11 Ways Playing Soccer Changes The Way You View The Beautiful Game

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.

35 thoughts on “11 Ways Playing Soccer Changes The Way You View The Beautiful Game”

  1. Yes athletic kick-and-run is effective at our level, and its bloody annoying when the other team is doing it and its working.

    But it doesnt work at the top level. Thats why Sain are 3-time defending champions, not the USA.

    1. Of course…..I’m not advocating that every top level team play directly. I’m just saying that a lot of Sunday-league teams try (and usually fail) to play like Spain.

      1. But its more fun . . . Lol

        My team tries to play like Bayern more than Spain (attack attack attack then square that). We dont always win but its a bloody lot of fun and thats what we play for.

  2. You also learn when someone steps on your foot or clips you on the shin…it hurts. but never enough to roll around.

    and then you realize most of the pro players are embellishing when they go down.

    1. Actually….that was on my list, but the article got too long and I omitted it since it is a common theme. But…..good point about the stepping on and the pain. I remember the first time a teammate stepped on my in practice, she apologized profusely. I thought she was kinda overdoing since it didn’t hurt that badly…..then I had bruise for ~2 weeks. Now I understand why she was apologizing… :)

    1. I hear you. I use them interchangeably. It’s sometimes easier when writing to use “soccer” because it keeps you from having to write “American football” all the time. We need an abbreviation for that. AF or something.

      1. Haha, I just use futbol and everyone seems to get the point(and I’m not Spanish or Hispanic.) Doesn’t always work in real conversation, though. 😉

    2. no it’s called both -the term soccer was started in England, and those who harp on this ridiculous point either have other agendas and just want to bag on someone.

  3. I think an elite defensive midfielder is perhaps the most overlooked player in football. Mostly because so much of his work is done away from the ball. Seeing someone like Mascherano or Gattuso (circa 2005-8)play live is incredible.

    1. I tell you….I always knew they were important, but I don’t think you really appreciate them until you’re in goal and watch them snuffing out breakaways. One second you’re getting ready to try to save a breakaway goal, the poof….they take the ball and suddenly both wingers for the other team are caught out and it’s an advantage for our side.

  4. Interesting stuff. I’m kind of in a similar spot to you and I’ve been on the fence as far as playing. Outdoor or indoor?

    1. Outdoor 7-a-side…..but our indoor season is starting soon. Everyone says that in just insane.

      Just go for it. The other thing I should have added is how cool it is to make new friends at this point in life when you’ve been in a stable job for ~15 years, stable marriage for 10+ years, etc. You life get’s kinda “regular”. It’s fun to mix it up.

  5. Brilliant observations, Dean. I think most peoe don’t have these understandings, even those who have played. It’s even crazier to think how good the top guys are when you see a good Sunday league player and realize he’s a million miles from the pros.

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      I really don’t have any conception of what an elite player would even be like, but I can imagine the shock. Heck, my teammates are incredibly kind about my shortcomings when we have practice and I play in the field. They can pretty much take the ball from me at will, and I can only get the ball off them if they do something really fancy. About all I can do is run with them and get in the way.

  6. Good article. I captain a coed league that I founded early last year. We play outdoors during the summer and indoors during the winter. Let me tell you, indoors is incredibly different. There are actually quite a few people that refuse to play indoor because of it. The constant play is the biggest factor. Less chance of ball going out of bounds leads to less down time. Running a heck of a lot more too. Outdoors I can play a whole game, indoors I need a sub after 3-5 minutes lol.

    1. We have an indoor season coming up and I’ve heard those same warnings. In fact a few friends have basically said they hate indoor and won’t play it.

      But….most of my teammates are doing it, so it should be fun. Also, I’m so new it isn’t like it’ll mess me up. :)

    2. Yeah people would think its less running…but its worse than outdoor. and a lot more technical skill is needed due to smaller spaces. even keepers and defenders need to be able to handle the ball well with their feet.

  7. This is kind of incredible stuff, and football does not necessarily have to be money making or professional, its fun without those pressure on ya back, you already spit everything out now

    1. Yeah….that’s what I’m enjoying about it. I’m squeezing this into a very full life between family, career and other hobbies. But, the game and camaraderie are worth it.

  8. I started playing when I was 8 years old. That’s when some fathers in our town fed up with pop warner football and little league baseball started a youth soccer program. I played in high school, college, in in a summer league up until about 10 years ago. Now I ref high school soccer and teach my kids how to play in the back yard. I tried coaching my son’s youth team but that only lasted a couple of seasons. I live for football.

