BigShot Q&A: StreetWise Soccer Managing Director – Kevin Tasker

StreetWise Soccer Managing Director Kevin Tasker discusses the ins-and-outs of street soccer and his organization
by Herb Scribner   |   Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kevin Tasker - Managing Director of StreetWise Soccer

Kevin Tasker is the Managing Director of StreetWise Soccer, an organization based in the United Kingdom that hosts various street soccer events. Along with basic freestyle soccer, SWS hosts a variation of the sport called Panna (which relies heavily on the nutmeg move). SWS organizes several public and private events in the UK.

 

Can you talk a little bit about StreetWise Soccer (SWS) and what you do?

KT: StreetWise Soccer is a UK-based company delivering street soccer and freestyle football events, tournaments, youth projects and camps. Street Soccer & Freestyle Football are two forms of football that are quite different from the norm, in that they focus more so on individual skills rather than teamwork – street soccer is all about quick feet and ground move combinations to beat your opponent with panna’s (playing the ball through your opponents legs) whilst freestyle football is more about keeping the ball in the air using any part of the body with incredible skill.

We work with and employ many fantastic street players who work with us to deliver our activities, some of whom feature as in-game characters within the brand new FIFA Street video game. Alongside the fantastic street players, we also utilize a range of mobile street soccer arenas and cages, allowing us to deliver 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 street soccer games almost anywhere!

What’s the overall goal for SWS?

KT: The overall goal of StreetWise Soccer is to promote a more fun, creative and skillful version of the game, which ultimately helps develop better soccer players, but more importantly gives children and young people a more positive and enjoyable experience when playing the game. We also use street soccer to work with young people in deprived communities, giving them something positive to do rather than commit petty crime or anti-social behavior.

How was SWS created?

KT: StreetWise Soccer was formed out of a community project delivered by a local junior football club [that] aimed at providing positive experiences for local young people after a local young man tragically lost his life in a fatal stabbing incident. Since then we have engaged thousands of young people within our youth projects to show them a better way of life, whilst also showing them a better way of playing soccer!

What are some problems or issues SWS faces day-to-day?

KT: One of the main issues or problems we face at StreetWise Soccer are the traditionalist attitudes to street soccer and freestyle football in the UK, with many people set in their ways about how football should be played in the traditional UK ‘kick and rush’ style. What we do is so different to the norm that it is sometimes difficult to convince people that this is the way forward before they have seen us in action – but once they have been to a street soccer event or youth session we normally have people convinced! We also face difficulties with the UK economy as the majority of our income comes from local government bodies, many of whom have had their spending budgets cut.

Can you share some special moments you’ve seen during your time with SWS?

KT: We’ve had so many special moments with StreetWise Soccer that it would be difficult to share all of them. However, a few do stand out. One special moment would be our street soccer coach Sean Thompson, who has been with us since the beginning, winning the UK Panna Championships in London and representing the UK at the European championships in Amsterdam. He had practiced and worked so hard to develop his skills that seeing him win was particularly special. From a business point of view, two events which stand out are delivering a three-day street soccer exhibition at the Grass Roots Football Show the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham (we were by far the most popular activity across the whole 3 days) and the final of our national 3v3 Street Soccer Championships which was held right outside the most iconic and famous soccer arena in the world, Wembley Stadium!

SWS is based out of the UK Any chance of heading over to North America?

KT: We would love to deliver some work in North America!! If there are any clubs or organizations out there who would like to work with us to deliver street soccer camps, tournaments or roadshows we would be delighted to come over!!

How would you describe Panna and that unique style of soccer to a fan that isn’t familiar with the game?

KT: Street Soccer is a form of football that promotes creativity and individual skill within small-sided games. Panna is a street soccer game that we play which pits two players against each other in a 1v1 skills battle, with the aim of the game being to skillfully play the ball through their opponents’ legs, a move which we call ‘Panna’! We also incorporate rhythmic and urban music to help players play with more freedom, to a point where they are almost dancing with the ball at their feet. Street players practice for hours every day coming up with different ground move combinations to try and beat their opponent with their unbelievable skills! Panna can literally be played anywhere – all you need is a friend and a ball!

Did SWS create the Panna game? How did using the nutmeg/the game of Panna develop?

