The Daily Telegraph

How I Move Lia Lewis

Freestyle footballer, 24, claimed the world title last weekend after leaving ballet background behind and hopes the sport could feature at future Olympics

- Lia Lewis was speaking to Vicki Hodges

After a year and a half of training every day for up to five hours, I started to find my way

Inever played football or any sports involving a ball when I was growing up. I was a ballet dancer for 18 years, studying at the Conservato­ire of Ballet and Contempora­ry in London. But once I finished the course, I decided I did not want to be a dancer any more. It was when I came across freestyle videos on social media I knew straight away that is what I wanted to do in life, and began practising my first kick-ups in August 2018.

I was terrible to start with. I had no talent whatsoever.

It took me a long time to learn how to do kick-ups. But I did do gymnastics when I was younger, so naturally I am quite flexible. After a year and a half of training every day for two to five hours, I started becoming consistent with my tricks, and that is when I started creating my own style, and finding my way.

I have had to pinch myself every five minutes since winning the Red Bull Street Style Championsh­ip last weekend.

As soon as I got on stage in Valencia, people were shouting my name. I was nervous, but the crowd gave me such confidence. I find it overwhelmi­ng to read messages of support on social media and how people have been rooting for me. To think I am inspiring other people is the best feeling.

When I am not preparing for competitio­ns I often train for up to five hours a day.

One of my favourite tricks is a “bridge-stool”. It is when I make a bridge and then balance the ball on my foot. I thought freestylin­g would be impossible when I started, and I could not believe how people did it. But I started doing handstands against the wall and balancing a ball on my foot – that took me three months to learn. Holding the position is the hardest part, that is when you need the flexibilit­y.

When I started three years ago there were only two other women profession­als in the UK, which surprised me. Freestyle is really accessible, all you need is a ball. I want more people to get involved – especially girls. Dancing is completely different to freestyle. When you are dancing you are showing yourself to the audience. In freestyle, you are looking down at your feet so it is a different art. Dance has helped in some ways because I know how strict I have to be with myself and how hard I have to work to get to the top. I have carried that mentality into freestyle.

People have different opinions about freestyle. Some, who don’t understand the sport, might think “what’s the point of it?”

If you are not scoring goals, or becoming really famous and earning lots of money, then why are you doing it? The main thing for me is to reach the other side of the audience and that they can see this girl on stage, performing in the battles and doing lots of cool tricks.

There are a couple of freestyler­s who have inspired me.

One is Jack Downer and he does a lot of street football, which is a different form of freestyle. He has given me a lot of advice. Then there’s Scott Penders, who has also been supportive. We’re very good friends.

It would be incredible if freestylin­g became a part of the Olympics.

I know there’s a lot of work to get it there, especially in the judging criteria. Every freestyler is so different from one another, so how can you judge at an Olympic level? I believe it will happen one day, but maybe I will be too old by then. If that’s the case, I’ll still be rooting for the others.

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 ?? ?? Trickster: Lia Lewis performs for her Instagram followers; (top right) celebratin­g winning the world final with Erlend Fagerli
Trickster: Lia Lewis performs for her Instagram followers; (top right) celebratin­g winning the world final with Erlend Fagerli

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