Perhaps, like me, you are a soccer enthusiast who is no longer up to the task of running around for 90 minutes. Soccer is a game that requires a great deal of stamina even when played at a less than competitive level. I grew up playing the game as much as I watched it, but nowadays the sad truth is I just watch it. As I slide gracelessly into my late-30s, I find myself itching to play soccer, but completely unable to do so for more than a few minutes at a time without feeling as though I am on the verge of death.
If any of this rings true for you, if you find yourself faced with the same reality, fear not: for I come bearing good news.
There are numerous alternative games for your soccer skills and some of them are a lot less strenuous than a full-on game of 11-a-side soccer. Below are 10 such games—some extremely leisurely, others a bit more physically taxing, but all based on skills that come from mother soccer.
Let’s start as leisurely as possible. Footgolf. It’s a thing. It exists. In fact there is an official American Footgolf League, which formed in 2011, and there is a rapidly growing number of footgolf courses all over North America. Footgolf is exactly what it sounds like—a cross between soccer and golf. Players kick a size-5 regulation soccer ball instead of swinging a club, the hole is 52 centimeters wide, and the basic rules and principles of golf apply. Courses are generally shorter than actual golf courses and par-4 seems to be the norm. So, if you feel like kicking a ball around in as relaxed a manner as possible, this one might be for you. People wear ridiculous outfits while playing it, but that’s surely not a requirement.
From the leisurely to the downright absurd. We’re all familiar with foosball. It’s that thing played in college rec rooms where frat bros are constantly spinning the handles. (Stop spinning the handles. You’re not supposed to spin them. It ruins the game. No one’s listening.) Human foosball is probably less familiar, and to be honest, probably hard to find, but it does exist. I’ve seen various different iterations of it but it usually involves people hanging onto horizontal poles and awkwardly simulating the experience of little plastic armless men. It looks like fun, but it’s probably more of a once-in-awhile novelty activity than something any sane person would do regularly.
Originally developed in Malaysia, but popular in Thailand as well as other Southeast Asian countries, seepak takraw is a highly skilled game that resembles a cross between soccer and volleyball. The ball is traditionally hollow and woven from plastic or other materials, which gives it a kind of floating glide, and players can only use their feet, knees, chests, and heads to touch the ball. As the video below demonstrates, when played at the highest level it is spectacularly athletic, but it does look like a game that can be played and enjoyed at much less advanced levels. It’s not common here in the US, but there is a USA Takraw Association.
An indoor game that has been growing rapidly in the US in recent years is the Brazilian game of futsal. Played with a smaller, less bouncy ball than regular soccer, Futsal is played on a small pitch with an emphasis on footwork and control. Unlike regular indoor soccer, the ball can go out of play making the game slightly less frenetic and unrelenting. It is generally played as a 5-a-side game including goalkeepers, and in Brazil has nurtured a number of future soccer stars including Neymar and Ronaldinho. Facilities are springing up all over the US, and as it is an indoor game it can be a great way to stay active regardless of the weather.
Of all the games to be adapted to a soccer version, table tennis never seemed like a very obvious choice. It is after all, played on a table. However, this hasn’t stopped some soccer-loving table tennis enthusiasts in Germany from inventing the game of Headis. Headis is essentially table tennis where players use their heads and soccer balls instead of paddles and ping pong balls. To play it well, you really have to be very good at heading a soccer ball. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that to play it at all, you have to be very good at heading a soccer ball. Headis has grown and developed quite a bit since its invention in 2006, and it now has its own World Cups.
One of the least obscure entries on this list, kickball, is a popular sport when it comes to recreational leagues in North America. And by recreational I mean everyone goes for drinks afterward. It is essentially a baseball-soccer hybrid in which the pitcher rolls the ball at base while kickers kick the ball and run the bases. It has an unavoidable elementary school gym class vibe to it, but it’s a fun sport and can be played at very basic, unskilled levels. There are, of course, people who take it quite seriously (maybe too seriously?) and some leagues are a lot more competitive than others.
Perhaps it is more closely associated with slackers and Phish fans than with soccer players, but your soccer skills will serve you well in a game of hacky sack. Played at the highest levels, it is an extremely skillful game, but its rules are simple and the equipment required is so minimal that just about anyone can participate in it without a great deal of commitment. Basically, you’ve got a little hemp ball stuffed with grains of some kind and you have to keep it in the air without using your hands. Group, or team, sessions usually involve trying to rack up “hacks” where everyone playing touches the hacky sack at least once for a hack to be counted.
For those who have mastered the skills associated with hacky sack and are looking for something a bit more extreme, there is footbag net. Similar to seepak takraw, but with a hacky sack, Footbag Net is another volleyball hybrid, and one that only allows for contact with the feet. Anything above the shin is off-limits as is contact with the net. Players, though they are not supposed to touch the net (which is 5-feet tall), are permitted to pass their feet above it—not a rule that would likely come in to play for me personally, given my inability to perform high-flying kung fu, but it’s good to know it’s a possibility. As is evident from the video below of the Footbag Net World Championships, when played at the highest level the skill is astounding and intimidating, but it is a game that can also be enjoyed at a more casual level, and meetup groups are more and more prevalent in major cities.
Regular old indoor soccer. It’s not necessarily less strenuous than outdoor soccer. In fact, it can be a pretty unrelenting slog as the ball remains in play constantly because there are no sidelines and players can use the walls on all sides of the pitch or court. There are various variations, but it is a high-tempo game, generally played on a gymnasium/basketball court-type surface, usually 5-a-side, that relies on quick passing and movement, and is played with what looks like a giant, soccer-sized tennis ball. The good news for those concerned about fitness is that it is generally a shorter game (usually one hour), and recreational leagues often allow for unlimited substitutions.
Soccer skills are not limited entirely to the physical realm. An intelligent understanding of the game is one of the key factors for any great player. Seeing the big picture, understanding formation and tactics, being able to read the game, and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of players are all qualities possessed by the best managers/coaches, and often the best players as well. Football Manager, a video game that puts you, the player, in the position of managing a soccer team, is a fine test of your soccer intellect. Contract negotiations, talent scouting, tactical decisions, and formations, all come in to play. The game has evolved so much over the years, that actual professional soccer teams now use it as a scouting aid as it is an invaluable resource for player stats. It’s usually hard to make a case for a video game being linked to real life sporting skills, but with Football Manager, a convincing case can be made. It is an outlet for your brain-based soccer skills—skills that don’t necessarily diminish with time.