Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling: Uefa Disney Playmakers scheme opens up whole new football world to girls

Empowering schoolgirls through sport and play by pairing Predators with Princess Jasmine costumes is a wonderful thing, writes Laura Lawrence.

Source; @ScottishFA

My absolute favourite story this week has been in Scotland where a unique football coaching programme has been encouraging young girls to play football.

For the last 10 weeks, girls between the ages of five and eight have been bringing their inner Elsa and Elastigirl to the pitch on the Uefa Disney Playmakers programme.

The aim of the Uefa programme is to encourage girls who have no interest in football to give it a go. The hope is it will empower them “to be healthy and strong, make friends, build confidence and learn new skills for football and life.” Where do I sign? I’m limbering up in a pair of Predators and a Princess Jasmine costume now.

The programme, funded by the Scottish FA and run by the St Mirren Charitable Foundation, sets out sessions where coaching drills are set around scenes from Disney films. The girls are encouraged to work together, be brave and confident. It’s such a positive message to be conveying, especially when most messages to girls at that age – contrary to what boys are taught – are ‘be kind’, ‘smile’ and ‘think of unicorns and rainbows.’ Using characters that they know and love to inspire them into sport is a wonderful thing.

Football doesn’t feel as much of a hard sell anymore to young women. I used to be seen as the odd one who liked football at school. The one who spent far too much time dressed in a Sheffield Wednesday tracksuit and Puma King training kit.

Over the weekend we saw so many videos of parents taking their girls to the Women’s FA Cup Final for their first ever football match. The look of awe on their faces when they climbed the steps from the concourse to see the pitch for the first time brings back memories of my own experiences.

I remember doing that same walk to my seat in Hillsborough in the early 1990s; the sun on the stands and the rumble of pre-match chatter and chanting. It still gives me goosebumps to think about it.

The huge positive that has already come out of the Disney Playmakers programme is that St Mirren plan to launch a new girl’s academy from next season. It’s an investment in the girls of that community and possible players of the future. Even if they don’t become future Fran Kirbys, breaking the stigma that football is just the playground game for the boys is significant.

On the 100th anniversary of the ban on women’s football, to see such initiatives breeding further investment into the game is heartening to see.

If you need me, I’ll be on the recreation ground trying to figure out how to kick a ball dressed as Ariel, The Little Mermaid.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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