11th April 2016.
In professional football, there are opportunities for top players to stay competitive from their youth years into their late 30s at least. David Beckham enjoyed his prime years at Manchester United and Real Madrid in the 1990s and 2000s before moving to the United States Major League Soccer a few months before his 32nd birthday. He retired from professional football in 2013, just weeks after he turned 37. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, is 35 and only just made his move to MLS. And in November of last year, Japanese striker Kazuyoshi Miura, dubbed the "world's oldest footballer," signed a brand new deal with Yokohama FC. He turned 49 in February.
The point is, while older players aren't necessarily the focus of top leagues like the Spanish La Liga, the German Bundesliga, or the English Premier League, many top stars are still enjoying plenty of longevity in the sport. Ironically, these players-whether they are sticking around the Premier League as old stalwarts, moving off to Major League Soccer, or playing elsewhere-are arguably enjoying more play time in these competitive, professional leagues than the vast majority of adults could hope to find in even the most leisurely of hobby leagues.
The Difficulty of Finding Adult Football Leagues
Today, older adults are being encouraged to stay active perhaps more loudly and emphatically than ever before. Fitness is important, and that importance does not diminish with age. From solo sports like running and rock climbing to more competitive activities like tennis and volleyball, experts repeatedly encourage adults to stay active. Even for older adults, physical activity stays important-to the point where senior swimming programs have become a cornerstone for many elderly living centers.
But is soccer a viable option for most adults? Or is this a sport that has been left mostly to the kids and young guns among us?
To say that adult football leagues don't exist would be inaccurate. There are plenty of amateur football clubs and soccer leagues scattered throughout England, the United States, and many other countries. The majority of them are dominated by players of standard professional ages (20s and 30s) and perhaps a little bit older. Football leagues for older adults, meanwhile, are harder to come by.
If you are searching for an older adult football league, your best bet is to open up your favorite search engine and start entering relevant search terms. For instance, a Google search for "over 50 adult football leagues England" turns up the "Veterans Football" league, part of Oxfordshire FA. The page notes that "opportunities for players aged 35 and over are a growing area for football," and that many adult leagues dispense with traditional play styles and rules for alternatives twists on the game. Sides smaller than the typical 11-man team, rolling substitutions, and shortened or otherwise modified pitches are popular variations in football leagues meant for older adults.
The Oxfordshire Football Association has two leagues meant for adults: the "Uhlsport Hellenic League," for players 35 and older, and the "Over 50s League," for any players who fit into the 50+ age bracket. Other associations or sports clubs that offer adult leagues or teams tend to split them up in a similar fashion. Over 35s, over 45s, and over 50s are the most common types of adult football leagues-at least in England. If you are interested in playing in a football league for older adults, use these terms alongside your local area to do a Google search. You will be able to quickly judge whether or not there is a league in your city or town, and if there isn't, you won't have to work very hard to see where the closest one is based.
Organizing Your Own Football Games
However, as the Oxfordshire FA website noted, football for older adults is still a growing niche, which means that fitness-minded adults in some smaller or less soccer-centric areas might not be able to find these types of opportunities.
Of course, joining a competitive adult football league isn't necessarily your only shot at playing soccer past the age of 35 or 40. The Oxfordshire FA Veterans Football page cited work, family commitments, and other obligations as reasons why teams in the Uhlsport Hellenic League and the Over 50s League will often adopt modified rules. These same types of obligations might sway others away from competitive league-based play altogether.
If a competitive league is not an attractive option, you can always just get your friends together and organize pickup games. This more hobby-based arrangement can still afford plenty of fun and exercise, and gives you a chance to spend time with your buddies, as well.
Depending on where you live, though, you might still struggle getting an evening or weekend pickup game off the ground. For older adults looking to play soccer competitively, the relative scarcity of over 35 or over 50 leagues is the primary obstacle. For adults looking to organize informal games, though, the obstacle might be a lack of available space or facilities.
In November 2015, a Reddit user based in Los Angeles, California posed an eye-opening question about the availability of soccer fields for adults. "Why is it so hard to find a place to play adult soccer?" the user asked, before going on to describe an unsuccessful string of attempts to play pickup soccer games with 10 to 15 coworkers.
"We don't need a proper field, just grass and lights," the Reddit user wrote. "We bring our own goals and don't even take up much space (we can't run that far)."
In a city like Los Angeles, where the weather stays warm all year round, it seems like outdoor soccer fields-or at very least, parks with open fields that could be used as soccer fields-would be in rich supply. The Reddit user's experience was completely contrary to that assumption, though. There were soccer fields in the area, but they were all 'completely booked solid by youth soccer or leagues.' One Los Angeles County city, Glendale, reportedly "doesn't even consider allowing adults to play on their regular non-official soccer fields."
The Reddit post, which sought advice from other users of the networking service, concluded with a plaintive and frustrated statement that many adult athletes will relate to: "I'm unsure of why it's so difficult to find a place just to play sports."
Obviously, this post just illustrated one person's experience, in one very heavily populated area, in one part of the United States. That user's experience would not necessarily be the same in other cities throughout the U.S., or in other parts of the world.
However, the Reddit user's experience wouldn't necessarily be different, either. In many areas, sporting facilities-both indoor and outdoor-are booked solid. In the vast majority of cases, those bookings are in favor of youth sports team or amateur sporting leagues. Groups just looking to play sports and have fun in a less formal environment are way, way down the totem pole in these field-booking systems. And unfortunately, the result is that adults looking to play soccer and have a little bit of fun with their friends or co-workers have to struggle to find a viable place to play.
In big cities, where wide open spaces, big backyards and public parks are harder to come by in the first place, the challenge of finding a place to play sports is always more pronounced. Smaller or more rural areas might not offer over 50 football leagues, but they probably do have more spots to organize a pickup game (not to mention more availability for fields and other facilities).
In other words, older adults looking to play football might have to accept a tradeoff. Those in the cities should look into adult football leagues; those outside of the cities should try to organize informal pickup games on their own terms. The system isn't a perfect one, but it at least affords fitness-minded adults with opportunities to keep playing the game they love. Here's hoping that, within the next few years or so, increased demand for adult soccer will lead to an uptick in the number of leagues, fields, and overall opportunities that people over the age of 35 have to play.
Football for the Older Generation: Is There a Gap in the Recreational Market?
11th April 2016.