Making the Case for ACE Aware and Trauma-informed Sports Participation

Homeless World Cup 2019 - Adverse Childhood Experiences

Making the Case for ACE Aware and Trauma-informed Sports Participation

Football coaches from around the world received training from Healthy Stadia on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), supporting people affected by trauma and building resilience at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff in early August. But what are ACEs and what does a trauma-informed approach to sports participation look like?

Adverse Childhood Experience or ACEs consist of a range of often prolonged and extreme stressful experiences that children can be exposed to while growing up. ACEs can include but are not limited to being physically, emotionally or sexually abused, being the victim of neglect and/or growing up in a house with domestic violence, mental illness, substance use or criminal problems. Community dysfunction and geo-political issues are also likely to negatively impact on a child’s development.

ACEs can place a huge amount of stress on children which can affect brain development and other parts of their bodies. The more chronic stress, the more neural connections are created in regions of the brain that involve fear, anxiety, and impulsiveness; and fewer are created in regions that involve reasoning and behavioural control.

This leaves children, and indeed adults, prone to being anxious or “on-edge” which can result in difficulty in controlling their emotions and leaves them at higher risk of impulsive behaviours, difficulties building relationships and poor learning experiences.

Staggeringly, Adverse Childhood Experiences are incredibly common. In England and Wales, 1 in 2 will experience an ACE before the age of 18 and 1 in 10 will have experienced four or more. But what does this have to do with public health, homelessness and sports participation?

A growing body of research is beginning to link ACEs with a broad range of poor health and social outcomes throughout the life course. Typically, the more ACEs an individual has the more likely they are to smoke tobacco products, over-consume alcohol, and indulge in other risky behaviours such as gambling and substance use.

Individuals who have experienced several ACEs are also more likely to have financial and employment troubles, suffer from mental health issues, experience relationship breakdowns, be involved in crime and commit or be a victim of violence.

Research suggests that the combination of childhood adversity and poor health and social outcomes leaves individuals with high ACE scores at greater risk of homelessness. Therefore it is vitally important that those experiencing homelessness have stable, supportive relationships and environments that can prevent or help to reverse damage caused by childhood adversity and trauma.

The success of the Homeless World Cup and indeed homeless football clubs all over the world is proof that football really can change lives. Receiving the right support in the right place, being listened to and being treated with empathy and respect by others is essential for recovery – and this is all in a day’s work for a good coach.

For those living with ACEs, being part of a team provides ongoing support from teammates, coaches and even opposition players. For some, running around a muddy field or an inner city five-a-side pitch can be life-changing.


The 17th edition of the Homeless World Cup took place in Cardiff’s stunning Bute Park, from Saturday 27 July and Saturday 3 August. Over 500 players representing more than 50 countries attended the event, in what was one of the most inspiring tournaments yet.

Community coaches and support staff from all participating teams were invited to a two-part workshop by Healthy Stadia on ACE awareness and trauma-informed sports participation. Materials from the workshops will be made available to all participants in the near future.

For more information about Adverse Childhood Experiences and how your club can benefit from a trauma-informed approach to sports participation, please email: michael.viggars@healthystadia.eu

Michael Viggars
michael.viggars@healthystadia.eu

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