GoFitba is a new and exciting football-based health and wellbeing project for primary school kids in Scotland, delivered by The Scottish Football Partnership Trust in association with community football clubs across the country.
GoFitba offers kids a 12-week project in which, after school hours, they will go through a fun, interactive and educational journey to find out how they can live a healthier lifestyle through diet and nutrition, as well as giving them an hour of football to help get them active.
Motherwell Community Trust is one of the clubs involved with the project, along with local school Knowetop Primary, whose pupils were excited to start week one of the project, ‘The Eatwell Guide.’
Knowetop Primary Head Teacher, Jill Nicholls shared her enthusiasm about the project:
“We’re next door neighbours and the club very kindly allow us to use their astroturf and some of their other facilities. So when the club was looking to work with a school, it was an obvious partnership because we are so geographically close.
“Our children love football as I think most children in Scotland do and because we are so closely linked with the club, there is a natural affinity. The children are desperate to go and play on the astroturf at every opportunity, so the fact that it’s in a more structured way and can offer support is excellent and I think the whole educational link as well as the fitness and health links will be really beneficial.
“Any school would be desperately keen to take part in an initiative like this, especially a programme about health promotion to encourage children to take up activities, to encourage them to think about healthy nutrition, because it’s fair to say that we’re not the healthiest nation.
“I think the children in the school will really benefit from this project because apart from the football element, they will learn and focus in a fun way on the nutritional benefit of diet and sharing the experience of the socialising element of sitting together, preparing together, planning nutritional elements which ties in with the work in our dining hall where more schools in North Lanarkshire and Scotland are moving towards more healthy menus and we’ll be able to see that in a real life context.”
At the start of the day, the kids were led onto the astroturf at the back of the John Hunter Stand where they took part in some basic passing drills, being taught the importance of warming up and cooling down as well as some tips from the coaches.
In small groups they were assigned a coach each who assessed their passing, whilst also giving them tips and examples of what they could do to improve their game. The kids took the advice onboard and the coaches decided that it was then time for some fun.
The group finished with a game of football, 6v6 with a thrilling scoreline of 5-1. Out of breath from an action packed hour of football, the group headed to the South Stand and into the dugout area before posing for photographs in the best seats in the stadium.
Dawn Middleton, General Manager of Motherwell Football Club Community Trust spoke about the partnership they have with The Scottish Football Partnership Trust and the work with the kids:
“We benefit here from the power of football, that’s the most powerful thing we’ve got because everyone loves sport. We’ve got them out there and for the first hour they’ve got sport, something they love doing, they’re running about and tuned into the coaches who also take them through the healthy eating part of the project - so they really are engaged through football.
“We’re in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas in North Lanarkshire so sometimes children don’t get a hot meal, but this programme teaches them and their parents about healthy eating which is critical.
“A lot of programmes about healthy eating tend to be about young people, but actually it’s not your nine and ten year olds that are going to do the shopping - it’s their parents and what we particularly liked about this programme is the fact that it’s about educating the parents, it’s about financial management as well.
“It’s teaching parents how to cook and some of the food looks phenomenal, it’s about educating people with the Eatwell Guide and all the different elements and it really is a well thought out course and that’s what appealed to us as a Trust.
“Before the GoFitba project, the club and the Trust already had a good relationship with The SFP but GoFitba has highlighted the continued success of that partnership.
“We’ve had a long standing partnership as a club and also as a Community Trust with the Scottish Football Partnership and we’re really enthused and positive about the Partnership, they’ve provided us with some changing containers and storage containers out in the astroturf and now we’re working together on this project.
“GoFitba is a fantastic initiative but we firmly believe that nothing should be standalone and it must be linked to other things whether that be our community team, our football development centres, our holiday camps and match day experience. All of the work in the Community Trust is about growing the next generation of Motherwell Football Club fans and for us to get those children along on a match day, bearing in mind some children in the project don’t have access to a hot meal or the financial windfall to pay £16 for a match day ticket - but we can provide that through our partnership and if it involves coming to our centres and our programmes, then obviously its open to anyone here and we’re delighted to be involved. If the GoFitba project opens the doors or allows us to engage with people that we wouldn’t traditionally engage with, then that’s a fantastic added benefit to the programme.”
