UEFA and Disney have announced a new partnership that will see the pair launch Playmakers - a grassroots programme for girls across Europe.
The programme is developed for girls, aged 5-8 years of age, who are not currently playing football, and will encourage girls to mimic the roles of Violet Parr and Elastigirl from Disney and Pixar’s Incredibles 2, as they bring the film’s action scenes to life through movement, teamwork and their own imaginations.
The scheme will be rolled out by seven national associations, including Scotland, initially, with more joining in the coming months, while UEFA says the programme comes as a result of a knowledge-transfer partnership with The FA, which has already launched a similar programme of its own in partnership with Disney.
In collaboration with the Youth Sport Trust and the National Literacy Trust, the FA’s programme uses Disney storytelling to inspire girls aged 5-11 to get active.
UEFA’s programme will see trained coaches encourage participants to play the roles of popular characters, bringing the film’s action scenes to life while also contributing to increase the proportion of girls who meet the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards for physical activity. At present, the WHO says just 16% of girls in this age group meet even the minimum standard.Disney has a long-standing commitment to healthy living, using its storytelling to get families more active. Outside of its work with the FA and UEFA, it has also partnered with the likes of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign to encourage mothers to get active with their children by dancing along to songs from Disney films.
“This brilliant Playmakers initiative is another great example of Disney’s long-term commitment to help future generations lead healthier lifestyles,” said Nicole Morse, Vice President of Integrated Marketing, Disney EMEA. “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.
“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.”
Built on research from Leeds Beckett University, which was commissioned by UEFA, the Playmakers programme addresses the findings that play-based education, designed to empower girls and help them to learn new skills, has a positive impact on development. The research also reviewed what motivates young girls to participate in sport and identifies best practice coaching methods to create a safe learning environment.
The novel project aims to contribute to UEFA’s ‘Time for Action’ objective of doubling girls’ and women’s participation by 2024 and could ensure girls are introduced to the sport in a positive way at a young age, but will also aim to aid development in other ways.
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 will put the emphasis on making sport fun.
“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, Head of Women’s Football, UEFA.
“By taking that Disney magic, and implementing the first-ever pan-European girls’ grassroots football programme, we will give any girl the best possible opportunity to fall in love with football.
“As a playmaker on the pitch, you have all the possibilities to shape the game around you, to be creative from so many different perspectives.
“We want girls to have the same feeling and be encouraged to create their own game and make their own decisions. This is exactly what this programme is about – creating an environment for all girls to flourish and develop, whether that be fundamental movement skills, football basics or life skills and values. We truly believe that this unique programme can be the spark for a more active generation of football-loving girls.”
The scheme is also supported by Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic and Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert.
“When I see football or Disney in the same sentence, it puts a smile on my face,” said Matic. “I hope this project will encourage young girls to get involved in football, and if they wish to do so, as a father and professional athlete I will give all my support.“
Cuthbert, meanwhile, added: “I absolutely love Disney, even at the age of 21. When I was younger, this is definitely something I would love to have been a 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 and playing in a boys team.
“Using Disney will not only make football even more enjoyable for girls 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.”