There's a new sport for kids with mobility issues, and it's awesome.

Think kids with disabilities aren’t cut out for soccer? Think again.

Remember the days of grass-stained shorts? Mud-caked cleats? Hours spent running around like a maniac while adults cheered?

Nothing says childhood like Saturdays on the soccer field. But for kids growing up with cerebral palsy and other conditions that limit mobility, soccer isn’t an option — right?

Wrong.


Kids with disabilities can tear it up on the field too — and an emerging version of soccer in the U.K. is out to prove it.

All photos from the Frame Football Facebook page, used with permission from Richard Seedhouse.

The name of the game is Frame Football, and even though it’s only been around for two years, the Frame Football movement is gaining serious momentum in England, Ireland, and Scotland.

It all started when a grassroots football club for kids with disabilities suddenly found itself with eight players who used walkers (“frames”).

This gave the U.K.-based Coundon Court Football Club an idea. For the first time ever, they hosted a game where all the kids on both teams used frames. Frame Football was born.

Before frame football, many “frame players” missed out on the action on the field, even in leagues for kids with disabilities. But when Frame Football started, those same kids got to be the all-stars.

The sport has become increasingly popular: Coundon Court Football Club even held its first ever Frame Football tournament last July.

“The game has gone mad,” says Richard Seedhouse, the sport's founder.

Watching Frame Football is pretty much just watching good old soccer, with a few rule exceptions.

For example, touching the ball with your hands is still off-limits, but using your frame to assist with dribbling is A-OK. And, of course, Frame Football involves a little extra equipment.

Most of the players use “reverse walkers,” which have no barriers in the front that would interfere with, say, a soccer ball. The frames are made of aluminum, which is lightweight but strong enough to provide posture support. And a bar in the back provides stimulus to the hip extensors, prompting the player to take that next step toward the goal.

Each child’s walker can also be equipped with grips, belts, and pads for additional support. Or they can be tricked out with heftier wheels for rougher terrain — it all depends on the child’s unique needs and what they want to do.

Frame Football is an awesome example of how kids of all abilities can do a whole lot — starting with a rough-and-tumble game of soccer.

When they’re out on the field, kids learn more than how to pass and dribble and wipe out gracefully (or not so much). They develop confidence. They start to see themselves as part of a community. And they might even realize they're stronger than they thought.

Those kinds of things tend to stick with kids when they’re growing up. All they need is a chance to step away from the sidelines and get into the game.

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Culture

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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