KT: StreetWise Soccer did not create the Panna game – it originated in Holland, with Panna being the Dutch / Surinamese term for ‘tunnel’. The game was developed by street players playing on the streets of Holland using their own imagination and creativity – something we promote to youngsters within our own sessions were we ask them to come up with new rules within their own games!

SWS puts on Panna events, freestyle soccer, etc. Which of these is your favorite event and why?

KT: We put on a mix of different events with all these styles usually coming together. For example, within many of our events this summer we will be playing 3v3 Street Soccer on our inflatable pitches, 1v1 Panna in our mobile Panna Cage and Freestyle skills coaching with our in-house freestyle performers. Our two favourite events are the youth projects we deliver during the evenings using the Panna Cage and the larger one-day events and tournaments with young people in different parts of the UK

SWS specializes in a freestyle, unorthodox style of soccer. Do you think there’s something for the pros to learn from these styles?

KT: I think so, especially in the UK we have a traditional, direct style of football here many foreign people call ‘Kick & Rush’, where we tend to get the ball up-field to a big striker as soon as possible. Whilst this works in certain situations, you only have to look at the best national and club teams in the world at the minute to see that football is changing. Spain and Holland reached the World Cup Final in 2010 whilst Barcelona has dominated club football for the last 5-6 years playing a fantastic style of football. I personally feel that a lot of players would prefer to play like this; however, the ability to play with this creative freedom needs to be honed at a young age with coaches encouraging their young players to use and develop their skills, rather than just focusing on winning the game.

Which soccer style – Panna, street soccer, freestyle soccer – do you feel is the most popular with the general public/players when they’ve had a chance at them all?

KT: I think it varies with what they are looking for. In terms of watching as a spectator, then Freestyle Football would certainly be the most popular as it is more about entertaining a crowd rather than competing against an opponent, although there are now a number of fantastic freestyle battle competitions across the world now. When we deliver public participation events such as fan zones at a soccer stadium, they love the 1v1 Panna Cage as it just so different from what they are used to!

What is the overall reaction from spectators on SWS events?

KT: The reaction is fantastic from spectators and participants. In 2011, we delivered a three-day event at the Grass Roots Football Show at the Birmingham N.E.C. in the UK, which is the largest football exhibition in Europe with a wide range of other exhibitors demonstrating their products or services. We were by far the most popular activity of the weekend, engaging over 6,000 children and thousands more spectators with our tournaments, demo games and freestyle performances.

Do the majority of members for SWS prefer a technical or fluid, creative style of play for professionals?

KT: Yes most definitely. We each have our own teams that we support, which will never change as we are so passionate about our respective clubs, however, we all admire teams such as Arsenal FC and FC Barcelona who try to play creative, fluid and skillful football.

Has SWS created any new soccer fans? If so, can you share a great story?

KT: I think most young people in the UK love soccer but the great thing about street soccer is that it is much more inclusive to those who might be less interested at the beginning or haven’t played before. The music makes it much more fun and there is less of a focus on winning the game and more on the enjoyment of the experience.

What’s the appeal of doing something with SWS opposed to someone working on their own? Why should a group go to one of your events if it’s something they can do on their own? What makes SWS special in that regard?

KT: First of all as a company we hold a wide range of specialist mobile pitches and cages which we use to deliver our events and projects so that sets us apart from a normal football coaching company or organization, who tend to rely on the usual kit of bibs, balls and marker cones. Also our coaches and performers become role models and idols for the participants due to their incredible level of creative skill, making the event much more attractive to young people. We do something completely different and work with young people in a more sociable and friendly level, offering them a soccer experience that they have never experienced before, with all our events are focused on providing an enjoyable and fun experience for the participants first and foremost.

We encourage all groups who come to our events to take the experience with them and play street soccer in their own school or club and we support that through accredited street soccer coaching awards and supplying our specialist equipment for sale. We want to create a street soccer revolution in the UK and abroad through a network of organizations embracing street soccer!

Your website lists some of the staff as performers. Is SWS solely for entertainment? Or is it to grow these styles of the sport?

KT: No. Our Freestyle Football performers in the main are there to deliver entertaining performances for corporate clients; however, the aim of our street soccer players and events are to engage young people in a positive activity whilst also getting the message across to players and coaches that the development of creative skills are essential for the future of our game and that anyone, with determination and practice can attain these skills.

