If you like soccer and have a social media account, you probably have seen or heard of the viral freestylers that continue to make the rounds online. This is one of the fastest-growing careers in the sport: the art of performing tricks and skills with a soccer ball and showcasing them to an online audience. It is a world-wide phenomenon, and even has its own fairly extensive Wikipedia page.
These freestylers juggle the ball in all sorts of interesting ways, keeping it up using various parts of their body and performing tricks many high-level professional soccer players would be unable to replicate. Worldwide competitions are held and world records are constantly being broken. It is a full-time job for many of these athletes, including former college soccer star and Scottish youth national teamer Indi Cowie.
Cowie took the path less traveled to carve out a niche in the sport she loves. She was born and raised in North Carolina, but, as her parents are Scottish, spent time training with Celtic and played for the Scottish U-17 team. She grew up playing the game.
“From the time I was three or four, my dad was like ‘here’s a ball’ and I fell in love with it,” Cowie said. She parlayed her early soccer education into a scholarship to play for the University of North Carolina.
However, she blew out her knee in her freshman year, tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus. Returning completely from an injury of that magnitude is very difficult.
Since she was 11 or 12, she had an interest in freestyling, a fledgling discipline at the time. As Cowie grew into a successful young 11-a-side player, she continued to practice those skills. When she suffered her injury, she was doing that alongside growing her career. The injury put her at a crossroads.
“Most of the rehab was pretty much back playing, and then I read a quote that said ‘the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.’ I was kind of like, ‘what am I doing here? I’m trying to freestyle, I’m trying to do soccer, and I’m not able to really invest my time in either fully.’”
“There’s a high risk of me tearing my other ACL, because I had already done one, and I was like ‘I really need to make a decision here.’ I decided to go the freestyle route.”
It was far from an easy decision. Naturally, the transition was not a smooth one.
“I had been playing all my life. To step away from 11-a-side and small-sided games is really, really tough for me. Honestly, the mental aspect of that was hard, and I still crave it today. I still want to go on the field and play 11-a-side and just get back into it, but it’s not that easy.”
Cowie quickly gained a following. Now, she has 560k followers on Instagram, 73k-plus on YouTube, 31.7k on Twitter and 872k on Facebook. There are multiple YouTube videos of her skills with over four million hits. In 2011, she performed on Ellen, and in 2012, was featured in a UEFA Champions League commercial for Sony PlayStation.
Her videos consist of her doing all sorts of outrageous skills, many of them original. She says she keeps a notepad with her at all times to write down ideas, and her social media is the result of constant creative juices. Some videos she produces herself while others are a product of her relationship with companies like AT&T, who play a big role in her ability to maintain this profession.
Many of Cowie’s skills are original. She says she doesn’t watch a lot of other freestylers, but she takes some concepts from other sports, which help her come up with creative tricks to entertain her audiences.
“Gymnastics, dancing, skateboarding, water-skiing, I like to watch how those people are moving their bodies and see where I can throw in a soccer ball. I try to draw inspiration from that instead of looking solely at other freestylers.”
It’s not easy work, like some would like to believe.
“It is not something you can just snap your fingers and be able to do. I have a lot of kids come up to me like ‘how are you doing that,’ and it’s just a lot of practice and a lot of dedication.”
Cowie now holds three Guinness World Records, two of which she recently set at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, home of the Cowboys. Cowie will continue to go for records as opportunities arise, and she will be at the forefront of an ever-growing social media art as it expands further into the worldwide soccer lexicon.