Football For All: Vital outlet for mental and physical health of young players

Clon-based Development Officer Nick Harrison has a key role in the FAI
Football For All: Vital outlet for mental and physical health of young players

The FAI’s Nick Harrison taking part in a blind football training session with children at St Joseph's School for the Blind in Dublin.

AS summer comes to an end, the world of sport is delighted to see some normality return. 

Whether it’s the delight of a full season or whether it’s more supporters at games, the reality is, we can welcome a more recognised environment, one in which we have missed over the past 18 months.

Recently I caught up with FAI Development Officer Nick Harrison and here he tells us about the impact sport can have on lives and how great it is to have it return back to normal gradually.

“The majority of people understand the importance of sport and not only from a playing perspective but even for those who love to watch it or for those who enjoy the social aspect of been involved in whatever capacity,” said Harrison.

“I suppose the best part of nearly two years we have seen just how much we missed sport when it couldn’t be played or watched as we normally did, that was very tough for a lot of people and it made us realise just how important sport can be in peoples lives.

The 48-year-old father of two from Clonakilty moved to Ireland back in 2008 from England and while he gave up his role as Head of PE in a school in England, he landed himself a role with the FAI which he has thoroughly enjoyed to date.

“I was previously a secondary school Head of physical education in the UK, moved to Ireland in 2008 and was lucky enough to get the role in Football For All with the FAI. It was a much smaller programme at that time but has grown into a mini football association, there are coach education, participation programmes, competitions, governance, club development and international aspects to the role of being a FFA development officer. 

"We are currently appointing additional FFA DOs into other parts of Ireland so we only see the programme growing further in the coming years and I really do enjoy the role.” 

CHALLENGING

The Munster coordinator had to adapt his role during Covid but believes the experience will stand to him in further programmes.

“During Covid, there have been massive changes to my role, as there has been for everybody. The updating document and workshops, reviewing and adapting existing programmes, delivering FFA workshops online and hosting online meetings with stakeholders to plan for return after covid and how we could improve our current offering. 

"The role became a lot different to what I was used to however it also gave me an opportunity to learn more which I believe will be beneficial going forward.

“For me working in the FFA programme, I know how important sport is for people. Whilst important to many of us, for some people with additional needs it’s a massive part of their lives. It’s also a massive part to other family members where the FFA programmes offered so much support to players with disabilities and this outlet not only gave players a great opportunity but it also gave parents and family members a chance to watch their loved ones participate doing something that brought them so much joy.

A lot of our players would find many other social activities very challenging and sport plays a big part in their mental health. 

"I recently worked with Cork Sportsbility Forum on a webinar about returning to sport as many disability groups are still struggling to get back involved; it’s been such a difficult 18 months.

“The return of camps this year was great. It was great to see kids back out playing and mingling with their friends. However, there has been a lot of changes and the numbers weren’t as high as we would have liked. 

"We’re still down on pre-Covid numbers as some clubs have still opted not to run a camp. There are challenges such as an increased amount of administration, smaller group sizes, distancing between pods, sanitising equipment etc but those clubs who have run camps have done really well. Clubs and DOs have adapted and the necessary safety measures have become routine but it has been another challenging summer.“ 

A challenge certainly isn’t something Harrison would shy away from and although busy with work and family life, he still manages to help out coaching his son's team while also looking to increase his knowledge in the workplace.

“I would love to coach a lot more but obviously with my work, it’s not possible to get involved with local clubs however I do help out with my son's U7 team. I’ve coached with some of our international disability teams over the years and have amazing memories from European Championships and World Cups in all parts of the globe. 

So many coaches don’t realise those opportunities are there and if people have a UEFA B-licence and would like to get involved they’ll be very welcome to come along and see what it’s all about. They might be surprised at the level of competition." 

A happy English man living in Ireland and this summer for the Euros he could be seen beaming around the West for what he describes as a great tournament but disappointing end.

“I was proud of the way England played, patient, attacking football and I thought the management and backroom staff were excellent yet unfortunately as has happened in the past, the behaviour of some of the fans was disappointing. 

"I’m so close to the work going on in the FAI now that I really can’t wait to see Stephen Kenny’s young team come through in the upcoming qualifiers, there’s nothing quite like an Irish team in a major championship so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for this to happen.”

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