Open Access Open Badges Research article

“We wouldn’t of made friends if we didn’t come to Football United”: the impacts of a football program on young people’s peer, prosocial and cross-cultural relationships

Sally Nathan1*, Lynn Kemp2, Anne Bunde-Birouste1, Julie MacKenzie1, Clifton Evers3 and Tun Aung Shwe1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW, Sydney, NSW, 2052, Australia

2 Centre for Primary Heath Care and Equity, UNSW Sydney, NSW, 2052, Australia

3 International Communications Department, University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:399  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-399

Published: 27 April 2013



Sport as a mechanism to build relationships across cultural boundaries and to build positive interactions among young people has often been promoted in the literature. However, robust evaluation of sport-for-development program impacts is limited. This study reports on an impact evaluation of a sport-for-development program in Australia, Football United®.


A quasi-experimental mixed methods design was employed using treatment partitioning (different groups compared had different levels of exposure to Football United). A survey was undertaken with 142 young people (average age of 14.7 years with 22.5% of the sample comprising girls) in four Australian schools. These schools included two Football United and two Comparison schools where Football United was not operating. The survey instrument was composed of previously validated measures, including emotional symptoms, peer problems and relationships, prosocial behaviour, other-group orientation, feelings of social inclusion and belonging and resilience. Face to face interviews were undertaken with a purposeful sample (n = 79) of those who completed the survey. The participants in the interviews were selected to provide a diversity of age, gender and cultural backgrounds.


Young people who participated in Football United showed significantly higher levels of other-group orientation than a Comparison Group (who did not participate in the program). The Football United boys had significantly lower scores on the peer problem scale and significantly higher scores on the prosocial scale than boys in the Comparison Group. Treatment partitioning analyses showed positive, linear associations between other-group orientation and total participation in the Football United program. A lower score on peer problems and higher scores on prosocial behaviour in the survey were associated with regularity of attendance at Football United. These quantitative results are supported by qualitative data analysed from interviews.


The study provides evidence of the effects of Football United on key domains of peer and prosocial relationships for boys and other-group orientation for young people in the program sites studied. The effects on girls, and the impacts of the program on the broader school environment and at the community level, require further investigation.

Sport-for-development; Community-based intervention; Impact evaluation; Peer relationships; Prosocial behaviour; Cross-cultural relationships