Little trickster Olivia Cooke is impressing everyone with her freestyle football skills – from her proud family to judges at a national sporting contest.
The 15-year-old Leyland girl has always been a keen footballer, but earlier this year discovered her talent for doing tricks with the ball too.
Spurred on by her family, Olivia started to showcase her skills online, and was approached to take part in a competition by children’s TV channel, Nickelodeon.
“I played football since I was 10 for PNE, then went on to Blackburn Rovers Academy, which is one of the best teams in the country for girls,” she said. “Football allowed me to travel a lot and I went to America to play people from countries like Finland, Australia, Denmark and Canada.
“I started to enjoy doing simple tricks and flick-ups.
“And I was always asking my brothers to teach me some skills – not just on the field, but off the field too.
“I started to love doing tricks. I’d spend time in the garden just trying tricks, then I started making videos about seven months ago.
“Nickelodeon contacted me after seeing one of my clips on YouTube and wanted me to compete in their competition.
“I went on to win it, categorised as ‘best baller’ and named as best young freestyle footballer in the country!
“I did not expect to win at all, it was a massive shock to me, but I was over the moon.
“They warned us to prepare a speech in case we won, but I was in the final four and up against three boys, and I didn’t prepare anything so when they called my name out I walked up and all these cameras were following me and the audience was cheering, and I didn’t know what to say!”
The competition also featured other sports such as skating and dancing, and was aired on Nickelodeon.
Olivia has also done live performances for campaigns such as responsible drinking and school assemblies, and has done promotional videos for gyms such as GYMETC in Leyland and Hale Country Club which footballers such as Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard attend.
“I realised that freestyling can be so much more than just a hobby,” she said.
“There are world championships and careers made out of this.
“I’ve decided I prefer freestyle to football, and this month I quit my football team and intend to pursue this.
“All being well I’ll attend a world championship in 2015.”
Olivia is now balancing her school work with her new-found passion, and spends most weekends training in the garden.
Her parents, John and Pam, explain that it was Olivia’s older brothers Jack, 21, and Sam, 19, who helped her flourish.
“They encouraged her to play football from the age of three,” John said.
“It all started there really, and they’re chuffed to bits for her.
“It’s all happened so fast, but we’re all so proud of her.
“We thought she would go for a career as a footballer but she’s developed this natural talent so we’re backing her all the way.”
Danielle Gladki, head of girls’ PE at Balshaw’s, added: “Olivia has been interested in sport and PE from the day she started at Balshaw’s, and her ability, passion and commitment to sport have led her to captaining the football team for the last five years.
“Not only does she play football, she also coaches and referees younger pupils.
“She is currently studying GCSE PE and will achieve a very good grade if she continues working at the level she is now.
“Olivia is a pleasure to teach and a credit to Balshaw’s.”