UEFA and Disney have teamed-up to develop a ground-breaking football programme that uses Disney’s world-renowned storytelling to encourage more young girls to exercise regularly and kickstart a lifelong love of football.
Inspired by academic research showing the positive role of storytelling in helping children take up sport, Playmakers also aims to increase the proportion of girls meeting the World Health Organization’s minimum standards for physical activity – currently, just 16% (see WHO report).
Targeting 5-8 year-old girls not currently playing football, seven UEFA national associations including Belgium will be first to roll out “Playmakers” through schools, clubs and local communities. More associations are expected to introduce the programme later in the year.
Movement, teamwork, imagination
Unlike traditional football programmes, each of Playmaker’s ten initial training sessions follow the narrative of Disney and Pixar’s billion dollar global box office smash hit, Incredibles 2. Equipped with footballs, bibs and cones, trained coaches encourage participants to play the roles of popular characters, such as Elastigirl, Violet, Mr Incredible and Dash, bringing the film’s action scenes to life through movement, teamwork and their imagination.
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.
Katrien Jans, Manager Women’s Football Royal Belgian Football Association, commented: “Being one of the first countries to take part in this pan-European programme makes us very happy and proud. This project fits perfectly in our strategic plan ‘The World at our Feet’ which we recently launched in August. ‘Grow at te basis’ is one of our keypoints and with this project we hope to have many girls getting involved with our beautiful sport. It is fantastic that this project is destined for the very youngest. It is a group in which we see a lot of potential. Together with our ambitiions and our 30 amateur and grassroots clubs from all over the country, we will kick off this project in the next few months.”
Tine De Caigny, player of Belgian Red Flames, said: “What a great project this is! If we would have been backed by a similar project in our childhood we would have been able to play with and against girls’ teams from an earlier age and we would have been able to make bigger steps in our development as a player.”
Charlotte Tisson, who also plays with the Belgian Red Flames, added: “As a child everyone watched Disney. So did I. I am truly convinced that this magnificent project will encourage many young girls to get into football. I am delighted that the biggest company in its kind will support our beloved sport in such an original way.”
UEFA-funded research into play-based learning
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 English Football Association (FA), who are currently running the “Shooting Stars” programme in partnership with Disney.
Time for Action
Playmakers represents a first step toward achieving one of the main goals of “Time for Action” the UEFA Women’s Football Strategy – to double girls’ and women’s participation in football by 2024.
“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.”
Disney’s Healthy Living Commitment
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 region to get active, build their confidence and participate in playing football, all in an environment that has been specifically designed for them.”
Along with Belgium, Playmakerswill launch in Austria, Norway, Poland, Romania, Scotland, and Serbia this spring, before a full pan-European roll-out.