‘The best thing I’ve done’ – F365 award winner on the impact of MAN v FAT

Harry De Cosemo
Sponsored Post
Damon Stevens shows off his award
MAN v FAT Coach of the Year winner Damon Stevens with Neil Ruddock

Football isn’t just a game and it never has been. There are so many examples of how it can have a profoundly positive impact on people’s lives. Like Damon Stevens, the winner of the MAN v FAT Coach of the Year, an award sponsored by Football365.

MAN v FAT Football is a male-only weight loss football league and mental health support group, with football-based weight loss incentives. Not only do performances on the pitch impact results, but how much you lose weight does too; if two players drop some pounds, it counts as a goal.

There aren’t many more dedicated to MAN v FAT than Stevens, who joined as a player in 2018 with his brother with the aim of losing six stone to donate a kidney to his father. After a difficult spell away from the programme due to the COVID lockdown, a club opened up close to his home in Maidstone. Six weeks later, he was named coach.

“I always loved playing, but coaching is the best thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “Everyone joins for a different reason. Some people want to lose weight, some need mental health support, some just want to get out the house. You get people from different walks of life, who would never talk to each other normally. They mix at MAN v FAT. Whatever the reason, it is important to them. It is a safe space, you can struggle.”

Stevens was chosen as the overall winner from one of three regional coach award winners at the ceremony at the National Football Museum. Football365 were in attendance to present his award as part of a fantastic evening that saw 18 awards handed out in total.

Neil Ruddock co-hosted and regaled the audience with stories of his football career and his own battles with weight over the years, while The Traitors’ finalist Andrew Jenkins spoke about his own passion around men’s wellbeing, following a road accident that changed the direction of his life.

Speaking to Stevens after the event, he was rather sheepish when asked what swung the Coach of the Year award his way.

“I try to go to any MAN v FAT event because I love it. I love what it stands for. Me and my partner, who is my assistant went to the awards to meet the other people. I don’t just wait for our Friday sessions. I’ve already spoken to three of my guys this morning, giving feedback. It never stops, I can’t picture a day without it.

“When they called out my name, it was surreal, I never thought we’d win. We even practiced our ‘congratulations clap’ for everyone else and didn’t prepare a speech. I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do; it was the best decision I’ve made.”

‘One of the most rewarding things’

But Stevens says winning has only made him more determined to make a difference in the lives of his players whom he shares an “emotional connection” with.

“I’ve got a really good family unit: me, my partner, her daughter and my daughter. But lockdown was a struggle; we did an online challenge so we could stay connected, but it was still missing that thing of seeing a face in person.

“[Helping people] is one of the most rewarding things,” he says. “I’m a people person, but when they achieve, it is what they have done, not what we have done. What is important to them is important to me. I don’t think you can be a MAN v FAT coach if you’re not that guy; you’ll get found out. The players are most important.

“I feel like I have to step up to be deserving of the award; I have to up my game. I don’t know what is next, but I could never leave my players. I have such an emotional connection with them.”

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Stevens adds that not everybody finds settling into MAN v FAT easily, and understanding the personal nuance of his players is a huge part of how he works. Not lecturing is vital.

“Sometimes being in the MAN v FAT bubble, you can forget how difficult it is to start something. We want to make it as easy as possible; once they are in, they are safe. We have players who need time away because the scales can be repetitive and that can affect them. But they always come back; MAN v FAT is getting bigger and bigger.

“I never look at myself as being anything extraordinary. I come from a big family, I’ve got nine siblings, I’ve done many jobs. All of that has played a part so I can do this role. I can relate to people and their needs; if someone is struggling, that is where I’m best. I’m in contact with players from clubs all over; there is something in me that understands. It is about letting people be heard.

“We never tell people off for not losing weight or tell them what they should be eating. If they need a quiet chat, I’m always available for the players. Everything stops for them.”

There is one main aim for Stevens and his colleagues: to grow MAN v FAT even more. He wants it to rival more mainstream weight loss programmes like WeightWatchers and Slimming World soon.

“MAN v FAT should be much bigger, everyone should know about it, it is amazing. Everyone knows about WeightWatchers and Slimming World; MAN v FAT should be like that.”

Join MAN v FAT today

There are now 150 MAN v FAT clubs across England, an ever-growing number. And MAN v FAT are offering Football365 readers a discount on new memberships – simply add the promo code ‘F365’ to see the cost reduced from £9.99 to £3.65.

Stevens is glad there is a place for more and more men to open up, having experienced how difficult that has been.

“Men are unrepresented. I’ve been the only man at Slimming World; it is not the same. People say there should be WOMAN v FAT, and I’m sure it’ll come. But I think it is brilliant that we do something for men. Being a man, it has always been a struggle to say how I feel.

“How they look impacts people, but they can’t say it out loud. At MAN V FAT, they can. It is great that men have a place to go; there are probably more mental health success stories than weight loss ones.”

Stevens says he struggled to explain why he was the MAN v FAT Coach of the Year, but we here at Football365 say it’s pretty damn obvious. And we’re proud to have sponsored the Coach of the Year award for the second year in a row and look forward to continuing to tell the fantastic stories of MAN v FAT’s members as part of our partnership.

MAN v FAT are offering Football365 readers a discount on new memberships – simply add the promo code ‘F365’ to see the cost reduced from £9.99 to £3.65.