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Calgary duo takes freestyle football off the pitch and on to the pavement

There is a football-based genre that has been slowly kicking it up a notch in Calgary and it doesn’t aim to score.

Freestyle football is a way of self-expression through juggling a football using different parts of the body in creative ways.

Kayden Abel and John Lee have been practicing the sport for years and finding ways to promote it in the city.

“It’s an art with athletic attributions,” said Abel.

Lee differentiates it from football as ice skating is to hockey.

“Freestyle soccer is such a unique sport where there are no limitations and there aren’t any rules like soccer and there aren’t any referees saying if you’re doing right or wrong,” he said.

Abel said that the name the name of the sport says it all – freestyle football. There is freedom in developing one’s own style in their own way.

The learning process

Mastering the tricks requires time and dedication. Abel made it a habit to keep a ball all the time while Lee made the most out of every time he could practice.

Following prominent freestylers in social media and watching on YouTube helped them learn new tricks.

A fundamental aspect in freestyling is to develop basic control using different parts of the body such as head, heels and sole. This will lead to the ability to do some basic tricks but more experience also elevates to higher levels of challenging tricks.

John Lee works the football in freestyle fashion. PAUL VILLENA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Their earlier years

Abel first played football when he was a kid. But as time went by, he found himself more inclined to spend time learning tricks than scoring goals.

Lee, on the other hand, never played football. It all started back in Hong Kong when one of his friends started to juggle the ball.

“Everybody just clapped their hands and I thought it was so cool,” he said.

He then proceeded to watch videos on YouTube and found inspiration from Hiro K of Japan, one of the pioneers of freestyle football.

Just one year into freestyling, he was able to join a rookie championship in HongKong where he took home the trophy and a match ball. Later on, he joined another competition in China where he reached quarterfinals.

Abel also had remarkable experiences over the years. In his earlier years in freestyling, he got featured as an Athlete of the Week on CTV.

When he competed in the national championship in North America, he got to meet French professional freestyler Séan Garnier.

“He was a huge inspiration and he gave me some really touching words to kind of motivate me,” said Abel.

Abel also got to be a part of an ad campaign of Adidas. This gained him a bigger following on social media, promoting freestyle football even more.

Working together

Lee and Abel had accomplished a lot before teaming up. Things started to pick up when Lee moved to Canada.

One day, Abel was doing a photoshoot for freestyle football at Bowness Park. He was approached by a curious Lee, who has only been in Canada for two weeks, and asked them if they are football freestylers.

“Back then, my English wasn’t even that good,” said Lee

“Language is not the only key. Once you have the same passion and same interest, you can easily get along.”

This made Lee’s adjustment to life in Canada much easier.

Abel invited Lee to be an instructor in his former company, Freestyle Soccer United. They organized training camps, tournaments and charity events. Abel said that Lee served as a great example that one does not have to be a soccer player to engage in freestyle football.

They also became brand ambassadors for Cavalry FC where they would perform in the team’s home games.

Kayden Abel said ‘all you need is a ball.’ PAUL VILLENA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Freestyle football in Calgary

The freestyle football community is growing slowly in Canada. However, it’s a more challenging case in Calgary.

According to Abel, it doesn’t require much to learn.

“The big motto of the sport is ‘All you need is a ball,’” he said.

On top of that, Abel and Lee have been struggling to find time to practice. They have to deal with their personal matters – Abel on his business and Lee on school.

They’re both hopeful that more kids will notice freestyle football and take interest in it.

To promote the sport in Calgary, the duo is making preparations to go busking. They plan to perform in downtown before winter kicks in.