Premier League Football Apprentices Learn to 'Play Safely'

The Premier League runs Apprenticeships in each of its 20 clubs and has a total of 380 young men training in their academies. Following a successful pilot initiative, the Premier League has contracted Oldham Health Improvement Service to deliver two 90-minute sexual health sessions to all new Apprentices for the next two years.

The programme is important for Apprentices who are often living away from home for the first time, and who, because of their high-profile profession, are in the public eye and vulnerable to social pressures. The sessions have been adapted by the sexual health promotion workers so that they are engaging for the young players and expressed in their language. The young men's existing knowledge is assessed using a competitive 'pub quiz' and practical activities including beer goggles, condom demonstration and models to practise checking for testicular cancer. In recognition of the temptation and scrutiny that players experience, discussions take place about reputation, personal responsibility, legal aspects of consent and use of social networking sites.

Chlamydia testing is offered at the end of each session and uptake has been evaluated. Prior to one session, 26 per cent of students said that they were unwilling, or not sure about taking a test. Following the sessions, 90 per cent of students took the test. The main reason given for those not taking up the test was that they had recently taken one. Just below 7 per cent of the tests were positive; slightly lower than the national average of 10 per cent.

Beyond the elite group of Apprentices, there are wider benefits. The young men appreciate that they can be positive role models, and some clubs have publicised the chlamydia testing initiative through press releases and articles in Match Day programmes. Press coverage has been very positive.

The partnership between health and sport has also helped the two worlds to understand each other better and find new ways of promoting sexual health with hard-to-reach groups, including football supporters. The footfall of each Premier League club stretches far beyond the PCT in which it is located so it has been important to work across boundaries. As a national Apprenticeship provider it has been helpful for the Premier League to create a centralised contract for the sexual health sessions. All partners are optimistic that these sessions will be a permanent feature of the Apprenticeship programme.

For more information contact: Martyn Heather Email: mheather@premierleague.com

More case studies on this theme can be found in the Sex Education Forum briefing Foundation Learning and Apprenticeships (2010).