It says on the website that freestylers are available for hire. What’s the benefit of hiring a freestyler for an event?

KT: Our freestylers are available for hire across the world, putting on extraordinary performances for a wide range of clients. Whether a client wants to entertain their guests or promote their brand through live events or in the media, a Freestyle Footballer is the perfect ambassador for any organization as their incredible skills showcase not only their talent and ability but also the dedication and hard work they have put in to achieve that level, in a very entertaining and visually appealing manner.

Who is the best freestyler in the world today?

KT: There are many outstanding freestylers in the world today with a variety of different styles including Skora (Poland), Gautier and Sean (France), Azun (Norway) and Palle (Sweden) to name a few, however, I think the best freestyler today and in the history of freestyle is a young man from the UK called Andrew Henderson. Andrew recently won the Freestyle Football Federation World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, the UK Red Bull Street Style competition and our own StreetWise Freestyle UK Championships. His style is effortlessly smooth with a huge range of both hardcore and entertaining tricks. Plus, he’s a really down to earth and nice guy!

Does the internet help the freestyling movement progress more rapidly than it could’ve done say 20 years ago?

KT: Massively. Freestylers share training videos online and help each other to progress so it creates a real community which promotes the growth of the sport. We will soon be launching our own online Street Soccer & Freestyle Football tutorial series called the ‘Street Skills Academy’ with youngsters gaining access to professional video tutorials from real street players and freestylers. This will be available from our website www.streetwisesoccer.co.uk. from May 25, 2012.

How many SWS performers are current or professional soccer players?

KT: None. All our performers are professional street players or freestylers but one play in the professional game.

Which pros do you think could cut it at freestyling if they wanted to?

KT: There are quite a few out there! For example, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Joe Cole, Ronaldinho, Neymar and Nani all have shown their freestyle skills during pre-match warm ups or in TV commercials.

Are freestylers more likely to have played futsal, outdoor or both?

KT: Freestylers do not tend to play futsal as it is more of an individual rather than team sport. However, street soccer players play their games with a Futsal ball and tend to play wherever they can find a space i.e. park, outdoor soccer court, the streets!

Some outdoor players age out in their early to mid-30s or so, goalkeepers a little later. In freestyle, what is the age you can see a decline and the age that many give it up due to changes in their body?

KT: I think the optimum age for a freestyler is the early to mid-20s, especially for the more advanced hardcore tricks. However, there are older freestylers who continue to perform at a high level. The good thing about freestyle and street soccer is that the sports keep advancing and growing, with the younger performers continuously pushing their older counterparts.

How many hours a day does a professional freestyler practice?

KT: It varies between each freestyler but on average 3-4 hours a day when not performing.

How many skills/tricks would you say an average freestyler knows?

KT: Hundreds! But all freestylers started at level zero but reached their level through joining the online freestyle community and putting what they see into practice through extreme dedication, hard work and creativity.

Can you compare SWS to the Harlem Globetrotters in American basketball?

KT: I wish we earned the same money as the Harlem Globetrotters! I can see where you are coming from in that our performers possess outstanding skills and travel the UK and the rest of the world showing them off. However, as I mentioned earlier, we are not just an entertainment act. Our genuine aim is to create a revolution in the game where young players have the opportunity to develop these skills and put them into practice within real-life games.

What kind of support or contributions have you received from professionals? Do any pro soccer players make appearances at your events?

KT: We haven’t had any I’m afraid! I think they are scared we might embarrass them with our skills!

SWS’s Twitter and website heavily reference music. What kind of connections are there between freestyle soccer and music? Why do you guys choose to bring them together?

KT: Music is massively important to street soccer and freestyle football as it influences a person’s creativity and free-thinking mind so much, whilst relaxing the body to be more fluid and smooth in its movement. Think about it – try dancing without any music playing! It’s very difficult to pull off the same moves you would in a silent room as you would on a dance-floor. It’s the same with street soccer and freestyle football. The music relaxes your body and mind, allowing you to create and perform moves you never thought possible until they get to a point where the moves become so natural you can do them in any situation! One of our street soccer players actually dreams about playing and sometimes he wakes up with his legs moving around in the bed as if he was performing the skill in real life!

Why call it StreetWise Soccer if it is based out of the UK? How was the decision made to use the term soccer instead of football?

