Sport has incredible potential for developing wellbeing in young people. And one of the great initiatives in modern times towards this goal has been the FAI’s Project FUTSAL. (Football Used Towards Social Advancement and Learning). The project has been operating in disadvantaged areas for more than a decade.

It is very closely aligned to the aims of Winning Minds and our goals towards wellbeing through education, employment, fitness and self development.

Project FUTSAL builds the confidence and self belief of participants through the medium of soccer and provides hope where once there was none.

Derek O Neill, FAI project manager, is responsible for its continued success. He is a graduate of the Ryan Academy at DCU with a Masters of Science – specializing in social enterprise and innovation through sports.

He has worked tirelessly over the years with the backing of the FAI to ensure the projects success. I asked him to tell us more about Project FUTSAL.

“Project FUTSAL is an initiative originally designed by the FAI and the Welsh Football Trust (WFT) and part funded through the Ireland Wales Inter Reg IVA Programme 2007-2013 under the theme of Sustainable Regeneration of Communities.

The programme is still running in Ireland and the FAI, Local Authorities and Education & Training Boards have teamed up to provide a unique opportunity for people who are unemployed and out of formal education to get involved in an innovative programme designed to help them back into the workforce or onto further education.

The overall aim of the project is to provide education and work opportunities for unemployed people and to influence and assist community regeneration via employment and volunteerism.

There are a number of Hubs across Ireland at the moment that  provide an academic year of adult education, personal development, football coaching, education and work/volunteer placements. Each hub caters for up to thirty participants from the local community, a mix of both men and women.  For more info click here

The main objectives of the hub programme are to increase participant’s employability and/or enhance their prospects of going onto further education. The extensive programme of football activity on the course, given its popularity and health benefits, has served to further incentivise potential participants to participate in the project.”

Financial Support

Participants may be entitled to certain financial support while on the programme and interested people should check with their local social welfare Intreo office, job center or Education & Training Board to see if they are entitled to support through existing schemes.

The project represents a great opportunity for people in designated areas who are unemployed to get involved in a project designed to broaden their education and help them back into the workforce.

The extra education qualifications and work experience gathered on the course should provide a real boost to a person’s CV when looking for a job or to progress their education.


A key element in the roll out of Project FUTSAL was to examine the impact of the project on participants and the communities in which the hubs were based.

The research was designed to specifically examine the impact and influence that football can have on social inclusion and the regeneration of communities.

This is perhaps the first time that a longitudinal study of it’s kind has been undertaken.

In this regard, the Football Association of Ireland and the Welsh Football Trust engaged the Department of Applied Social Sciences at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth to carry out the research on Project FUTSAL.

The research was conducted under the direction of Professor Maurice Devlin and his research team of Dr. Kathryn McGarry, Dr. Nuala Connolly and Dr. Morgan O’Brien.

Some highlights of the Research report are as follows;

Strengths of Project FUTSAL 

Based on the findings of this research, it is possible to identify a number of strengths of Project FUTSAL:

  • Positive outcomes for participants. As well as academic and sporting awards, improved levels of health and fitness in addition to improved confidence, self-esteem, motivation and subjective agency signifies improved wellbeing for participants.
  • Particularly strong in engaging participants – opening up of employment opportunities, personal development pathways including advancement to further education, contributing to improved agency and improved employability in the longer term.
  • The volunteer dimension of the programme has made a valuable contribution to community development and regeneration.

We wish Derek and the FAI every success in the future with their Project FUTSAL

DOK – Founder Wining Minds Movement