Gatorade assigns England and Arsenal legend Rachel Yankey as a ‘Confidence Coach’

Gatorade has launched the first video in its ‘Team Talk’ series featuring former England and Arsenal icon Rachel Yankey. The video marks Yankey’s role as one of Gatorade’s new team of ‘Confidence Coaches’, a move which comes in response to new data revealing that a lack of self-esteem in teenagers is preventing their participation in grassroots sports.

In the emotive video, Yankey is captured addressing a group of young footballers about the first team she played for as an eight-year-old in Kilburn, north-west London. At the time, Yankey recalls, there were no girls who played football in her local area and there were no female role models she could look up to. Despite her passion for the game, her confidence was knocked when she was repeatedly told girls can’t play football. On a whim she cut all her hair off and joined a local boys’ team going by the name of Ray (after her initials Rachel Aba Yankey).

This disguise allowed Yankey the freedom to express herself on the pitch without being judged by her gender. The positive reaction she started to get from the side-lines, gave her the confidence to blossom as a player and by the age of 21, she signed a professional contract with the ambitious Fulham Ladies, becoming the first female player in England to do so.

Fuelling people forward

Yankey’s story is needed now, perhaps more than ever before. In 2023, Gatorade took steps to identify the barriers that teens face when playing, starting, or staying in sports, by surveying over 2,500 parents of 13-17-year-olds. Over four in 10 people (41%) agreed that a lack of confidence or self-esteem was a barrier, while 44% reported that a lack of visible and relatable role models also contributed to the problem.

“It’s worrying to see the number of young people give up sport and cite a lack of confidence as the reason,” Yankey said. “No one sails through life without experiencing periods when your self-belief and confidence is rock bottom. My manager in the boys’ team was a painter and decorator. He just laid on sessions and made a safe space for the team to play. The confidence is built by somebody giving you the ball and allowing you to play, so as a youngster you play within a team and feel valued by your teammates”.

Gatorade is committed to fueling everyone forward, regardless of individual sporting ability. This purpose is the driving force behind Gatorade 5v5, the annual grassroots tournament, where Yankey issued her moving Team Talk. The annual five-a-side competition for 14- to 16-year-olds is now in its sixth year, however the 2023 tournament marked the second year the brand has conducted an all-women’s contest. The tournament featured nine female teams from across the Netherlands, including young talent from Eindhoven AFC. Each team fought hard to qualify for the final and to represent their local communities on a global stage. Legendary Dutch team Cruyff Academy from Tillburg lifted the trophy and were crowned champions following the unique tournament in Eindhoven, the day before the UEFA Women’s Champions League final.

“The stats we have released today demonstrate that there is a crisis of confidence in grassroots football,” said Robert Blythe, PepsiCo’s Senior Director, Sports and Hydration. “As young people grapple with self-belief, it has never been more important to unlock the power of sport to help them tackle challenges both on and off the pitch. The Gatorade 5v5 tournament is a great opportunity for budding players to build their confidence whilst showcasing their passion and dedication for the game. Over 126,000 young people from around the world have taken part in the initiative since its inception, allowing the next generation to develop their team skills, build self-belief, and most importantly, have fun!”

As part of the programme’s aim to support and inspire young talent, all players competing in the Gatorade 5v5 finals were given unprecedented access to world class footballing talent and UEFA legends. Alongside Yankey, Bayer Leverkusen star Jill Baijings and FC Twente Vrouwen defender, Danique Kerkdijk surprised the players for an impromptu kick about. They also gave the squads practical advice on how to strengthen their mental and physical game to fuel them forward throughout the tournament.

In addition, the female players received education in sports nutrition, hydration, and performance from Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) experts. This reinforced the brand’s societal commitment to inspire the next generation through education and participation in sport.

As part of Gatorade’s ambition to create opportunities for everyone to be more active, the brand invited all members of the local community to take part in a series of fun and interactive drop-in sessions ahead of the tournament, which were designed to improve football skills. Experienced coaches were on hand throughout the sessions, offering guidance to ensure players could develop their skills in a supportive and friendly environment. To further ensure a lasting legacy within the community, the Gatorade ‘Play and Stay’ initiative will also see Gatorade donate to the FC Eindhoven academy to foster community development of girls’ football.

Since its inception, Gatorade 5v5 has built an international platform; giving over 126,000 boys and girls from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to excel in the sport, driving positive change within the most deserving global communities.

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Header image: Rachel Yankey talks to a team of 5v5 players.

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