have been trained and developed through Melbourne City Football Club’s Community Leaders Program. The leaders run 15 weekly sessions and adapt the sessions to make them safe and suitable for seniors.
Sessions concentrate on skills training, strength building and fall prevention.
Approximately 77 per cent of walking football participants are born overseas. The key to the program’s success has been reaching out to seniors through diverse community and social groups, including Greek, Italian, Turkish and Tamil associations, and to mixed multicultural groups as well as mainstream seniors groups.
We brought potential participants together at special events including fun tournaments, club family days, all-women’s tournament and other events and game days in order to build their connection with the club. We also hosted a Victorian Seniors Festival, a walking football world cup, walking football gala day and the Whittlesea Young at Heart Games.
Having started the City Strikers Walking Football project in October 2015 with one year of financial assistance from VicHealth’s Innovation Fund, off the back of our success, we received supplementary VicHealth funding in 2017. We are now pursuing more sustainable funding models.
The project was inspired by a walking football project run by Melbourne City Football Club’s sister club, Manchester City, which provided data on the success of its own program.
Closer to home, the Commissioner for Senior Victorians put out a report as a result of his investigation into social isolation and loneliness among Victorian seniors, which estimated that 107,000 Victorians aged over 60 are struggling with chronic isolation.
Added to that, an estimate one in ten Australian seniors do not do enough exercise to have any cardiovascular benefit, while half of seniors’ physical decline is attributed to a lack of physical activity.
In the 20 months of operation, the program has attracted 488 registered participants, with 333 of those becoming regular participants.
As part of our program evaluation we surveyed 80 registered participants and of those, 78 per cent indicated they had been inactive prior to joining our walking football program while 22 per cent indicated that they were moderately active prior.
Some 81 per cent of those surveyed were involved in more than 75 per cent of sessions offered.
More than three-quarters of surveyed participants also indicated a positive impact on their well-being, while 42 per cent said the sessions had positively impacted their mental health, including loneliness.
A significant number said that the sessions had also had a positive impact on a range of other personal health aspects including obesity (21 per cent), diabetes (16 per cent) and Alzheimer’s (22 per cent).
We also surveyed 100 per cent of youth leaders and seniors’ carers involved with the program with a 100 percent of those surveyed believing that the program had a positive impact on the health of participants.