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World Health Day 2022 – panel discussion on football, health and well-being


Belgium head coach Roberto Martínez was among the experts who discussed the importance for youngsters to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

UEFA Coaches for Health discussion, April 2022

To mark World Health Day and the culmination of our Coaches for Health #FeelWellPlayWell campaign, UEFA staged a panel discussion featuring the following experts in the fields of physical activity, nutrition, mental health, and substance abuse, discussing the latest knowledge and guidance.

The panel:

  • Michele Uva, director of football and social responsibility, UEFA
  • Dr Fiona Bull, head of the physical activity unit, World Health Organization
  • Prof. Med. Tim Meyer, chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee
  • Dr Matteo Pincella, nutritionist for the Italian national team and FC Internazionale Milano
  • Milena Bertolini, women's national team coach, Italy
  • Gemma Grainger, women's national team coach, Wales
  • Roberto Martínez, men's national team coach, Belgium

The panel, moderated by journalist and television presenter for Sky Sport Italy Federica Masolin, aimed to:

  • Convey clarity on the role that football, and football coaches can play to reach specific health objectives.
  • Raise awareness around scientific evidence about health risks that affect adolescents and comprehend why healthy lifestyles can help prevent non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.) that are the leading cause of premature death, as well as mental illnesses.
  • Highlight inter-linkages between physical and mental health as equally important components of someone's overall health.
  • Underline the role played by nutrition, physical activity, mental health and the prevention of substance abuse on the overall health and sense of well-being of individuals.

Michele Uva, UEFA director of football and social responsibility

"The UEFA 2030 ambition is to mobilise the football community to promote better health and well-being, and to act through football across all age groups. Health is a collective issue and a common good that has a strong impact on disease prevention, social costs and the degree of happiness in civil society, and UEFA is taking this seriously. Physical activity, nutrition, mental health and the avoidance of substance abuse are topics where football can have an impact. Encouraging young people to play football regularly, and implementing these key topics, are ways of contributing towards a healthier lifestyle."

Coaches for Health – #FeelWellPlayWell was launched in December 2021. The campaign invited coaches of European men's and women's national teams to use their influential voices to advocate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for young people aged 13–17.

This was achieved by filming short messages on four main topics: nutrition, physical activity, mental health, and substance abuse – with those messages being disseminated on the social media channels of each national association.

The role of coaches & football in addressing health and well-being

Roberto Martínez, Belgium men's national team coach

"As a coach, you are responsible for creating a good environment with your players in the dressing room, and you need to be aware that to perform at the highest level, there are three important aspects – the best food, perfect rest, and the ability to train to one's maximum.

"A coach ensures that the environment is the right one and that the correct information is passed on. Players should also feel that they can speak up if something does not feel right. Sport should be about having fun, but we also need to learn how to cope with disappointment, and this is where mental health becomes a big issue.

"If we don't create a healthy environment where people can speak up or say what they feel, everything becomes negative. It is the role of the coach to create that healthy and safe environment, and it is essential at any level to be able to pass on the right messages in terms of nutrition, on how you need to look after yourself, and how quickly you need to let people know you're not feeling 100%."

Milena Bertolini, Italy women's national team coach

"Football is a sport that – in addition to developing aerobic and physical abilities, strength and endurance – has another important aspect which leads to the well-being of the athlete. I believe football is a sport where relationships are very important. We are social people, and we love being together with others, and therefore a sport like football develops all these aspects of integration, inclusion, and a sense of belonging and feeling part of a group that give enormous psycho-physical benefits."

The importance of fostering the right habits early in life

Prof. Med. Tim Meyer, chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee

"Regular physical activity has effects on different levels, both short term – with the improvement of one's well-being and self-esteem – and in the long term by lowering the risk factor regarding blood pressure, cholesterol and other issues.

"Children and youngsters might not see those benefits because they usually feel healthy. However, it is crucial that they start an active lifestyle as early as possible to ensure they continue this lifestyle as they grow older."

Gemma Grainger, Wales women's national team coach

“Parents have an important part to play when it comes to health and well-being, particularly as role models because they have a big influence on their children regarding the habits they create for them.”

“The benefits of football, and how it affects mental health and well-being in general, are huge, so introducing sport in a young person's life at an early age can really start promoting good habits. Whether we're talking about physical activity or nutrition, the earlier one can start to educate oneself about these habits, the better.”

How caring for one's health is about simple habits to feel well

Dr Fiona Bull, head of the physical activity unit, World Health Organisation

“Mental-health issues, such as behavioural disorders and anxiety for 10 to 14-year-olds, and anxiety and depression for 15 to 19-year-olds, are prevalent issues in younger people, and the benefits of sports and participating in physical activity are many – including the friendships, the connections, the feeling of well-being, the fun that you can have and, of course, the good overall impact this can have on the mental-health system.”

Dr Matteo Pincella, nutritionist for Italy and FC Internazionale Milano

“I think that diet is the most powerful lifestyle variable influencing, for better or worse, the state of one's health. Nutrition is important for longevity as it reduces the risk of diseases, and the challenges and nutritive needs vary in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and the third age.”

“Calorie intake follows the rule of 25 to 35 calories per kilogramme of one's body weight for someone who is inactive, and two to three times that for an athlete. In addition, if we eat a lot, we need to match this with our water intake. The rule is simple. If you eat 2,000 calories, you will need to drink two litres of water. But if you eat even more, you will need more water: adding one litre of water per thousand calories.”

“One of the biggest challenges with nutrition in recent years is liquid-sugar intake, such as soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks. Most people are not aware of the high quantity of sugar in a soft drink, and that creates issues in the long run for one's overall health.”

“Awareness is necessary – sleep well, eat well and do not use tobacco or alcohol. Coaches must set an example in this area.”