UEFA and Disney launch Incredible initiative to help more girls play football through PlayMakers

PlayMakers employs innovative storytelling approach featuring much-loved Disney characters to help more girls see the fun in regular physical exercise and football

Playmakers' initial training sessions follow the narrative of Incredibles 2
Playmakers' initial training sessions follow the narrative of Incredibles 2 ©Getty Images

005 - PlayMakers initial training sessions follow narrative of Incredibles 2

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 –Scotland, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Romania, and Serbia – will 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 Playmakers 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.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin and UEFA's Head of Women's Football Nadine Kessler join youngsters to celebrate the programme
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin and UEFA's Head of Women's Football Nadine Kessler join youngsters to celebrate the programme©Getty Images

“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 Head of Women’s Football.

“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 PlayMakers rolls out across Europe, new Disney storytelling will be added to the programme.


Creating an environment for girls to flourish

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.

We will give any girl the best possible opportunity to fall in love with football - Nadine Kessler
We will give any girl the best possible opportunity to fall in love with football - Nadine Kessler©Getty Images

“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,” said Kessler.

“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.”


UEFA-funded research into play-based learning

An exciting initiative to introduce girls to football
An exciting initiative to introduce girls to football©Getty Images

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

Popular Disney characters Minnie and Mickey Mouse were on hand to kick off the programme
Popular Disney characters Minnie and Mickey Mouse were on hand to kick off the programme©Getty Images

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.”

Parents interested in learning more about PlayMakers can visit www.uefa.com/playmakers.

Download PlayMakers research material and visual assets here.


Note to editors:
some of Europe’s leading footballers are supporting the Playmakers programme.

Serbian national team and Manchester United FC player Nemanja Matić, who has two daughters and a son:

 “When I see football or Disney in the same sentence, it puts a smile on my face. When I was a kid, I often used all my time between football to watch Disney movies and today I do the same with my children. 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.“

Scotland national team and Chelsea FC striker Erin Cuthbert:

 “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 21. When I was younger, this is definitely something I would loved 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.”