Good Practices: Walking Football

Frank O’Hagan

Could walking football be an advantageous pastime for you as a caregiver to consider as part of your planned agenda when delivering assistance and encouragement to those for whom you care?

Features to take into account might include: physical exercise, enjoyment, emotional resilience, friendships and general wellbeing.

Who’s for a game of footie?

I have had an interest in football since I was a child though I never demonstrated much by way of skills in or knowledge about this popular sporting pursuit. Nonetheless, like so many of my peer group, I thoroughly enjoyed joining in our hastily-arranged, opportune matches or in excitedly discussing professional fixtures which we had been lucky enough to attend. As a youth, I had never heard of walking football which in recent years has become very popular.

For many adults of all ages, including those experiencing disabilities, the advent of walking football has provided welcomed opportunities to participate in their favourite form of recreation. Commendably, provision to do so at their own individual levels of ability and within a warm and friendly atmosphere is now be available in various locations. In this brief article, I am focusing mainly on walking football for those experiencing dementia. However, much of the good practices which I describe apply to a wide spectrum of people in search of a suitable physical pastime. I suggest that caregivers contact local organisations to check on the availability and appropriateness of facilities for those whom they support. Of course, walking football will not be fitting for all vulnerable persons and specialised advice regarding other hobbies or leisure activities to meet particular needs may be required.

Potential benefits

This game and its associated activities offer the possibility of addressing many of the key components of what is often recommended as a ‘person-centred bio-psycho-social approach’ for ‘living well’ with a disability. For example, they can boost:

Personal characteristics – as when the selected event gives rise to desirable interactions which develop and maintain emotional resilience, cheerfulness and self-esteem;

Biological/health features – in the promotion of recreational interests and physical exercise;

Psychological wellbeing – through the enhancement of a genuine sense of belonging and the reinforcement of feelings of self-worth; and

Social factors – providing comradeship, the sharing of common points of view, and engaging in collective endeavours.

A flexible outlook on rules

Walking football has a set of rubrics which, with regard to those experiencing disabilities, including dementia, can be applied in a flexible manner to suit the competences of participants and/or the prevailing conditions of the occasion. Though I have a limited knowledge of these regulations, I understand that they commonly include: one foot always being on the ground; only three touches allowed when in possession of the ball; no tackling; no heading of the ball; and a limit to the height which the ball can rise. However, within the particular context of what is being arranged, adjustments may be necessary as, for instance, when someone in a wheelchair takes part. Rightly, inclusiveness is paramount.

Preparation, training and football sessions

In general, a schedule lasting around two hours could include a broad range of tasks and experiences. After a cheerful welcome and chatting about news from members, there can be a series of limbering-up exercises and skills-based practices covering: ball control; practice at kicking a ball accurately through a hoop; dribbling around cones; shooting into a net; taking penalties with the aim of knocking the tops of cones situated on the goal line; and so forth. An energetic program of coaching, training and drills which I observed was followed by an efficiently organised game of walking football. It was played in a determined, but evenhanded fashion, by two well-balanced sides. Caregivers were able either to join in the competition or watch from the sidelines. The dexterity displayed among the contestants and the degree of their fair-mindedness were remarkable.

I was conned into participating and, although failing to cover myself with glory, thoroughly enjoyed my fleeting membership of an enthusiastic team. At all stages, staff gave thoughtful attention as required to: the aptitudes and talents of each individual; well-judged encouragement to remain active and motivated; and adroit use of praise for effort, strength of character and achievements. Partaking certainly entailed fitness, concentration and collaboration.

Extra time

When the match was over, there were complimentary comments made about the session and performances. Appropriately, over a cup of coffee and biscuits in the canteen, there were opportunities to engage in reminiscences and discussion concerning football heroes using photographs of famous players and managers of an erstwhile era. Once again, rapport and companionship were evident. This interlude indicated that ‘memory workshops’ relating to diverse sports can provide both stimulation and amusement when undertaken in apposite settings.  

It was a great pleasure to have witnessed the high quality of inclusiveness, keenness and enjoyment shown by contributors throughout the whole gathering. It was this exemplary standard of ethos and camaraderie among those involved which impressed me most of all. I came away convinced that greater consideration could be given to the social prescribing of walking football for people with additional support needs, including those with a diagnosis of dementia.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks are due to Drew Wilson, an authentic motivator, and his group of experienced and knowledgeable volunteers at Glasgow Life – Toryglen Regional Football Centre, Glasgow, G42 0BY.

Useful Contacts: Tel: 0140 276 0570;

Some references, with brief quotations, which you may wish to examine further:

  1. “The maintenance of good mental health among caregivers is immensely important. Potentially useful pointers are offered of consideration in this brief article.” See ‘Good Practices: Good Mental Health among Carers’, Frank O’Hagan. Online at:
  2. “Inclusive and modified sport promotes opportunities for participation usually for older people or people with disabilities, physical and or mental health issues. … This quantitative study explored how walking football sessions were designed and delivered for, and experienced by people living with dementia and their family carers.” From the abstract of ‘Modifying walking football for people living with dementia: lessons for best practice’, R. MacRae and others. Online (2020).
  3. “The health benefits of playing football and the importance of exercise and social contact for healthy ageing are well established, but few older adults in the UK take enough exercise.” From the abstract of ‘Walking football as sustainable exercise for older adults – A pilot investigation’, Peter Reddy and others. In European Journal of Sport Science (2017).
Let’s promote “living well” with dementia.