Are you looking for a new outdoor activity that will help you get fit, have fun and learn some new skills? Or maybe you’re considering swapping out that solitary bike ride or intimate evening stroll for something a little more social. If so, then walking football could be for you.
What is walking football?
Walking football is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a slightly different take on traditional football in that running is prohibited, and team members are only permitted to walk. Invented by John Croot in 2011, walking football is a lower impact and lower intensity alternative to the traditional game, aimed at men over 50 and women over 40.
Over the past decade, the sport has grown immensely. Since it was established in 2016, the Walking Football Association (WFA) has registered over 1500 clubs and over 60,000 players in the UK.
At present, the UK WFA comprises eight national mens and womens teams – including age groups for over 50s and over 60s. Walking football has become so popular and widespread, that the very first Walking Football World Nations Cup is due to be held in Manchester in 2022 with 32 teams competing.
What are the rules of walking football?
Walking football shares many of its rules and regulations with its more conventional counterpart. As with regular football, the object of the game is to score in the opponent’s goal without using your hands (unless you’re the goalkeeper).
You win the game by scoring more goals than the other team. However, a specific set of rules separates it from the conventional game and transforms it into a lower impact form of the sport.
Some of the key differences between traditional football and walking football include:
Walking football is typically played in the six-a-side format on a small pitch with small goals.
There is no running allowed. However, you may walk as quickly as you like as long as you have one foot touching the ground at all times.
Walking football is strictly non-contact. This means that tackles must be conducted in such a way that no contact is made between players.
Slide tackles are prohibited, as is playing the ball when you are on the ground.
The ball must stay below head height.
There is no heading allowed.
Any singular breach of the rules results in an indirect free kick for the opposing team.
Unlike conventional football, walking football operates on a three-strike policy. If you break the rules three times (the same or different ones), you’re heading to the sin bin.
For a more comprehensive breakdown of the rules and regulations of walking football, you might want to take a look at the Walking Football Association’s official guide.
Why should I play walking football?
Not only is walking football a fun and sociable activity, but it also has plenty of health benefits. It’s an excellent low impact cardiovascular workout that can help to maintain a healthy heart by lowering blood pressure and burning fat.
What’s attractive to many people about the sport is that the walking aspect makes it a lower-impact alternative to conventional football, which can help to protect your joints and – along with the non-contact rule – prevent any injuries.
Playing walking football isn’t only great for your physical health, it’s also an excellent way to improve your mental wellbeing. This 2017 study found that playing walking football as a part of a group was linked to a sense of wellbeing, and WFA say that 96% of their players ‘felt optimistic often or all of the time’ after taking up the sport.
For those who love the pace of the conventional game, walking football is by no means slow. While regular football can be dominated by a player just because they are quick, walking football, by its very nature, forces players to focus on passing, ball control and intelligent team play. It’s a pass-heavy game, which is a great way to connect with new people or reconnect with existing friends.
What kit do I need to play walking football?
One of the reasons football is so beloved worldwide is that all you need to play is a ball.
However, getting the suitable kit, especially if you plan on becoming part of an organised team, can help increase enjoyment and performance, while protecting you against injury.
Whether you’re having a kickabout or competing in an organised match, wearing proper clothing can be important. Clothing that isn’t specifically made for exercise can be heavy, limit your mobility and leave you feeling hot and uncomfortable. Proper activewear is designed to be light, breathable, and to wick sweat away – ensuring that you perform to the best of your ability and feel comfortable while playing.
Although walking football is strictly non-contact, we’re all human, and the odd misplaced foot can happen. This is why you might consider getting yourself a pair of shin pads to save yourself the odd bruise here and there. Shin pads are relatively cheap and will last you for years to come.
While you’ll most likely get along fine with trainers, wearing the appropriate footwear for the surface you will be playing on will give you the right amount of grip and mobility to perform at your best, while preventing injuries and discomfort. There are three main types of surface you are likely to play on:
- Natural grass surfaces
- Astroturf and artificial grass surfaces
- Indoor surfaces such as linoleum or timber
If you’re going to be playing on a natural grass surface, you’ll most likely be playing when the ground is either dry or just slightly wet. For this surface, you might want to get yourself a pair of firm ground boots.
Firm ground boots have plastic studs which provide grip and help prevent injury. They come in a range of different stud styles – with the conical studs being the safest (especially if you have a history of ankle or knee problems), as they’ll pivot in any little cracks or holes in the ground.
Artificial grass pitches are now more popular than ever, and as a result, you can buy boots that are designed specifically for playing on them. If you find yourself playing on the older style sand or water-based astroturf, then you might want to buy boots specifically tailored for these surfaces instead.
As walking football is typically played in the six-a-side format, walking football matches (in the winter months especially) are often played at indoor facilities. Although you can wear trainers on these surfaces, indoor boots offer more flexible and mobile soles to help prevent injuries when making sharp turns.
How can I get involved in walking football?
One of the great things about walking football is that you can play on your own terms. Maybe you want to have a kickabout in your garden or down at the local park with a few friends, or perhaps you want to join your local team and meet some new people along the way.
If you’re looking to join a team, you can go to the Walking Football Association’s website and use their fast and easy search engine, which will show you your nearest clubs, based on your postcode. Many of these clubs offer taster sessions, so if you want to test the waters before making any commitments, you can sign up for one of these first.
If you don’t have any clubs near you, then you can even create your own. The Walking Football Association lets you list your own club with as little as a club name, a few contact details, and the location you plan to start playing your games.
There are two types of memberships you can choose from when listing your team. There’s the full tournament membership for £50 and the no tournament membership for £25. Each comes with a load of added benefits, such as expert advice on how to run your own successful walking football club and access to WFA qualified referees.
The full tournament membership comes with a few extra perks, the main difference being free entry into national tournaments. You can check out the full breakdown of the WFA affiliate memberships here.
Whether you’re a lifelong player and fan of football, or a beginner looking for a fun and sociable new sport, walking football has something to offer everyone. As a lower impact (but by no means less entertaining) alternative to conventional football, it’s no wonder that walking football has become so popular over the past decade.