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Football on the school curriculum improves cognitive performance

Health education on the football pitch is good for fitness, health profile and social well-being of school children, and the latest research shows that their attention and working memory improve as well.

In the period 2016-2017, 275 Danish schools have completed the school-based programme ”FIFA 11 for Health” in Europe, an 11-week health education programme for fifth-grade children carried out on the football field., The concept is developed in collaboration between professor Peter Krustrup from the University of Southern Denmark, the Danish Football Association (DBU) and FIFA's research unit F-MARC and reveals beneficial effects on health profile, physical condition, social well-being and health knowledge.

A new study shows that 2 × 45 minutes per week of ”FIFA 11 for Health” for Europe training during school hours may also improve the pupils’ cognitive performance. The research results show that the attention, working memory and psychomotor function of school children improve after participation in football training.

The study is conducted by PhD student Rune Rasmussen Lind and Professor Peter Krustrup, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, in co-operation with Assistant Professor Svend Sparre Geertsen, Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, and the results are now published in the European Journal of Sport Science.

The entire country will be included
During the study, 800 children aged 10-12 had two of their five weekly mandatory physical activity sessions replaced by small-sided football games, drills and health education according to the ”FIFA 11 for Health” for Europe concept. The study was conducted in four municipalities and there are now plans to expand the study to include more than 10,000 children in all Danish municipalities.

- The study shows that children who participated in 11 weeks of health education on the football field with football exercises, football drills and high-intensity small-sided football games for 2 x 45 minutes per week experienced an improvement in working memory and attention compared to the control group, says Rune Rasmussen Lind, and continues:

- We cannot at this point explain the reason for these positive effects but in future studies we will examine the importance of the high-intensity aspect of the football training and the comprehensive cognitive and motor requirements and try to understand the underlying reasons for the effects.

The physical education classes may well benefit children in other subjects
Head of research on the project, Professor Peter Krustrup, is very pleased that they have succeeded in developing a project which shows benefits within health, well-being and learning:

-We have known for a long time that the children find the concept both inspiring and fun and that the training has significant positive effects on blood pressure, body fat percentage and social well-being. The two latest scientific articles now also provide evidence that the training and education programme also increases the children’s specific health knowledge of healthy habits, physical activity, diet and hygiene and improves their general cognitive performance, which may benefit them in other subjects. The ambition to develop a strong evidence-based concept with broad effects on health, well-being and learning has thus been fulfilled, concludes Peter Krustrup.

In recent years, there has been increased focus on the significance of school-based physical activity for health, well-being and learning but we still need to work out how activities and concepts may be structured to fit into the school curriculum. That is why we see such an interest in being able to implement evidence-based concepts which may be rolled out on a large scale. Even more schools are currently being recruited for the project where the school teachers will be responsible for delivering the programme after having attended a three-day course at SDU and DBU.  

Watch more about ”FIFA 11 for Health” for Europe:

Read more about the effects of ”FIFA 11 for Health” for Europe:
Lind et al. 2017, European Journal of Sport Science
Fuller et al. 2017, British Journal of Sports Medicine
Ørntoft et al. 2016, British Journal of Sports Medicine
Krustrup et al. 2016, British Journal of Sports Medicine

Contact persons:
PhD student Rune Rasmussen Lind, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark,; +45 4091 1109

Professor and Head of research Peter Krustrup, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark:; +45 2116 1530

Project manager Tina Enestrøm, The Danish Football Association (DBU),; +45 2835 9673

Editing was completed: 28.11.2017