The benefits of team sports on youth are frequently touted. Young people who play on a team tend to develop stronger social skills and help translate a “teamwork” attitude into daily life. Participation in sports in general improves confidence and self-esteem, as well as fitness. As an adherent to the old adage that we never stop learning, I believe the beneficial impact of team sports on adults cannot be listed with enough passion and vigor. As an opportunity for moms to slice out a little “me” time, team sports check many boxes in our eternal quest to be both mentally and physically well. I checked in with some moms who play and found a lot of enthusiasm and a ton of inspiration.
Karen Akom is a mother of three energetic boys. At 36 she decided to set a goal of trying something new every year and began playing soccer. Coming from a ballet background she knew the demands of being an athlete, but had never played soccer before. Four years later, Karen is still playing indoor for the women’s team, the Snapper Jacks.
“I'm lucky to have found a group of women who love soccer, were willing to teach me, and are overall an amazing group of friends.”
Her team is a 30-and-over (30+) league that plays once a week. Her opponents and teammates are a high percentage of moms, all of whom look like they could get their kids to clean their rooms with little debate.
“Soccer on the women's team helps me, as a mom, in many ways. First, I'm much more physically active. I can keep up better with my three wild boys. Second, I'm a role model for them. It's important that they can see that playing soccer for them now can continue until they are ‘super old.’ And, believe me, they love to offer advice on my playing skills. Third, and I'm not sure this is printable, soccer helps get the grumpy out. Snowed in for three days with three wild boys? No problem, come run around for an hour and kick things (mostly the ball), you'll feel better.”
She adds, “I think they like that I play. Maybe it's because they get fried food at XL (Sports World), but maybe they'd actually admit that mom is cool...”
Despite inspiring the use of edgy language like "get the grumpy out," Karen's adventure into soccer has been a positive journey for her and her family.
Cara Markert Kaufman also plays for the Snapper Jacks but is currently sidelined with an injury to her knee. While this is certainly a risk faced by adult players, there is something psychologically gratifying about getting a sports injury. Your body just may not know it until hindsight takes over. Cara has not yet crossed into the 40’s, so she may not share my delight over torn ligaments, broken toes, turf rash, and the all-dreaded knee damage, but it’s a far sight better than breaking a hip getting out of your rocking chair to go take your dose of Metamucil. It hurts and costs money, it may even leave you permanently wrecked, but you did it playing sports. Deep, deep inside you have a self-satisfied smirk as you navigate your living room on crutches, because you are awesome.
“This is really depressing! I LOVE soccer, and miss it SO much right now...” Cara told me via email.
“For me, soccer is a release. I take boot camp classes and run for fitness, but soccer is more about release. I love playing with Snapper Jacks - even when we get our butts kicked I still have fun. It’s great to play with a team of like-minded ladies. I feel like I am a nicer person to be around the rest of the week when I've been able to play on Monday.”
She also plays on a coed team. This resulted in the knee injury, but she loves the challenge.
“Coed is totally different. I think my coed team really pushes me to a different level. I play really hard.”
She began playing in 2nd grade. She coached her daughter’s team for a few years, but Dana lost interest, so she was happy that the school where she teaches has a soccer program.
“The kiddos love playing, so it’s fun to spend two days a week with them sharing our love for soccer.”
Soccer is a great way to stay fit. According to the website www.discoversoccer.com, if you weigh 155 lbs, an hour of recreational soccer (that means you don’t have to play against Crystal Dunn or Alex Morgan www.ussoccer.com/womens-national-team ) you burn about 500 calories. It’s an effective full body workout, too. It improves flexibility as you move from walking to a full-on sprint, and stretching for access to the ball. It strengthens bones and builds endurance. Yet as I spoke to the women who play, their love of the beautiful game was much more than just a fitness routine. It seemed to get under their skin, whether at six years old or 46.
Steph Brooks started playing soccer in 3rd grade and developed her skills enough that she played for her college team at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It has always been a huge passion and part of my life.”
She took a 6 year break from soccer when she had her sons, Matt and Ben.
“Once they were a certain age I introduced them to the sport, coached their teams and then eventually started to play again on my own. They both still play and love the sport. They also love to watch their mom play. They get very excited when I do well and I think it shows them a different side of me. I actually am a badass on the soccer field!” she says with a laugh.
“Playing soccer gives me and my sons a sense of belonging to something. It was always a big part of my life to play sports and it is something I enjoy. I feel like I am not my true self without it. It also helps me (and them) to make new friends. When they were younger and I was a stay-at-home mom it was great to just be able to get out of the house and be active. Simply having contact with adults was a huge deal at that time. It gave me something to look forward to.”
Steph finds life lessons within the game of soccer.
“I think it has been great for my kids to experience both winning and losing. I can be very competitive and want to win, but that does not always happen. In life and on the field, you have to learn to deal with adversity and it is not going to be the end of the world as we know it. It shows them how to be a good sport. And that win or lose, you have to be kind and respectful to people. It is important to be supportive of everyone.”
Like Karen and Cara, Steph finds soccer to be an effective stress reliever and a workout that helps prepare her for the demands of life. All three feel that soccer has improved their quality of life and brings them even closer to their children. The community created by soccer teams can provide a built-in support system and social outlet, and a pitcher of beer after a hard game never hurts to bond a group of people from different backgrounds brought together by a ball, some turf and a pair of goals. As you’re packing lunches the next day or running your corporation, a pulled hamstring or scraped knee are extra little reminders that you are powerful and resilient.
(Thank you Karen, Cara, and Steph for your soccer stories)