For the benefit of those of you across the pond, by football we mean soccer, the game that ends wars, unites nations and keeps your kids occupied. We’re not talking of the armchair variety here, we mean actually getting out there and playing the game.
A couple of years back I was playing footie with a group of friends on a Sunday and there was this guy on the sideline watching us, must have been about 42 years old. He decided to re-live his younger days and join us for one of the sets, without even so much as a warm up. Well, things didn’t end well for him as he was injured within 5 minutes of being on the pitch, and no one even touched him, his knee just gave way. I don’t know what happened to him after that as he was carried off and bundled into the back of a car, but there’s definitely a lesson there somewhere. The obvious one being to warm up before any exercise. That quick warning aside, there are some real benefits to this wonderful game, at any age.
Playing soccer (or signing your child up to play) is beneficial in many ways. Nearly every other major sport requires individual equipment, a specific area to play in, or both. Golfers need clubs. Hockey players require sticks. Basketball players need a court and hoop. Football requires one ball and a space to play. Regrettable, you must purchase cleats and shin-guards to play competitively; however, you still require less equipment than other sports, and you can play almost anywhere.
Anyone that can kick a ball can play football. It’s a blast for beginners and experts alike. Beginners love it because it’s quick to pick up and play. There is inherent joy in kicking a ball around (even if you’re not very good), but it can also be complex. If you want to play competitive, you must hone many skills, learn strategies, and develop incredible fitness. Even experts can always improve, and with each improvement, players enjoy playing more and more.
Football players, with the exception of the goalkeeper, move up and down the field throughout the game, traveling as many as 5 to 7 miles in a full game. The constant walking, jogging and running helps keep the players’ heart rates up, providing excellent cardiovascular exercise. The cardio workout helps players strengthen their hearts, resist plaque build-up in the coronary arteries, reduce their blood pressure and burn excess calories.
The goalkeeper receives a cardio workout as well by moving within the goal crease. Additionally, keepers often train as hard as the field players during practice. In a 2010 study in Denmark, women who played 14 weeks of soccer improved their cardio fitness by 15 percent.
The running, jumping and kicking you do in football helps strengthen your muscles and bones. Simply being on your feet for as many as 90 minutes offers your legs an excellent workout. But your core, upper body and arm muscles also come into play, to assist or stabilize other movements such as kicking, jumping, tackling and blocking the ball with your chest. Additionally, you engage your upper back, chest and core when you head the ball. In the study, the women football players improved their average bone density by 2 to 3 percent, the equivalent to reversing three to six years of bone aging.
In addition to the physical benefits, playing football is good for your brain. It can be a fast-paced game that exercises your mind by requiring quick decisions on the field. Even when the tempo appears to slow down, players are constantly looking for territorial advantages, trying to position themselves to receive a pass or to defend an area the opponent may attack. To many, playing football is much like a more active chess game, with the best competitors always thinking several steps ahead.
To become successful at football, you need good work ethic. You need to train hard, and focus on your play. Coaches and teammates push players to develop better work ethic, and when players work hard and succeed they build confidence (which translates to all aspects of life). This is an important value that children can learn from this game.
Leaders often form on a pitch. Players learn that their teammates need someone to guide them in the right direction. Through trial and error, players learn how to lead effectively. Again this is a quality that translates into peoples’ lives. You can tell a lot about a person buy their attitude in team sports, I see it in the guys I play basketball with regularly, I see it even in myself.
Through good examples by coaches and teammates, players learn what it takes to play a sport gracefully. Bad sportsmanship is punished, and most players discover the value of great sportsmanship.
Injuries will occur in football, particularly at higher levels of competition, but you can minimize your risk. Wear the proper protective gear, including soccer shoes and shin pads, plus gloves if you’re a goalkeeper. Men should wear protective cups. As mentioned earlier don’t just run out there and start playing.
Remain hydrated by drinking plenty of water or nonsugary sports drinks during games and practices. Warm up before matches and workouts with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity followed by dynamic stretching. If you become winded during a game, don’t be shy about going to the bench and letting a teammate take your place for awhile.
As you play football you will discover other benefits. It is brilliant in many ways, and you can only discover it’s true beauty by playing. It has the power to transform lives, the power to bring a lifetime of joy. My recommendation: start playing the world’s most popular sport. You won’t regret it. Make it part of your lifestyle.