Girls across Northern Ireland are being encouraged to kickstart a lifelong love of football through a ground-breaking new football programme from UEFA and Disney.
Using Disney’s world-renowned storytelling and inspired by academic research showing the positive role of storytelling in helping children take up sport, PlayMakers aims to increase the proportion of girls meeting the World Health Organization’s minimum standards for physical activity – currently just 16%
Targeting girls aged five to eight who are not currently playing football, the Irish FA is joining 22 other UEFA national associations in committing to roll out Playmakers through schools, clubs and local communities. More associations are expected to introduce the programme in the coming years.
Unlike traditional football programmes, each of PlayMakers’ 10 initial training sessions follow the narrative of billion-dollar global box office smash hits like Disney’s Frozen II and Disney and Pixar’s Incredibles 2.
Equipped with footballs, bibs and cones, trained coaches encourage participants to play the roles of popular characters, such as Elastigirl and Elsa and Anna, bringing the films’ action scenes to life through movement, teamwork and their imagination.
Gail Redmond, Women’s Football Development Officer at the Irish FA, said: "Joining this pan-European programme is a statement of intent for football in Northern Ireland. If we are to truly commit to bringing more girls into the sport, we need to be aware of the circumstances and the environment that will make that possible.
“Research shows that by taking a story-led approach to coaching, and by being collaborative and non-competitive, interest in participation increases. Our coaches are committed to embracing the programme and we look forward to rolling out sessions across the country in 2021.
“Naturally, we are also hoping our senior women’s team’s success in reaching UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 following two fantastic wins against Ukraine in the play-offs earlier this month will also boost participation levels.”
As PlayMakers rolls out across Europe, new Disney storytelling will be added to the programme.
In its early sessions PlayMakers focuses on building girls’ confidence in their movement, encouraging creative thinking and communicating easily with their friends. Later sessions introduce girls to basic football skills, but the programme continues to put the emphasis on making sport fun.
Northern Ireland Women's captain Marissa Callaghan said: “This latest initiative from Disney and UEFA is fantastic and offers a new way for children to begin playing football. I absolutely love Disney, even at the age of 35, and when I was younger this is definitely something I would loved to have been part of.
“I can see a huge difference now in terms of the number of young girls taking part in football from when I was growing up. Using Disney will not only make football even more enjoyable for them at a young age but will also hopefully increase participation levels even more. I can’t wait to see the positive effect that this programme will have across Northern Ireland.”
The play-based learning at the heart of PlayMakers’ unique approach follows a literary review by Leeds’ Beckett University in England which was commissioned by UEFA.
The review assessed academic research into what motivates young girls to participate in sports, identifying best practice coaching methods to create a safe learning environment. Its findings put particular emphasis on the benefits of play-based education.
The programme is also the result of a knowledge-transfer partnership with the Football Association in England (FA), who are currently running a Shooting Stars programme in partnership with Disney.
PlayMakers represents a first step towards achieving one of the main goals of Time for Action - the UEFA Women’s Football Strategy, which is to double girls’ and women’s participation in football by 2024.
“If you’re going to teach football through the power of storytelling and play, you have to do it with the best stories and characters in the world, and Disney is the perfect partner for this,” said Nadine Kessler, UEFA Chief of Women’s Football.
“It is UEFA’s duty as European football’s governing body to empower girls to play the game,” added UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin. “Through this partnership with Disney, we will open up football to an audience not yet engaged with our sport.”
Across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Disney has a long-standing Healthy Living Commitment, using its storytelling to get families more active and working to educate and inspire children about healthy eating.
This has led to a variety of partnerships on inspirational campaigns, such as Public Health England’s 10 Minute Shake Up which inspired two million kids to get active and register more than 100 million extra minutes of physical activity.
In Poland, Disney launched its successful #GetMovingWithDisneyJunior initiative, a campaign spearheaded by local sporting champions, which reached more than 30,000 youngsters. The campaign involved the creation of more than 30 films, which featured children exercising alongside Disney Junior characters.
Nicole Morse, Disney EMEA’s Vice President of Integrated Marketing, said: “This brilliant PlayMakers initiative is another great example of Disney’s long-term commitment to help future generations lead healthier lifestyles.
“By using our much-loved characters and stories as a force for good we can really make a difference and inspire families and children to be more active.
“So we’re very proud that by partnering with UEFA on the first pan-European girls football programme we will encourage more and more girls across the continent to get active, build their confidence and participate in playing football, all in an environment that has been specifically designed for them.”
Parents interested in PlayMakers can visit http://www.uefa.com/playmakers