Posted on January 10 2018
Liv Cooke is such a huge inspiration so we are delighted to kick off the new year with her story. At 18 years old, she is the UK's first female professional freestyler and, in 2017, she became the world champion. Today, we discuss her background, how she got into freestyling, overcoming adversity and injuries, and what is actually required to make it to the number one spot in any field. Here's her story:
Newnham: What were you like as a young kid / how would your family have described you?
Cooke: I think that I’ve always known what I wanted and I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. If I didn’t like something I wouldn’t pay it any attention but if I enjoyed it I’d be all in and want to be the best at it. I’d say I’m still like that now. Anything I do I do it with passion and I fully dedicate myself to it.
Newnham: When and how did you first get into football and what led to you putting extra focus on freestyling?
Cooke: All my life I played football, on the street, at clubs, in my garden, anywhere I went I took a ball. Probably due to the fact I grew up with two football obsessed older brothers. But, I loved it. At the age of 15, I picked up a recurring back injury put me out of playing for a while. When I was at the stage where I could move comfortably but wasn’t allowed to return to football yet I wanted to sharpen my touch and work on my control so when I was fit and ready to play again I wasn’t too far behind where I left off. I then discovered freestyle videos online and was blown away. I wanted to do those tricks. I’d spend all day in my garden learning a trick and when I was able to do it I wanted the next one and the one after that. Before I knew it I was doing some pretty decent tricks!
By the time I was fully fit and ready to return to football I was obsessed with freestyle. Before and after football training I’d be training freestyle and it got too much. I couldn’t do both, it was leading to further little injuries and I just didn’t have enough time. So, despite everybody insisting otherwise I decided to quit football to pursue freestyle. Yeah, I knew I could make a career from freestyle because I truly believe you can monetise anything in this day and age however I never saw freestyle taking me to the place I’m at now and becoming such a fantastic career. I’m so grateful for the places I get to see, the people I meet and every body that supports me. It’s really quit surreal. I’m way beyond everything I ever dreamt but at the same time I know this is just the beginning and I’m excited to see what’s next.
Newnham: Can you talk us through the training involved and the mental and physical discipline required to become No.1?
Cooke: To be the no.1 freestyler in the world, or the best in any industry for that matter, you have to be completely dedicated. And that is what I did and continue to do. Physical training every single day for 4-6 hours followed by mindset elevation, mental preparation and competition planning. As crazy as it sounds you have to be consumed by it, you’ve got to live for it and be willing to sacrifice anything for it!
In the run up to the world championships last year it was tough. It was mentally and physically draining. Truthfully I don’t think 30 minutes in the day would go by where I wasn’t plotting, training or visualising winning. Somebody could have offered me millions of pounds to not compete and I would have laughed in their face. It was everything to me. I would’ve risked my life for the world title. In fact, I did. It became my life. It was all I cared about and wanted and that is why I achieved it. That’s why I’m no.1 in the world. Simply because I wanted it more than anyone else therefore I worked harder and smarter and didn’t allow any distractions in.
Newnham: You have suffered a few injuries - how have these setbacks affected you mentally? How do you develop resilience when things don't go as planned?
Cooke: I believe that in every bad there’s good. All the best things in my life have happened as a result of injury. Discovering freestyle came from a back injury. The drive to become number one in the world was enforced more when I broke my foot. So, I’ve learnt to embrace every set back. I know I work hard so I trust in the timing of the process so if for whatever reason I get knocked back by something out of my control I embrace and appreciate it. I find a reason and when you reach a mindset like that any negativity only positively impacts you mentally. And in a game like freestyle where 80% of it is mental and 20% is physical you need a solid mental state.
Newnham: Being a successful young woman in a male-dominated field, how do you deal with any sexism and what advice do you have for others trying to break into fields that might not traditionally have been inviting to women?
Cooke: I think in many circumstances it’s difficult for women. Women have to work harder and be better than men, in my ways, just to earn the same level of respect. Freestyle football is no different. In the majority of competitions we aren’t treated as equal, we don’t receive the same level of respect or professionalism from event organisers and to be honest it’s their loss. I feel like female freestylers bring more value to events in terms of sponsorships, views etc as we have a much greater following online and bigger profiles.
Often, when I go to a show with a male freestyler - even if he’s ranked 30th in the UK and I’m ranked 1st in the world people presume he’s better because he’s male. Like ‘the competition must be easier for women’. But I just laugh and when the time comes I get on stage and out perform him in an attempt to open peoples mind and show that girls can do it just as good if not better.
Times are changing though, myself and many others are working hard to achieve equality in male dominated fields. All I would say to others trying to break into such an industry is persist. Sure, you probably will receive sexist remarks and its not fair but take that as fuel to work harder and be better then come back and show them you are great, you are better and you deserve respect.
Newnham: What are you most proud of and why?
Cooke: That’s a tough question. I’m proud in many ways. Of course I’m proud of certain achievements such as becoming the youngest in history to collect the world title. But other things bring me pride. It makes me so happy to see others taking inspiration from what I do. I see tweets saying things like ‘Showing my 7 year-old football fanatic son videos of Liv Cooke. He went from “girls can’t do that” to “she might be the best of the girls” to “yeah, she’s the best of everyone and I want to be like her”’ - this kind of thing makes me proud as it shows that my videos have the potential to change society. Maybe now that boy will go forward with an open mind knowing that girls can do it too. Inspiring the next generation and changing mindsets is something I take great pride in and something I aim to do for a long time.
Newnham: What are your goals for 2018?
Cooke: In 2017 I got everything I’ve ever wanted and more. Looking back I’m mind blown. Almost speechless actually, haha! But I just know life’s only getting greater and 2018 will be even better. I intend to defend my ranking as world no.1; collect my second world title; launch a new business I’ve been working on for 5 months now; continue to push women's sports and break stereotypes and potentially enter the real estate industry. I know these goals are more than achievable however I’m very much open minded and know that something may pop up that interests me. So, we will see. But one thing’s for sure I’m only going to get better and work harder for what I want.