LONDON (AP) — Nadine Kessler's journey to the top of women's soccer had its challenges.
“Was it a struggle in the beginning to play with boys? Yes, it was,” the former world player of the year told The Associated Press. “It was not an easy entry route. I didn't have a lot of opportunities around to play with girls.
“I would probably have been curious to experience a different way.”
Now as head of women's soccer at European governing body UEFA, the former Germany midfielder is helping to change that. UEFA has linked up with Disney to encourage more girls — particularly those between the ages of 5 to 8 — to play the sport.
The Playmakers scheme will initially be implemented in schools, clubs and local communities in seven countries — Austria, Belgium, Norway, Poland, Romania, Scotland and Serbia — and extended across Europe throughout the year.
Training sessions will become an exercise in bringing scenes to life from the movie “Incredibles 2" using bibs, cones and — of course — soccer balls.
“We are embracing girls with different needs and encouraging them to take decisions, be strong and be confident,” Kessler said. “Not just to become maybe a great footballer but a great strong personality. I think this is also what football needs more: Great strong female individuals that are showing their greatness.”
It's not just about girls emulating the career of Kessler, the 2014 world and European player of the year who won titles with Germany, Wolfsburg and Turbine Potsdam.
“The most important thing is to drive participation,” she said. “Getting girls to fall in love with football and just to get them active in the first place, to enjoy sport.”
The coaching plan was developed after UEFA consulted research conducted by Leeds Beckett University in England, which hosts the women's European Championship in 2021.
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