Society Member and Graduate Sports Therapist Mick Quinn, owner of the ‘Quinntessential Sports Therapy’ Clinic recently established a Walking Football Club - a fun way for older players to get fit. Mick was previously a Sports Therapist at Brentford Football Club and Wycombe Wanderers FC, and that compiled with his coaching experience has ensured that he is well equipped to improve the fitness of the over 50s through this new concept. We caught up with him to see how things were going.
What does a Walking Football Game involve? What are the rules?
The rules are the same as normal 5 a side football with the obvious difference that there is no running and no slide tackling. There is less stress on the body as there is no sudden change of direction or cutting movements. The game is still competitive and no one wants to be on the losing side. We also use a size 4 football, as it bounces less and encourages better control.
How often does the Walking Football Club meet to play?
At the moment we have an hour long session, two mornings a week, at a local 4g Astroturf surface. The morning sessions are easier for booking the facility and most of the participants are retired now. We have already made plans to open another venue in a different area very soon.
Tell us about the benefits of a Walking Football Club for the over 50s? Have you seen an improvement in the fitness of the players?
The benefits for this older age group are tremendous. We have seen an improvement in the cardiovascular fitness, joint mobility, co-ordination and proprioception. It also gives the guys something to look forward to instead of sitting at home watching the “Jeremy Kyle” show. I am hoping long term to get one of the local Universities conducting a case study with heart monitors and check the improvements over a year. As much as I hated studying research within my degree, I can see the benefits of having empirical data to present to any doubters.
What has the reaction been to Walking Football?
The response has been fantastic. It is very hard to motivate people who have stopped a regular fitness programme as they think age is telling them they should slow down. Walking three times a week to improve fitness or plodding along on a static bike in the local gym can often be monotonous, but put a ball in front of them and they will start moving like they are teenagers again.
Do you plan to develop the club and if so, how?
I want the club to be recognised and affiliated to the local Football Association and potentially, in the future, I would like to see recognised national and county leagues. I have already got the endorsement from the Surrey FA and the Hampshire FA are already making moves to also get a similar system in place.
We are trying to arrange a competitive match every 6 weeks or so between the different counties, although my wife was not too happy on my suggestion of a European tour next season.
I am also arranging half time demonstrations on the pitch at local professional clubs to introduce the idea to more football fans.
I eventually want the local governments to pay for the pitch and medical cover; they have various budgets for getting people back playing sport and have “preventing falls in older people” departments, so it is a benefit all round. People are living longer and if they start working on their fitness now it will be of great benefit later in life when they are stronger, more balanced and fitter.
Why do you think it’s important to target and focus on this specific age group?
Football is the most popular game in the world with around 250 million participants in 200 countries. Most men stop playing in their mid or late 30s, due to a reduction in fitness levels or an increase in injury incidences. This is the most frustrating thing in the world as they still have the skills and decision making capacity, but their legs no longer work well enough. Most of my guys are between mid 50s to early 70s and move at the same type of pace. Obviously we could not match a team of 20 year olds even at walking pace but it levels the playing field by slowing the game down. Eventually as the game becomes more popular, we could have a fun level league and an elite level league as I imagine ex professionals could probably still pass the ball around a lot quicker than we could.
How have your skills as a Sports Therapist come into play?
As far as I am aware, we are the only club concentrating on the medical and fitness aspect of the sport. I ask the guys to fill in a medical form before they are allowed to participate and even ask for their Doctors approval if I think it is required. We have a short ten minute warm up session to get their muscles functioning and then a ten minute coaching point to work on various aspects of improving their skills. I do actually have to tape and bandage a few of them as a precaution. We usually manage a competitive 30 minute match and then a 10 minute cool down period at the end.
As with any eleven a side match as The Society of Sports Therapists have always advocated, there should always be medical cover provided at a sporting event. Some of these older guys are probably more vulnerable than younger competitors so it is my job to supervise and keep them functioning. I always have my medical bags and plenty of drinks at the side of the pitch.I also look at the event as a sort of prehabilitation and conditioning session for this generation of “reborn” athletes.
How is Walking Football different to other clubs across the country, that are directed at this age group?
A lot of areas are trying to set up walking football clubs with various degrees of success. I feel the mistake they are all making is that people do not really understand what it is all about and imagine it is a crowd of old men turning up at a local park with a ball.
I can imagine some 65 year old saying to his wife “that’s me off down the park to play football love” and being told not to be so stupid.
They are putting small ads in the local press and it is not getting the response it requires. I have written to all the local Doctors surgeries, Age Concern, local councils, obesity societies and anyone else I could think of to promote it.
What gave you the idea to start Walking Football?
I saw a small advert in the newspaper for a walking football club and I loved the idea of playing again. I was horrified to see that it was being played on a concrete tennis court with no real control or supervision. In the first month I saw one 71 year old fall and break his ankle and another fracture his humerus by trying not to land on someone’s kid who had joined in. I raised my concerns which went unheard and therefore decided the only way forward was to start my own club with the safety aspects controlled.
We play on a beautiful 4th generation Astroturf surface which is like a big rubber carpet. I do not allow younger participants to join in as it totally changes the dynamics of the game and adds the risk of someone getting injured. We warm up and warm down. I have a full medical history on the participants and I am on hand to treat any medical emergencies that may arise. I am very proud of the structure of the Club and this is the way I want the future FA affiliated walking football clubs set up. Most of us older players thought our days of kicking a ball had finished over 15 years ago, but I now have the chance to play the game I love for another 20 years or so.
My ultimate dream would be to play a Scotland v England walking football match although I don’t know if the Tartan army could dismantle a 4g Astroturf pitch the way we took away the Wembley turf many years ago.
If you would like to see a very short demonstration of the game, click on my website www.mqst.co.uk and follow the Walking football link.