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FFIT: Motivation up, weight down

Footballfans in Training / Picture courtesy of "Fussballfans im Training"
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  • The aim: more active lifestyles, healthier diet and sustainable weight loss
  • 22 clubs from top three German leagues taking part
  • FFIT run in conjunction with IFT Nord and the German Cancer Association

Hand on heart: we all know that a balanced diet and above all an active lifestyle are the most important aspects if you want to be healthy.

Often though this is easier said than done, and this is the very reason behind the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) project, with participants encouraged to channel their love of football into motivation to become fitter and to lose weight. FFIT is aimed primarily at overweight men but also women, aged between 35 – 65 and with a BMI (body mass index) of 28 or over.

"We became aware of the fact that Football Fans in Training had been run in the Scottish leagues for quite a few years now – all 42 professional clubs take part in it," said Professor Reiner Hanewinkel from the IFT-Nord Institute for Therapy and Health Research, in an interview with FIFA.com.

"There was an excellent evaluation study on the effects of this programme in 'The Lancet', a highly reputed medical journal. We read it, it sounded like a great idea and we thought: Wow, that would really work in the German Bundesliga, which is very popular with fans. We then approached the German Cancer Association and persuaded them to set up Football Fans in Training in Germany. That was a good three years ago now."

Due to its great popularity and very large fan base, football was the obvious choice for male supporters, who unlike women are less inclined to talk about life decisions. Instead, the idea was to engage them about their favourite club and create awareness that way. The success of FFIT in Scotland was enough to convince Hanewinkel, with many of the fans who took part there losing between five and ten per cent of their bodyweights and significantly reducing the risk of pathologies. The project was similarly well received in Germany.

"We were amazed that 22 clubs in Bundesliga 1, 2 and 3, including big hitters like Schalke and Borussia Dortmund, were keen to take part – that’s quite a list we now have," the professor said. "Everyone we presented the idea to basically got behind it. The clubs were really enthusiastic about it. Now we’ll have to see whether the various local conditions are suitable. You need a field to train on, a room and a suitable coach – all things that are more organisational issues."

Much of the project’s success can be attributed directly to the fact that the clubs themselves are providing coaches and locations for the free 12-week programme that is being held in most cases twice a year. And of course the locations are what are really bringing the fans in.

"It’s great to see them coming and looking round the inside of the stadiums – they’re as enthusiastic as little kids when they get to see where their heroes get changed before the match. Out come the phones to take photos and many of them get quite emotional. That’s where the real motivation comes from," explained Hanewinkel, who won the German Prevention Award in 2004.

"And then inevitably someone from the club walks past – a player or a physio, someone whom the fans know, and that motivates them even more. In Schalke, [retired striker] Martin Max even gave a short speech – you can’t get better than that."

The programmes are based on two components: education and activity. For the former, the emphasis is on diet. "For example, we explain that beer is full of calories and show what a healthy diet is made up of. The second point is activity, which we gradually increase over the 12 weeks.

"At the beginning there is more education and less activity in the programme, and then the activity units get a little bigger, the fitter the participants get. They also get a step counter to take home with them. What we want is for them to incorporate more activity into their daily lives. They get to compare how they are doing every week with one another, and that’s an additional source of motivation to do a little bit more the following week."

Although Hanewinkel is absolutely delighted with the success of the project to date, what he hopes is "that the clubs make this a regular event, that there is a course in the first half and the second half of every season. It needs to happen continuously, so that as a fan, I can think to myself: the season is getting under way again, there’ll be another course and I’m going to latch on and get involved."

Clubs taking part:

  • 1. Bundesliga: 1. FC Nurnberg, 1. FSV Mainz 05, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Hertha BSC, RB Leipzig, Schalke 04, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim,
  • 2. Bundesliga: 1. FC Cologne, Arminia Bielefeld, FC Ingolstadt 04, Hamburger SV, Holstein Kiel, Dynamo Dresden, SpVgg Greuther Furth, SV Darmstadt 98, SV Sandhausen, VfL Bochum
  • 3. Bundesliga: Eintracht Braunschweig

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