Meet Natalie Broadhead, the driving force behind the establishment of ‘Walking Football’ in a small New Zealand community.
The Football Development Officer for WaiBop Football attended a Workshop delivered by New Zealand Football’s Shane Verma and Professor Harry Hubbard from the University of British Columbia in January, on Walking Football.
She came away inspired to kickstart Walking Football in her region.
Targeted at older people, Walking Football is a low-intensive inclusive form of exercise which encourages physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing. It is adaptable to play on grass, artificial turf, a futsal or basketball court or any indoor surface.
Broadhead realised it would be perfect for isolated elderly communities to become involved in an activity where they can make new friends and become more connected with the community.
Broadhead and Verma along with OFC Player Development Officer Phill Parker piloted Walking Football in the small Bay of Plenty township of Murupara.
With a rich Maori heritage, Murupara is home to four local marae of the Ngati Manawa iwi. With a population of around 1800, Murupara has an aging population with nearly 50 % aged 30-65+ years.
For Broadhead, Murupara was the ideal place to introduce Walking Football.
“I work with local Sport Bay of Plenty colleagues who work in Green Prescription,(a healthy lifestyle programme for adults) who work with Kaumatua in the Communities, and they introduced me into those communities through their strength and balancing exercises and that’s what Walking Football is based around.” Broadhead said.
“Murupara is the prime example, we introduced it in their strength and balance exercise classes, and we struck up a bit of competition. A bit of smack talk went on. So we created a Sport Bay of Plenty team to play against the ‘Nannies.’ They said bring it on we’ll smash you, wait what is it! ” Broadhead recalls.
“So I brought in a ball one day and we played inside an RSA building because it was terrible weather outside. It has sort of grown from there. I did a workshop with Sport Bay of Plenty a couple of weeks ago and they have started getting it up and running among community groups. It’s not quite up and running as league’s yet and is a form of casual exercise.
So are leagues next?
“That is the absolute dream in our Federation. We have started slowly by getting Kaumatua groups. We are looking at doing a tour of the region, so they get to play other Kaumatua hubs. Ultimately having a league for the Kaumatua and population returning to football who can no longer play the running game would be ideal.”
Broadhead presented on her experience with Walking Football at the recent OFC Player Development Workshop in Auckland with Player Development Officers from around the Pacific in attendance.
“There is a lot of interest in the Pacific. Football Development Officers have realised it is harder than they thought and even more competitive. They realised they can do this on multiple surfaces with as many or few people required.
Broadhead is passionate about Walking Football’s potential to really enrich lives and believes it could really take off throughout Oceania.
“There are heaps of good attributes to Walking Football. It works on your stamina, strength, and balance. If you can’t balance on one leg, you can’t kick a football. It’s also a massive positive as a social attribute. A lot of people in the Murupara community struggled during Covid because they live by themselves and were struggling to come back into the community so Walking Football brings people together and is so much fun.” She effused.
Tonga’s Player Development Officer Lui Muavesi was excited to learn about the potential for the sport to help reduce the obesity problem in his country. “People are dying of hunger around the world . In Tonga no one dies of hunger, they only die of eating too much good food. So too much good food we have obese men and women. I do believe it would be the best sport for cutting g obesity in Tonga and I am proud to take Walking Football back to Tonga and to implement in clubs.”