Dads and football project

The Mental Health Foundation and the Fatherhood Institute produce ‘Becoming Dad’ a guide to support new Dads

Dads and Football, a 2-year project funded by the Wellcome Trust, in partnership with Cardiff City Football Club Community Foundation and Cardiff University’s National Centre for Mental Health, was created to support new dads in response to the inadequate provision that is currently available.

Initially taking the format of 5-a side football, bringing dads together through their love of 'the beautiful game' – the football games were quashed due to the pandemic and quickly replaced by online peer support sessions.  Dads and players from Cardiff City including Will Vaulks, (an expectant Dad at the time), joined the groups to discuss how the life change had impacted them. 91 dads were also consulted on their views through an online survey.

Will said: “I’ve learnt a lot from my involvement in the project. It was a pleasure speaking with those involved about their experiences as fathers, I found it really helpful for my preparations.”

While much is known about the changes experienced by mothers in relation to pregnancy and childbirth, from both mental and physical health perspectives, considerably less is known about the impact on dads and how they cope. The Dads and Football project connected new and expectant dads through the activity of football with the aim of understanding more about what becoming a Dad meant to them.

What the dads thought of the project

Recruitment was difficult. We used every means at our disposal. However, we had passionate regulars who kept turning up once they were on board. The men often talked about how much they enjoyed being a part of the ‘Dads and Football project’ and how the peer support groups had helped them. During the 5-a-side football, many commented on how the exercise also helped them relieve tensions and anxieties, and they appreciated the camaraderie that developed with the bonus of the fitness benefits.

They also spoke about having peace of mind coming to a group for men only, as they knew their opinions and experiences would be taken seriously:

“I don’t know about you guys but me just coming here and talking has made me realise ‘oh right I’m not the only one that thinks that’ and ‘that goes through my head as well’ and just hearing that comforts you and like I said I’ve come on leaps and bounds through this group. It's just cathartic whether you come and speak or just sit and listen. It’s just quite nice to do it”

The men valued coming together and enjoyed the camaraderie provided by the peer support group sessions.

One Dad said: “At least they know they are not alone. In this group there are 10 different people, but it’s just been nice hearing from everyone with different problems and perspectives”.

Read Chris’ Q & A to post-match interview with Chris Lawrence, Dad from Dads and Football project

Like most projects, Dads and Football had to adapt to the challenges presented by the lockdown. This sadly meant stopping playing football but instead, often using football as a discussion topic, an ice breaker and the basis for engagement during online zoom sessions.

We hope that this project report adds to, or starts, a conversation about the importance of health professionals including and supporting Dads more during the perinatal time.

See also Becoming Dad - A guide for new fathers