Freestyle football TikTok star tackles fear of failure to inspire young girls

A TikTok creator is inspiring young women into freestyle football with her incredible tricks and tutorials – and she wants to get real about what it really takes to succeed.

Lia Lewis is one of only two female freestyle footballers in the UK and she’s recently surpassed 1 million followers on TikTok.

The Londoner only picked up a football for the first time two years ago, when she was 21, but after struggling to break into the world of dance, Lia decided to make freestyle football her new passion.

At the beginning, she didn’t even know how to do kick-ups, but just two years later, she can flip, jump and do walk-overs, all while maintaining perfect control of the ball.

Now, she wants to inspire other young girls to break into this overwhelmingly male sport. Currently, her audience is around 70% young girls, so she has already found a way to connect.

‘I had trained in dance for 18 years and I was just about to graduate, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after,’ Lia tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I was watching the women’s World Cup – I had never even watched football before – but I had friends who got me into it. I just thought – this looks pretty cool, and I wanted to do something completely different.

‘I had a friend who was a freestyler and he told me about all the opportunities in freestyle football and the fact that there are only a couple of female freestylers in the UK.

‘I knew I wanted to be a performer, but I just wasn’t really feeling it in dance.’

In fact, Lia had a really tough time in the dance world. Professional dance can be a punishing environment that is intensely competitive and notoriously difficult to break into.

Lia says the constant rejection she faced in auditions and the criticism from coaches really affected her self-esteem, so she knew she needed a change.

‘I don’t talk about my experiences of rejection much on my TikTok, or my Instagram, but I really did go through a lot with dance,’ Lia explains. ‘I think that’s why I wanted to do something completely different.

‘I didn’t have the personality or the character to be that strong to continue with dance in the face of so much rejection.

‘In dance, it was a lot about your appearance – how you look, what you eat, what you weigh. I just couldn’t handle the pressure or the stress of it, it just wasn’t for me.

‘Freestyle football is a much more welcoming world. It is for everyone. No matter what you look like, what shape or size you are, no matter where you come from. All you need is a football and shoes. You don’t even need shoes, you can be barefoot.

‘You don’t have to pay for it, you don’t have to pay for classes, you can learn tricks online, on YouTube and social media, I’m doing beginners tutorials on TikTok right now.’

It was the accessibility and openness of freestyle football that really attracted Lia. The fact that anyone could do it if they practised hard enough, stripped away a lot of the elitism that she saw in the dance world.

She wasn’t put off by the lack of women who were pursuing the sport professionally, rather Lia saw it as a challenge to bring more young girls with her, and raise awareness of this sport.

Ngl I was nervous doing this 😂

‘The sport is still so unknown,’ says Lia. ‘And obviously, because there’s the word “football” in the name, so 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.

‘Freestyle football is completely different from football, and you can be a boy or a girl and have the same abilities to start out.

‘Since I have started, I have seen so many young girls pick up a ball and start doing freestyle tricks, so it is definitely growing. Freestyle has really existed for about 15 years, so it’s very new.

‘Through social media, girls are starting to see that freestyle football is a thing, and I’m noticing it so much on TikTok and Instagram. I get so many teenage girls messaging me and asking for tips.’

Starting something completely new at the age of 21 and becoming professional in just two years might seem completely out of reach – but Lia says anything is possible if you try hard enough and if you have the right amount of passion.

‘At the start, I couldn’t do anything at all,’ she says. ‘But I just had a vision in my head, I had a goal of what I wanted to do and it just started from there.

‘You’ve got to be flexible as well to do freestyle, so in a way, girls have more chances of doing acrobatic tricks with their freestyle than boys do.

‘You don’t have to have a specific physique or specific skills to start with – that will come with training. But the more you practice the skills, the better you will get. For me, because I did so much dance and I also did some gymnastics, I’m very lucky because I can do stuff that people who have been training in freestyle for 10 years can’t do.

‘I can do walkovers and flips and stuff. But you can still learn that – it just came easier to me with my background. It seems impossible at the start because you can’t even do kick-ups. But it is true that with practice you can do anything.’

Before lockdown, Lia was living her dream performing her incredible freestyle sets in front of huge live audiences at the half-time shows for Chelsea and Tottenham.

With lockdown, she has taken her skills online. She misses the buzz of a live crowd, but she relished the fact that she can reach even more people through social media.

‘It’s hard in dance, there is so much rejection,’ says Lia. ‘In freestyle football there just isn’t that – I haven’t experienced rejection in the two years since I started. Freestyle gave me the freedom and independence that I desperately needed.

‘I get to train as much as I want by myself, there’s no one to tell me that I’m doing this or that wrong.’

But she does get it wrong. Of course she does. And she wants her fans to see that. Failure – and bouncing back from that failure – is an integral part of Lia’s journey in improving her freestyle skills. She believes that witnessing people fail and be honest about those failures can help her young protegees to build confidence.

‘A lot of the time on social media you only see perfect sets – a flawless freestyle routine,’ she tells us. ‘When I first started, seeing those perfect videos was disheartening, I just thought – there’s no way I can be that good. These people are perfect.

‘But everybody knows in freestyle you make the ball drop so many times. It’s just part of it. I show my fails now because I want people to know that this is the reality of it. I want it to be inspiring rather than alienating.

‘When you are first learning, and you can’t do anything, it’s so hard to build up the confidence. Even for me after so many hours of training, there are still simple tricks that I can’t do consistently. I want people to know that is completely normal, and I want the young girls who follow me to feel empowered even when they get things wrong.’

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