I didn’t play soccer as a child. I’m one of those American soccer fans who came to the sport as an adult.
I wasn’t one of you. I’m new(er) but found that I could inhale a LOT of soccer knowledge via wikipedia, satellite TV, live games, blogs, podcasts, etc.
Pretty quickly, I become knowledgeable even if I wasn’t authentic.
But I had another “soccer awakening” at the ripe age of THIRTY-NINE. I decided I wanted to learn to play soccer. America doesn’t have training for middle-aged dudes. You just have to sign up for a league, hope for tolerant teammates and learn as you go. I did that about a year ago and it has changed not only how I watch soccer, but has increased my appreciation of certain aspects of the game. I’m honestly shocked at how differently I view/appreciate aspects of a game that I thought I understood before. When people ask what position I play, I tell them that I am a competent goalkeeper and a very mediocre, but pacy right winger.
Here is a list of things that have changed for me since I supplemented watching with doing…
1. Player’s feet: At live games, I used to watch the whole field. Now I watch players feet to see how they do it.
2. Fitness My goodness are those professionals fit. Lungs of IRON and legs of STEEL. It’s inhuman!
3. Pace: I knew pace was important before. I’d seen fast players abuse slow players, but hadn’t realized what an equalizer pace is until I played. If you are fast, you can overcome technical flaws. If you are slow, you better have technique because the fast guy is running away from you.
4 Communication: When you just watch soccer, you don’t realize how much the players talk to each other. You certainly don’t see it on TV and even at a live game in a small stadium, you can’t hear most of what they’re saying. I played all the traditional American sports growing up and none of them require the level of communication that soccer does. I’m still weak in this area – which is a problem as a keeper – but it’s mostly because I’m not used to talking this much in sports. Never shut-up.
5. Teammates: Now I totally understand now why new players take a while to settle into a new team. You get to the point where you basically know what all your teammates tendencies are, where they will be… trust what they can do. They almost have a body language that indicates what they’re about to do. The other team can’t see it, but you can.
6. Defensive midfielders: Now that I’m mostly a goalkeeper, I can’t tell you how much I LOVE a solid defensive midfielder or centerback. I never fully appreciated them before. I love my teammates who snuff out those 3-on-2 situations, who are always available for a teammate to drop the ball to, who are never out of position and generally improve the shape of the team. They’re not flashy, but it’s hard to win without them.
7. Target forwards who can relieve pressure: Sometimes we have one of those games where we just can’t maintain any possession. It’s awful. Constant runs into the box, defenders pushed very, very deep. Goalkeeper can’t see the ball through all the bodies. Then someone gets ahold of the ball and can hoof it to a target forward at midfield. Even if it doesn’t start a break the other way, if he can just hold the ball for a few seconds, it lets us reset the defense.
8. The power of direct play: Sometimes soccer is pretty simple: Kick the ball past the defender and run. I’ve learned that a lot more goals get scored that way than via all this fussy passing nonsense. If you’re stronger and faster than your defender, why screw around? Just blow past them. There’s nothing scarier for a keeper than an athletic team that plays very direct.
9. Shots from distance: This is a cousin of direct play in that it disdains the 10-pass, intricate movement (that almost never works). Let it rip! Keepers hate shots from distance because we have to be intensely focused the second the ball comes within ~30 yards of goal and we often cannot see the ball perfectly amongst all the feet and legs.
10. How skillful central midfielders are on the ball: When I play the field, I play on the wing. I can usually get open by sprinting 30 yards to an empty spot on the field. Central midfielders like Scholes or Xavi or Schweinsteiger can’t do that; they have to stay in their spot. They’re always receiving the ball with a defender on their back, yet they receive, control and distribute almost every time. Amazing.
11. The beauty of an insurance goal: I guess I knew how important this was before I started playing, but as a goalkeeper…I am much more comfortable at 3-1 than at 2-1. Heck…let’s make it 4-1!
Playing is eye-opening. Especially as an adult when you’re kind of doing it for fun….but also because you’re focused on learning. So, if you haven’t ever played or haven’t played in years, give it a shot. You’ll learn a lot more about the game from your own personal experience.
What about you? Did you grow up playing? Do you play now? Share your stories in the comments section below.