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Get In The Game: How to Start Playing Soccer

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By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

 

When all the World Cup excitement has fizzled, how are you going to cope with that soccer withdrawal? Here’s an idea: Getting out onto the field yourself! Soccer takes one of the most effective workouts out there — interval running — and turns it into a fat-blasting, body sculpting game that’s so much fun you won’t even realize you’re working out. And you don’t have to be a kid — or Mario Balotelli, a striker for club A.C. Milan and the Italian national team — to get in on the action. In fact, Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen have studied the effects of soccer on men and women of all ages. Here are some of their inspiring discoveries:

It’s a fitness fountain of youth. Seventy-year-old men who played soccer their entire lives had the balancing abilities and rapid muscle force (the ability to jump, kick and sprint) that measured up to those of 30-year-old non-players. 

It leaves the treadmill in the dust. When men aged 20 to 40 either played soccer two or three times a week or spent the same amount of time jogging, the soccer players lost 75 percent more fat (7.7 pounds vs. 4.4 for the joggers), and perhaps most impressively, found their workouts to be easier.

It’s not as hard to fit in “practice” as you think. Researchers who assigned 100 women to either go jogging or play soccer found that playing soccer helped women to overcome typical barriers to exercise, like finding time to workout out in spite of parenting and family obligations. The most surprising finding: While it might seem that a flexible workout like jogging would be easier to stick with, the opposite was true. The women in the soccer group found it easier to make it to the scheduled soccer practices than the women in the jogging group. When you can exercise anytime, it's a lot easier to blow it off, they discovered, whereas putting it on the calendar keeps you honest. In fact, at the end of the study, some of the joggers asked to join the soccer group!

It’s never too late to start. When untrained 63- to 75-year-old men started playing soccer for an hour twice a week, they improved their aerobic capacity by 15 percent, their speed and endurance by 50 percent, and their muscle function by 30 percent. What’s more is that their bones got slightly stronger, too. 

Inspired to get on the field yourself? Here are some tips from Mary Lawton, a publicist with New Balance who has played soccer in adult leagues in both New York City and Boston for nearly a decade, on how to get started.

  1. Find a local club or league. Call or look online for leagues at your local YMCA, recreation center, community center or park. You can also try sites like Active.com or Meetup.com, or google “Adult soccer league” along with the name of your city or town.

  2. Work your social network. Post on Facebook, chat up friends and generally spread the word that you’re looking for people who want to play soccer. You may find that there are pickups at a local park every Saturday afternoon, for example. “I normally start by searching the Internet and then ask co-workers and friends if they know anyone who has played in those leagues,” says Lawton. When you’re scoping out clubs, also make sure to ask what time the games are, how competitive the league is, whether it’s coed or not, and if it’s full- or half-field play. (Full-field means more running, while half-field is typically a quicker pace.) Some leagues also cater to certain age groups, such as over 40. This can help you find people of your same speed.

  3. Know before you go. If you’re new to soccer, a small amount of know-how will be helpful to get started. For instance, it helps to know how to do a throw-in and a corner kick, and the difference between the two. Do some research on the game or ask a knowledgeable friend, suggests Lawton. “That way you can ask all your questions and have a friendly face give you answers.” Beyond that, the best way to learn is through playing. And for that, all you have to do is show up and give it your best shot!

  4. Get the gear. It’s a good idea to invest in a pair of cleats to prevent slipping. Once you commit to a league, though, you’ll want (and may be required to play with) a pair of shin guards and soccer socks (to keep the shin guards in place), too.

  5. Have fun! After all, that’s the point, isn’t it? “Soccer is such a good workout and you will find that you use muscles you didn’t even know you had,” says Lawton. “But really it’s the team camaraderie that keeps me playing year after year.”

 

 

Published July 7, 2014

Natalie is a freelance writer, editor and ACE-certified personal trainer based in Syracuse, NY. She's also the author of Tone Every Inch (Rodale).

 

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