Inclusive football

Football for Schools is an inclusive programme that aims to reach children and young people of all abilities and backgrounds. Coach-educators are encouraged to adapt sessions to meet the learning needs and abilities of individual players and make special efforts to include children and young people previously marginalised from football.

No child or young person should be left behind regardless of their ability, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, or religion.

Coach-educators should ensure all players feel welcome and receive equal attention when taking part in Football for Schools sessions. This requires educators to be flexible, responsive, and supportive when planning and delivering Football for Schools sessions to cater for the diverse needs of all learners.

Practices should be developed to support and encourage all learners to engage in Football for Schools addressing barriers such as: dress options; religious-cultural dispositions; parental discouragement; inadequate changing facilities; cost of kit; body image; and football’s image.

Gender equality in Football for Schools

Gender equality is a priority area for UNESCO and achieving gender equality in football is a priority for FIFA. The Football for Schools programme aims for equal participation by boys and girls. Therefore, where possible coach-educators should strive for a 50/50 balance of participation of both boys and girls.

However, it is envisaged that mixed-sex sessions may not always be possible or appropriate. It is recommended that where possible coach-educators should facilitate mixed-sex Football for Schools sessions for the 4-7 and 8-11-years age groups. The 12-14-years age group can be delivered either as a mixed-sex or as parallel single-sex sessions. In certain situations, sessions can be split up so that certain components are delivered to a mixed-sex group where other components (e.g. certain topics or activities) are delivered to a single sex group.

Allowing boys and girls to play together contributes to the emancipation of the two genders, improves tolerance, and promotes mutual respect. Both girls and boys can benefit from and enjoy football and it is important to enable/encourage access for all. Several sessions in the programme aim to teach players about the importance of gender equality and help them question harmful gender norms.

Inclusion of learners with a disability in Football for Schools

Differentiated instruction seeks to modify learning activities to meet the needs of diverse groups of players and is different from adapted physical education which is focused on adapting physical activities for learners with disabilities.  Differentiated instruction considers the needs of all players who have differing abilities including children with disabilities. Two useful frameworks that can be used when considering how to include players with a disability into your Football for Schools sessions are the Inclusion Spectrum and the TREE Framework.

Inclusion spectrum

The inclusion spectrum highlights four approaches to the delivery of football sessions that enable players with different disabilities to take part.

Considering the inclusion spectrum coach-educators can choose different approaches to delivering football sessions to ensure everyone is included in the activity in some way or another or can even use a mix of these. 

  • Open: all needs, and abilities are still considered but no modifications need to be made to the activity as all players can play together successfully.
  • Modified: everyone takes part with modifications to the activity to support all needs and abilities in the group to ensure that all of them get the same amount of time and attention in the activity.
  • Parallel: each do the activity at an appropriate level which considers their needs and is suitable to them.
  • Separate/Alternative: completely different activity away from the bulk of players taking part in the normal session. This is the contingency plan.

Where possible coach-educators are encouraged to include players with disabilities in football sessions with other players either through an open or modified football approach.

The TREE Framework

A useful tool that coach-educators can use to help them modify football activity to be inclusive for all players including people with disabilities is the acronym “TREE” which stands for:

The TREE framework is easily understood and easily remembered. It acts as a guide, helping you as a coach-educator to think about how you can make changes to your teaching or coaching style, rules, the play or practice environment, and the equipment to involve people of all abilities in a fully inclusive way.

It is important when adapting any elements of the TREE framework in a group situation to think about how your changes affect the integrity of the football activity for all members of the group.

It is also important to remember that the TREE framework is useful for modifying football activities for players of different ability levels and not just players who have a disability.  Making changes to your teaching style, rules and regulations, equipment and environment can help make an activity easier or harder as required and can assist coach-educators in ensuring activities meet the development level of the individual player.

The table below provides some examples of modifications that could be made when including players with disabilities in Football for Schools sessions for different categories of disability.