Research – Barchi examines improving adult women’s emotional health in rural Kenya through community soccer and social support

January 12, 2023


This study examines the contribution of a recreational adult women’s soccer league in rural Kenya to the development goals of enhancing social support, building community cohesion, and improving women’s emotional health. Using a sequential explanatory mixed methods approach, 702 members of a women’s health and literacy program, 229 of whom played in the program’s soccer league, completed surveys about various aspects of their lives. A five-item scale, perceived support from friends (PSF), queried women’s access to emotional and instrumental support; an exploratory factor analysis confirmed this scale’s suitability as a single measure. Bivariate and multivariate analyses examined attributes associated with PSF. Based on these findings, a purposive sample of 229 soccer league members participated in focus group discussions. Women’s perceptions were examined using thematic analysis. Quantitative findings indicated that soccer league members had greater odds of reporting high social support than their non-soccer-playing peers. Qualitative findings from the final analysis sample of 201 women suggested that soccer provided a social space in which team members formed a network of friendships within and across villages, providing emotional and instrumental support they associated with decreased stress and improved well-being. Given the positive effects of soccer on adult women’s lives, similar programs, particularly in rural settings with limited resources, should be considered as development strategies.


Social support has been widely recognized for its positive effects on health and well-being. Recreational team sports, while often adopted as strategies to build social support and enhance well-being among adolescent girls and young women, have to date been underutilized as a sport-for-development intervention to improve the emotional health and well-being of adult women, particularly in lower- and middle-income countries. Evidence from this study suggests that adult women’s participation in recreational soccer is positively associated with perceived social support from friends, and that participation in team sports directly contributes to building friendships and social support which, in turn, reduce stress and anxiety in women’s daily lives. Given the popularity of soccer in many parts of the Global South and the low costs associated with initiating such programs in rural areas, gender-development programs should consider introducing recreational soccer activities for adult women in under-resourced settings where more complex and costly initiatives may be difficult to implement or sustain.


Barchi, F., AbiNader, M.A., Winter, S.C., Obara, L.M., Mbogo, D., Thomas, B.M., & Ammerman, B. (2022). Improving adult women’s emotional health in rural Kenya through community soccer and the role of social support: A mixed-methods analysis. Journal of Sport for Development. Retrieved from

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