UEFA Playmakers: success stories from across Europe
Thursday, September 29, 2022
How is the Playmakers programme getting more girls into the game at a younger age?
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The UEFA Playmakers programme was launched in 2020, bringing together the magic of play and Disney storytelling with the latest research on the benefits of play-based learning.
Providing a fun and safe introduction to learning football for five-to-eight-year-old girls, Playmakers is now operating across 44 of UEFA's 55 national member associations, from Belfast to Baku. It teaches important movement and life skills, creates friendships and builds confidence in girls, offering the perfect environment to inspire a lifelong love of the game.
Playmakers also helps UEFA and its associations increase participation, change perceptions of the game and raise the overall standard of players, three key targets of our Time For Action women's football strategy. Below, we learn how four different associations are enjoying bringing movies like Moana, The Incredibles 2 and Frozen II into the sports halls and football pitches of Europe.
Romania's recent success
"As a girl, if I had a programme like this in kindergarten I would have been attracted to it. It's completely different from anything we had," smiles Romanian Football Federation (FRF) women's football development manager, Emma Barsan.
Romania launched the Playmakers initiative in February this year, solving a long-term problem of how to bring girls into the game. There are now 96 regional centres operating across the country.
"We didn't have anything similar for this age group, so when we received the information from UEFA, we knew we wanted to go for it," Barsan recalls. "Historically, football has been dedicated to the boys, so it was hard for us to convince people of a programme targeted to girls, but Playmakers allowed us to reach them in a way we couldn’t before.
"Now we want to attract more grassroots clubs. It's very important to create the link between schools and clubs so we can offer the girls a continuation of the programme. We need something to offer them once they finished the sessions when they want to continue playing football."
Latvia's football festivals
Romania can look to the Latvian Football Federation (LFF) for inspiration on tackling their next challenge. The LFF kicked off their Playmakers programme this spring in cooperation with local grassroots clubs, with close to 1,000 girls involved in the scheme across 30 regional training centres.
With such a large number of girls accessing a fun and safe introduction to football, the LFF were keen to build a more long-lasting connection with the group.
"We were thinking we've had a lot of girls come along to the sessions, but we didn’t want to lose connection. Our next Playmakers sessions were due to take place in September but, for the kids, three months is such a long time," explains grassroots manager Norberts Springis.
The solution? A series of summer football festivals, linked to the Playmakers programme, which introduced the concept of small-sided 2v2 and 3v3 games.
"Local clubs hosted the festivals as well as our grassroots coaching courses. It meant there was a really good opportunity for club representatives to attend the sessions and to give every girl a certificate," Springis says. "This is the perfect moment for the club representatives to talk, not with only the girls, but also with the parents about joining their club. The parents are always super happy because the girls were very physical and took part in lots of activities."
Republic of Ireland's moment of inspiration
"One of the issues we identified was that girls start playing football later than boys, at 10, 11, 12, and we need to get them in at five or six," says Football Association of Ireland (FAI) grassroots director Ger McDermott.
"When I first heard about Playmakers, I remember immediately thinking from a coaches' perspective, and as the person who leads the grassroots in the FAI, I wouldn’t know where to start – discomfort was my gut feeling."
His fears were soon allayed thanks to clear dialogue with UEFA and the perfect line delivered by one of the young Playmakers participants.
"We were doing some filming around the launch and had a female coach working with a group of kids from a club. She introduced one of the international players, Pearl Slattery, who was with us, saying, 'She's not a movie star, but she's a superstar.' One of the young girls put her hand up and said to Pearl, 'I'm going to race you, and I'm going to win!'.
"At that point, I realised we have to embrace this. The girl had walked in quite shyly, and 15 minutes later, after working with this coach, she had the confidence to take on an international player and all the concerns were removed. It was fantastic, and Playmakers has transformed our offering for young girls."
Austria benefitting from expert advice
Another advantage of Playmakers' innovative nature is the community of experts and coach educators that regularly come together to exchange experiences and best practice. This was plenty evident at UEFA's recent Grassroots Conference in Madrid, where technical development leaders came together to discuss the programme.
"It was a really good chance to come to a great event, and it's good to speak with other nations," explains Karin Gruber, Project Manager for Girls' and Women's Football at the Austrian Football Association.
"We can always learn from each other and at times if we are struggling, someone else has the experience and an answer to the problem. You don’t have to do everything new yourself. It's good to exchange experiences and learn from each other.
"UEFA has explained the programme and this new way of thinking very well and we fell in love with the project from the beginning. Keeping girls within the game is a big challenge but we have already seen a lot of positive feedback and have even had some teams created from girls who have come through Playmakers, so that's a really cool outcome."
A pathway for female coaches
Not only does Playmakers bring more female players into the game, it also attracts coaches who have not previously experienced a footballing environment.
"Given the age-group of the girls was 5-8, we knew that sports teachers from schools or kindergartens would be good with the kids," says Latvia's Springis. "We knew they had the knowledge of how to work with the children, we just had to help a little bit with the football side and introduce some games and what to do with the ball.
"We wanted one coach from a local team, one teacher from school or kindergarten and the third person had to be a female who was over the age of 16 from a local women's team - this arrangement was really good because we had both football knowledge and we also had knowledge of teaching."
In Ireland, there is a similar story. "With the Disney partnership, it's a totally different type of coaching," says the FAI's McDermott. "It's allowed us to bring in a different profile of coach into the game. We've had female schoolteachers – drama teachers, music teachers – coming in and they understand the power of the movie, the movie stars and bringing the characters to life.
"For us, it's about football creating the right environment to have more females in the game, on and off the pitch in any role. Walking into a football club can be pretty daunting if you've never been there before. For a female coach, it can be a daunting place, so it's opened the doors up a lot more."