How to become a football freestyler
Rising star Lia Lewis is taking over TikTok
Have you ever heard of freestyle football? No, it’s not when footie players throw shapes to celebrate a goal, but rather the art of doing tricks with a football. Freestyle football is a sport in its own right, with around 10,000 people doing it professionally and competing in contests around the world.
But, like regular football, it’s very much a male-dominated sport, with an estimated 90:10 ratio of men to women (according to the World Freestyle Football Association) and just two competitions specifically for females. Undeterred by these facts, 24-year-old Lia Lewis is forging a path for fellow females in the sport. She qualified fourth in the world at Red Bull Street Style 2020 and just became Vice World Champion at the Super Ball 2021; she’s entertained the crowds at half-time shows for Chelsea, Tottenham and England; and she shares her tricks and tutorials with more than 2 million followers on TikTok and 119k on Instagram.
“The sport is still so unknown. Obviously, because there’s the word ‘football’ in the name, I think girls tend to think it’s not for them – that it’s more of a man’s sport – but it’s actually not at all… You can be a boy or a girl and have the same abilities to start out,” she told Metro.co.uk. “Since I’ve started, I’ve seen so many young girls pick up a ball and start doing freestyle tricks, so it’s definitely growing. Through social media, girls are starting to see that freestyle football is a thing. I get so many teenage girls messaging me and asking for tips.”
Lia has social media to thank herself, since it was an Instagram video of Jack Downer (@streetpanna) performing that inspired her to pick up a ball and start freestyling. Believe it or not, that was just three short years ago. Now the Londoner can do kick-ups, around the worlds and L-wheels standing on her head – sometimes quite literally.
It didn’t all happen overnight, of course. Once she’d discovered the sport, the ambitious athlete learned tricks from YouTube videos and started training in the evenings while working full time at a children’s fitness centre. Her success came from plenty of practice and dedication, as well as the flexibility and grace she’d developed throughout her years as a dancer.
“I danced ballet and contemporary for 18 years and always wanted to be a performer,” she said. “But I wanted to be free and independent. What I love about freestyle football is that you don’t have to pay for classes, you don’t need a teacher and your success is all down to how hard you work and how creative you can be.”
Today she calls freestyle football her full-time career, thanks to sponsorships, prize money and brand collaborations with the likes of Pringles, Adidas and Puma. Not only do these provide her with some income that allows her to dedicate five hours to training per day, they also make her and freestyle football more visible to young girls.
“I would love to see more girls get involved. If I had known about the sport years ago, I would have started then,” Lia added during her Metro.co.uk interview. “It can be tough at first and you might think tricks are impossible, but be confident and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t make it.”
What can we say? She’s a baller.
What got you into football freestyling?
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a performer and I came across some videos on social media of freestylers performing all around the world and I knew I wanted to learn it and give it ago.
Can you describe a typical workday for you?
I usually wake up around 7:30 and go to the pitch to film some content at 8:30 then after that I’ll go straight to the studio and train freestyle for up to 5 hours.
Where does your income come from?
So, it’s mainly from shows and commercials.
How do you handle working in such a male dominated industry?
I don’t really experience this; I feel like freestyle football is a very inclusive community and everybody has the same amount of chances to become successful.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement has to be becoming vice world champion this year at Superball in Prague.
How do you feel when you’re performing?
So being on stage and performing is one of the reasons I started freestyling so it really is one of the best feelings.