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Match of the Day at Meath FC

Tory Dean is a Learning Support Assistant and Kathryn Goold a Speech and Language Therapist at I CAN’s Meath School in Surrey. Here they tell us about Meath’s Tuesday football club.

Excitement about Meath School’s football club starts first thing on Tuesday morning, when cries of ‘see you at football club’ greet us as we walk across the playground. By lunchtime, and following a hard morning’s work the children are ready to get outside, practise their skills and have a competitive game of football. That’s what they get at football club, but – although they may not know it – they’re also getting so much more.

Football is a gift for children with speech and language difficulties. It’s a game with very few rules (we leave the offside rule well alone) so every child can easily engage, and they are largely able to self-referee. You also operate as part of a team, so you don’t have to be in the spotlight unless you choose to be. Finally, your hands are free which makes life much easier if you are communicating with speech and  sign language at the same time (playing hockey and trying to sign can get quite complicated!).

The club starts with some simple drills – dribbling a football in and out of cones and taking turns to pass the ball in small groups. To the untrained eye, this may look like a group of children kicking footballs around, but in fact there is a lot more going on. As well as developing their motor co-ordination, the drills help children exercise self-control; they have to do short focused kicks rather than just whacking the ball as hard and fast as they can. They also need to learn to take turns and maintain eye-contact with people they are passing to. 

At last, as the anticipation rises, it’s time for the match. Teams are chosen to ensure a fair match of abilities and are different every week. Both teams are made up of children from a range of classes, encouraging interaction between the ages. It’s exciting to watch the confidence of younger players increase over the weeks.

The game itself also brings a range of benefits. We work on team and individual skills: fair play, negotiation (Who is in goal? Which team kicked the ball out?), responsibility and learning to be a gracious winner and a good loser. This last one has taken some practice, but the children now line up at the end of the game, shake hands with each other and say ‘good game’ – even when it’s really difficult for them to do. Children who can struggle with impulsive behaviour in other settings are motivated to do the best for their team and keep playing: no red cards have been issued this season!

The bell rings and the children hand in their bibs, collect the balls and rush back to class. I think we all leave football club feeling more energetic than when we arrived!