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Lioness Legend Casey Stoney On Giving All Kids The Opportunity To Try Football

Feeling the football fever after the Lionesses’ epic Euro 2022 win? If it’s inspired the kids in your family to give the game a go, former England captain Casey Stoney is all for it.

Basildon-born Stoney – who now lives in California, where she’s the head coach for San Diego Wave FC – says taking up football as a young girl “changed my life”.

And she doesn’t just mean setting her up for a career in the sport. “It gave me purpose,” she says, plus a long list of other positives.

“It gave me social skills, because I was working as part of a team. I had to manage my time, it gave me drive, it made me goal-set,” adds the 40-year-old, who has three children – seven-year-old twins Teddy and Tilly and four-year-old Willow – with her partner and fellow ex-footballer, Meg Harris. “It gave me so many transferable skills that I now use in my job.”

So it’s no surprise she’s passionate about encouraging kids to try it out. “Especially in this day and age, where there’s so much more access to technology.

Getting young people out doing an activity, exercising, even educating them about nutrition and things like that, becomes so important. Even just playing with your friends, it’s so important.”

She’s aware sports clubs can seem out of reach for many families. Stoney has teamed up with McDonald’s Fun Football programme, which is providing more than 10.5 million hours of coaching to kids aged five to 11 across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales over the next four years.

“I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. And from a gender point of view, it’s about equality. Boys and girls, all ability levels, socioeconomic backgrounds – it doesn’t matter,” Stoney says of the programme. “I think that’s so important to encourage more young children to play, and to know they can have free access, and that anyone can do it.”

Here, Stoney tells us more…

On the power of visibility

“Take this as an example: when my little boy was about three, I was still playing at the time, so we were going to women’s games all the time.

“We eventually ended up watching a men’s Premier League game and my son said to me: ‘Mummy, boys play too!’ I couldn’t believe he said it – but it just goes to show what happens.

If you’ve only ever been exposed to [one thing], that’s all you know. So it is about visibility. It’s about putting everybody in the arena.”

On just giving it a go

Casey stoney in action during a uefa 2017 qualifier
England’s Casey Stoney (R) in action during a UEFA 2017 qualifier (Nick Potts/PA)

“My advice [for families who are unsure how their kids will get on] would be: just give it a go. I’ve been to these sessions and the coaches are amazing. They’re so inclusive and so fun.

“How do you know what a kid can or can’t do unless you expose them to it and let them have a go? I’m a big believer in letting my kids try everything, and what they want to do, they’ll do.

If they don’t want to do it, it should be their choice. I’m just going to give them exposure to as much as I can.”

On doing it for fun

“I play tennis and I am dreadful! But I enjoy it – you don’t have to be the best. People join in for different reasons. If they’re making friends – brilliant. If they’re running around and getting exercise – brilliant.

“Don’t put pressure on them to be the next Premier League player – that’s when you can put kids off. Stand back as a parent, let them have fun.

If they’re still playing in 10 or 15 years’ time, and they’re still not good, but they’re still having fun and enjoying exercising, I’d call that a success.”

On sport for mental wellbeing

A mixed group of young children playing football in a playing field
Let kids discover the fun side of sports (Alamy/PA)

“I grew up in a difficult set of circumstances when I was very young, and I always say football was my sanctuary, the place I’d go where I was safe and could just enjoy it.

And it naturally makes you feel better, because of the endorphins and chemical responses within the body – so having a hobby in terms of sport, with the social aspect, the physical aspect, it has so many benefits.

“There are so many pressures on young people, so many expectations, demands – it’s not easy to grow up in the world we live in right now, so having sport and exercise for mental health and wellbeing is great. I’m 40 and I still use exercise for my mental health.”

Casey Stoney is an ambassador for McDonald’s Fun Football, the UK’s biggest free participation programme giving one million children access to free football over the next four years. Visit McDonalds.co.uk/Football

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