Anyone who grew up playing football will be familiar with this one question. No matter whether you played formally or informally – in goals, or in attack – or if you are male, or female. Your classmates, your friends, your siblings and coaches, all had one question.
“How many juggles can you do?”
For freestyler Susan Sohar, it was friends asking each other that question that led to a lifelong obsession.
“It started in the schoolyard with my friends to see how many keepy-uppies you could do,” she recalled.
“I was terrible at the start, but I practised hard on a few tricks and then built a repertoire.”
Freestyle is a global sport that involves juggling, tricks, and challenges with a football. Sohar eloquently explains what the sport means to her.
“Freestyling is about developing a connection between your mind and body,” she said.
“With persistence and consistency, I discovered you will accomplish what you set out to do. I got a buzz from every trick I learned.
“Everything in my world was quiet when I focused on learning a trick.”
Football was an integral part of her life growing up. She would constantly have a ball on her – whether it was at school, on weekends, or even on family holidays. In fact, her parents had to ban her from kicking the ball inside the house after a few too many broken windows, lamps, and picture frames.
Eventually, an online video that was intended to be shared with her friends was seen by local freestylers, who were more than willing to invite her into their community to practice.
“Connecting with amazing people through freestyle allows me to feel a part of a worldwide community,” she said.
In Australia, freestyle is a relatively niche sport, and even more-so for women. This was particularly the case for Sohar growing up, who had to forge her path through the sport while competing primarily against men.
“As soon as I started freestyling on a competitive level it was apparent there were no other females involved,” she explained.
“I thought it was normal to compete in an all-male competition, particularly since I was also the only female on my soccer team. There wasn’t a category for female freestylers like there is now.
“I am a very competitive person by nature, so it just pushed me to be better and faster.
“I don’t see gender as a barrier to what you can achieve in the sport.”
Sohar is involved in film, as well as the freestyle community. It is when those passions combine that she can be at her creative best.
“I knew early on that I was a creative person,” she said.
“Filming a lot of my freestyle, I became interested in making videos. Combining both filming and freestyle allows me to express creativity in endless ways.”
Her combined passions led her to one of the highlights of her freestyle career – filming the Freestyle Football World Tour in Melbourne in 2016.
“Meeting all the famous freestylers I looked up to from around the world, getting backstage access, and filming their interviews has been an unforgettable experience,” she enthused.
Women’s football has changed enormously in recent times. Sohar feels privileged to be a part of it.
“I was the only female playing in my club growing up,” she recalled.
“Now, I coach an all female u/11’s team made up of several leagues. My club has doubled its number of female participants in the last two years.
“Nurturing female talent, funding grassroots programs, upgrading facilities and providing equal opportunity have all gone into developing this sport.
“It is a long time coming – and we are now seeing the achievements of it all.”
While a small community locally, freestyling has thrived in the online environment where it can be viewed by anyone in the world. It means that, for anyone looking to get involved in the sport, there is ample opportunity online.
You can look up tricks, reach out to online communities and forums, and get started with just one ball in your backyard.
It is the way that Sohar started – and she hopes that the freestyle community will continue to grow.
“Hopefully, you’ll find it as rewarding as I do,” she said.