  9. “Now that I’m mostly a goalkeeper…” haha…we all know what that means. Something tells me learning to play at 39 didn’t quite cut it playing on the pitch did it?
    Keep going though mate!

    1. You’re 100% correct. Ha!

      I think my teammates figured they could make me into a reasonably decent keeper long before I could be a reasonably decent field player. I’m about 6’2″ and am reasonably fast and can still jump pretty well. I played basketball growing up and when I played American football, it was as a wide receiver or quarterback, so I can catch and throw. Just with THAT, you’re part way to being a decent Sunday-league keeper.

      I had to teach myself to do decent goal kicks so I could get the ball OVER someone crowding me but not over midfield (b/c we have a no GKs past midfield rule).

      Now I’m mostly working on communication, coming off my line and diving at balls.

      Another cool thing about this is that I can actually improve at a sport at this age. If I was playing basketball, I’d never be more than a pale shadow of my former self. With this….I’m getting better. It’s very cool to have that feeling once your body starts to decay at around age 32.

  10. There’s no doubt playing the game gives you a much better understanding and appreciation of the game and just how skilled and dedicated you have to be to play at the highest level. For me top level referees needs to have been top level players to have that understanding and also respect from the current crop of pros, however they are mostly too rich and too worried about their reputation to get involved.

    1. Yeah…..I’d be surprised if current players end up as refs. But, having good refs is a big deal. Even in a rec league it matters.

  11. Good article. I grew up playing the game in France (and the US) and usually ended up being a DM or centre-back.

    So to this day I feel like I have a good appreciation of play at these positions but less so as far as grading the more forward players.

    Good sport to take up while older, BTW. Having tolerant teammates is a big help! Glad to see you found some and got involved in getting out there and kicking it about.

    1. Oh….my teammates are incredible. When we play other teams in the league that have a couple of real a$$holes, I count myself SO lucky that I got placed with this group by the league manager.

      The only age problem I have is that my body just can’t sustain much playing. One match and one practice is about all I can handle. :)

  12. Ignore MR, Dean. You are someone who was a fan before you became a player, which gives you a different perspective.

    I grew up playing when the old NASL was in its heyday, didn’t touch a ball for 25+ years, then got back into it at around 45 when my kids started playing at a competitive level.

    Every parent who coaches their kid or attends games should play themselves at least a little — its a lot harder than it looks.

    In the US soccer attracts the same type person who likes ice hockey or lacrosse – free flowing, improvisational sports that reward speed of thought as much as speed of play.

    I find the pick up games I play in divided into two camps. The young, athletic, less skilled folks that want to play with fewer players on a big pitch, and the older, more technical ones who want more players and less space. Always best when every body’s motivation is similar: exercise, survive without being injured, camaraderie, etc.

    In any case, enjoy. After all, its recreation, not life or death (Bill Shankly’s opinion notwithstanding).

    1. It is truly a LOT of fun. My only regret is that I didn’t start playing several years ago when I first got the interest because my body would have been more….um….robust. I dithered for years while casually asking if anyone does, “Soccer lessons for old men?” I should have just joined a league at 35 instead of at almost-40.

      I see what you’re saying about pick-up games. We usually play with some mix of my teammates and whoever else happens to be at the field. My only field “skill” is running, so I end up chasing 21 year olds around. It’s a good motivation to lose 20 pounds so you can get back to being 80% of the athlete that those guys are.

      I also love that soccer can transcend language. Sometimes we play with a blend of Central Americans, Russians, Turks, etc. We couldn’t have more than the most basic verbal conversation, but we can play soccer together because a good run is a good run in any language.

  13. I’m in the same boat, but a little older and in my first season.

    Luckily I’ve got a tolerant team of old novices but I’m getting even more out of watching soccer now since I was never much of a fan before playing.
    Makes me wonder if some of soccer’s issues with popularity in the U.S. are exactly what we’re talking about here- without context it’s hard to realize just how skilled and impressive great players are.
    One of the biggest misconceptions is about low scoring being boring- when you know what the hell is going on, it’s the exact opposite.
    Beautiful game. Too bad I didn’t catch the bug sooner- same thing happened with cycling but hey- at 43 I need it now more than ever.
    Nice article.

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