KT: The game we play is termed Street Soccer in Holland where it originates so it fits much better than if we called ourselves ‘StreetWise Football’. Also, we have ambitions to do work all over the world so the company name ‘StreetWise Soccer’ is more appropriate and rolls off the tongue a little better!

How many of your members would you say are soccer fans? Does anyone participate in SWS just for the fun of it and aren’t invested in soccer?

KT: We all love soccer and are obsessive about our own individual clubs and the game itself. However, we have worked with a number of young people who don’t particularly enjoy watching or playing regular soccer but love our version of the game.

How far do you see SWS going? Is the ultimate goal to make it an internationally known entity or to remain in the UK?

KT: Our aim is to spread StreetWise Soccer internationally whilst retaining a very strong core base in the UK We have ambitions to deliver work in the U.S. such as summer camps and tournaments whilst our freestylers have travelled to a variety of different locations across the world to perform. We are interested in any and all enquiries which come our way from all corners of the world!

Can you comment on the street soccer culture in the UK or in the U.S.? Has there always been a culture for street soccer? What makes it different than the professional soccer culture?

KT: Wherever you are in the world, young people have always played football in the streets. This is getting more and more difficult in more urban areas. However, with cars and building taking up so much space. I think the street soccer culture as we know it is growing in both the UK and the U.S. with a small number of dedicated organizations working to develop this.

How closely does SWS work with Street Soccer USA, if at all?

KT: We don’t work with them at all; however, we would love to!

Would you say something like SWS is needed in the United States?

KT: I think so as the development of soccer is still in its infancy compared to the UK However, in a strange way this could me a massive advantage to you guys as I think players and coaches may be more open to the benefits of street soccer to their game than in traditionalists in the UK In my experience it is always those who adapt best who eventually come out on top!

Overall, what does the U.S. need for soccer to improve?

KT: I think you guys are doing great! Your facilities are fantastic, you have a good league structure in place and the passion for soccer seems to be growing every day. I think it will always be difficult for soccer in the U.S. to compete with your traditional sports such as basketball, baseball and American football; however, I think with time the performance level of your players will gradually rise to the level of other nations across the world, especially if coaches and players are more willing to embrace new coaching and playing styles such as Street Soccer.

How closely do SWS members follow American soccer? What is   SWS’ss opinion of the American soccer game? MLS?

To be honest, we don’t follow it too closely as we sometimes have enough trouble following the English Premier League as we are always out delivering events and sessions, but from we have seen the level is certainly improving and the crowds growing so it’s great to see.

If you had to rank the top 5 freestyling nations – which would they be? How does the USA rank?

KT: The nations most recognized within the freestyle community at the moment are Poland, France, Holland, Scandinavian nations and the UK There are no ranking systems as such for nations but we are aware of a few U.S. freestylers leading the way over there!

You guys seem to have a lot of sponsors, including Manchester United, Nike and Adidas. What’s been the most rewarding part of working with these companies? Are corporations coming around to the freestyle culture more or less than you’ve hoped?

KT: Freestyle Football is growing at a really good rate, with more and more corporate companies looking to work with freestylers for their products or services. I think the most rewarding part of working with these companies is being associated with these excellent companies who are known worldwide.

What is SWS planning to do for the upcoming Olympics and Euros? Will there be any special events?

KT: We have a packed summer schedule of events all over the summer, working with various organizations to celebrate the Olympics and European Football Championships all over the UK We can’t wait!

In the outdoor game, who do you think are the most technically skilled players worldwide today? Of all time?

KT: In my personal opinion the most technically gifted players of all time are Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pele. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are certainly the best in the world today.

What are the coolest websites for kids interested in following soccer freestyling?

KT: Our website! We will soon be launching a Street Soccer & Freestyle Football online tutorial series called the ‘Street Skills Academy’ where kids can watch video’s from professional street players and freestylers and learn the essentials in performing these skills.

What advice would you give youngsters who were looking at becoming professional freestylers?

KT: Try, try and try again. Never give up. Be creative and think outside the box. Use our tutorial series to learn from professional street soccer players and freestylers. Learn the basics first before moving to the more advanced skills.

Why should average soccer fans care about SWS?

KT: I think all fans want to see an entertaining game as well as their team win so the development of creative and entertaining skills should be important to all soccer fans!

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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