After the session on the pitch, the youngsters headed up to the Davie Cooper Stand for the second part of the programme. In the boxes with a birds eye view of the ground, the group learned about the importance of healthy eating and the different types of food groups.
This was helped by the food chart and in their groups they were given the task of sorting the different types of food into categories and from that, they learned about the right portion sizes to have and about the positive effects certain foods can have on your body.
Jim Chapman, Head of Football at Motherwell Football Club Community Trust spoke about the benefits he felt that the GoFitba programme brought to the kids involved:
“I think you can see many benefits from all the children here and not just on the activity side of things but on the food and nutrition side as well, so I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks.
“At the same time, it’s education through playing - we get the kids playing; a wee bit of activity which is good and then they come back and think about what they were doing.
“We encourage them to think about that and then you look at the nutrition requirements and energy sources that they are going to get through their food and that’s why this project works perfectly together.
“They’ve joined in really well, some of them are maybe a little too excited at the moment but we’ll soon get them on track.
“It’s the first week and to see the smiles on the kids’ faces and more importantly some clean plates, especially some foods that they’ve maybe never experienced before, so it’s educational and every part of it - whether it’s physical activity or learning about different food sources - and hopefully they’ll go away after the 12 week programme a wee bit more aware about the importance of eating healthier foods as well as having physical activity to match.
“Today was about introducing some food groups, and more importantly the eatwell plate and about portion sizes and the hazards of taking too much of the wrong things.
"But it’s not to say that the food is bad for you but it’s more about the portion sizes and that was the crucial thing today. We’re hoping to get across to the parents that it’s not too bad to have these foods but it’s how much you have.
“It’s a great start, a great initiative and I’m quite sure that it’ll be a very successful programme for the whole country. The most important message is the education through playing, kids will take part in any activity that they love playing - they really love football, they love joining in but the most important thing is understanding the energy and resources that go with it.
“Some kids get a wee bit frightened to speak about what they do, even a wee bit frightened to take part in physical activity but if we can start to show the importance of how well they eat and combine that with good physical activity then maybe that’ll stop them thinking like that.
“A lot of young kids get self-conscious as well and some have never tried some of the food groups and are totally unaware. It’s a massive undertaking for the children at the beginning but I think that it’s a start and it’s a message that we need to continue with - and that’s not just for the kids but hopefully it will impact on the parents as well.”
While the kids were learning in their group exercises, a healthy meal was being prepared for them. On the menu in week one was chicken pasta bake which went down an absolute treat and ended with plenty of empty plates and smiley faces!
With a dessert of fresh fruit and more water, the kids learned about what they had just eaten and how much protein they took from the portion of chicken. This was a chance for the youngsters to enjoy a healthy meal and to steer them away from junk food – a key component of the project’s aim.
With the first week of the project over, it was obvious how much the kids had enjoyed playing football as well as improving their knowledge of the game. In addition to learning about healthy alternatives, the kids increased their understanding of what food was good for them and had a better understanding about the portion sizes they should be having.
All of the kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and were fully engaged with the programme. Dylan spoke about his favourite parts of the day:
“Today we were having loads of fun next to Knowetop Primary and we were doing lots of drills and then we had loads of food.
“The food was really nice and we learned that you always need to have a little bit of sugar in your diet but not too much. My favourite part was that we had a big match against each other. I learned that not everyone always has a balanced diet but sometimes you have to have a balanced diet and I’m going to be so excited to come again next week.”
The debut week of GoFitba seemed to go down a treat with the kids, which was evident by the enthusiasm and smiling face! Next up for the kids, learning about 5-a-day, every day!