Thanks to the talents of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and the rest of America’s world champion team, soccer is winning new fans and players.
For those who think playing the game might be too swift or risky, there’s walking soccer, a version that’s gaining ground with older players across the United States.
As might be obvious, players walk the field, kicking and passing the ball. The rules say walking is always having at least one foot on the ground, and breaking into a run means the opposing team gets a free kick.
“If you quit playing and you remember how much fun you had when you were, it is a great opportunity to get back into the game,” said Naomi Johnson, a member of the Snohomish County Adult Soccer Association in Washington state.
Teams and leagues are emerging across the United States and in Canada. Hundreds of teams already compete in the United Kingdom, where interest soared after Barclays bank featured walking football in a 2015 television advertisement.
“It’s all about exercise, keeping fit, social inclusion,” said Graham Button, coach of England’s Seaton Carew Strollers, in an “Introduction to Walking Football” on YouTube.
“Some guys … never thought they’d kick a ball again,” he said. “They’ve got a good sense of the game. Some of them have got no sense of the game and come out and exercise.”
Promoters say walking soccer can improve balance, strength and stamina. A player might log four to five miles — 10,000 steps — in a game.
“It’s been great getting back out there as I’m really competitive,” said player John Darcy in an online promotion for a team in Pomona, California. “I’ve never lost that.”
Compared with traditional soccer, the matches are 60 minutes, not 90, the ball can go no higher than six feet and there’s no offsides rule that keeps players from hovering in front of the opposing goal.
“It’s more of a social event, if you like,” said Terry Youll, founder of England’s South Shields Saints walking soccer team.
“It’s one of those events where it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose, although of course you like to win.”