Creative Arts with Patrick Moore


Soccer in Socks – to prevent Brain and other Injuries
October 5, 2014, 5:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I read this week in “The Week”, and LAST WEEK IN NEW SCIENTIST, that people are worried about how soccer can give you head injuries. They already knew and admitted that American football gives you head injuries, and nobody thought that soccer would also harm the brain. But it turns out that heads do bash each other in soccer, which can harm the brain. Also, even heading the ball, over time, can give you traumatic brain injuries.

I was jogging at my local track one Sunday morning when I noticed some guys my age playing soccer. I asked them if they had some kind of club and turned out it was an over 45 club. I bought some cleats and began practicing with them. When I turned 50 they needed some guys to fill out their roster for their over 50 club so I officially joined and played in two games before I quit because of injuries.

I was aware that I had previous head injuries, which took me 20-30 years to heal from. So I was careful not to do any heading of the ball. At least, at first. But something about competitive sports gets us pushing a little harder. I found myself heading the ball and almost scored once, even though I promised myself I wasn’t going to do any heading.

I am a pretty calm guy, but I found that on the soccer field I became more aggressive. Some of the guys had sons who were playing in high school and they would sometimes practice with us. I did not have their skills or speed, but I had tenacity and some endurance to make up the difference. As a defender, I would often rush up to the striker and try to “stand him up.” Occasionally this would lead to the opportunity for a turnover, and if I could get a foot on the ball and move it away from him, I didn’t mind being a bit aggressive. I remember once or twice getting the ball away from a teenage boy with both of us landing on the ground, then jumping up with fists in the air as if I had been victorious. 49 year old massage therapist wins over 17 year old varsity athlete! They didn’t seem to mind, and most of the guys praised me for improving. I did leave a few bruises but when I apologized they said no problem, I hadn’t caused any fouls.

I also went home with a few bruises, and a jammed finger. At 50, these take more time to heal. In fact, it took months. My knee, which had reconstructive surgery, popped painfully twice while playing, but felt okay after I walked and jogged a few laps.

I found that the days I would scrimmage with the guys, I had difficulty getting to sleep that night. Especially when practice was in the evening, but even when it had been in the morning, I found that as soon as I laid down, I would begin replaying the most intense competitions in my head again. Over and over my mind repeated these scenes. My heart rate and breathing increased, and it would be two hours before I could fall asleep.

The last game I played in, I was playing defense but now against another over 50 team where most of the players did not speak English as their first language. The guy dribbling down the field toward my goal were now much more certain of scoring against our slow, oldie team. I wasn’t going to let him! I did get in his way a bit and without fouling, I prevented him from scoring. When it was done, I felt the inside of my leg had been scraped. The shin guard does not protect the inside of the lower leg, and the other fellow’s cleats had scraped the inside of my leg and ankle. I played the rest of the game without first aid. But by the time the next game came up the following week, I decided enough was enough. My leg was not healing. In fact it took about six months to fully heal. I told the guys I couldn’t play any more. Aren’t you having fun? Yes! Too much fun! They didn’t understand. It was just a scrape, everyone gets them, and you’re improving, they said. (Yes, but my body is too important to me to risk in this way, I didn’t say aloud.) I just said I needed to heal and wouldn’t be back this season. I was invited to come back a couple of times but I put it as gently as I could, that I wasn’t cut out for this.

I thought it was me. Because of those twenty head injuries I had received in the late 70’s and early 80’s, now I was prone to switch into fight/flight during a game, which made me more aggressive and also more prone to injure others and myself. It was as if I had PTSD and the game would trigger me to survival mode. The other guys said they didn’t mind, that I hadn’t hurt anyone, but I noticed it was messing with my sleep and I kept getting a little more and more injured. I realized I was heading the ball when I had promised myself I wouldn’t. I recognized I was headed for a worse injury. My decision to stop playing was about me. Because of my particular history, I couldn’t play gently. Once someone was moving my way with the ball, I would go after him all out.

I was sad to leave the team because it was really fun.

That was more than a year ago. Since then, the news has been reporting more and more about head injuries and now is even talking about changes that need to be implemented in pro soccer.

With all this in mind, I have an idea I would like to share with the world. Noncompetitive soccer.

  1. No cleats. You play in socks. This alone will prevent many injuries. Yes, the game will be slower, but everyone has the same setback so it will be even.
  1. No touch. Not even a little nudging.
  1. No teams. Players rotate. If you were on the green team for ten minutes, at a certain time you switch over to a red jersey and one of the reds switches to green. The guys who were your enemy are now on your side.
  1. No score is kept.
  1. The ball never rises above shoulder height (prevents heading). This provides incentive for more short passes and more teamwork.

I imagine this “sport” would still provide two hours of hard exercise that is good for your heart, but with far less adrenaline and other detriments of the fight/flight system that gets turned on during competition.

A few things I remember fondly from my year practicing with the team:

A couple fellows who were clearly far better than me, approaching me as a defender, realized they could easily get past me using fancy footwork, but didn’t. I noticed this and said something after the game, hey thanks for going easy on me. They said they hadn’t, but I didn’t believe it. I appreciate that those fellows restrained themselves from embarrassing me. They wanted our interaction to be more equal and so they withheld their best moves.

DSC_8710

A couple times it was my turn to show restraint: One fellow from Sweden (?) brought his daughter to play with us. She was about ten. Obviously when she was dribbling toward me, I could have easily stolen the ball from her, but I didn’t. I restrained myself and attempted to play at her level. Sometimes she beat me and sometimes she didn’t, depending on how well she handled that particular interaction. I noticed all the other guys were also able to restrain themselves to play at her level–not to let her have every interaction, but to play fairly given her capability:

DSC_1126 DSC_1138 DSC_1155 DSC_1157 DSC_1177 DSC_1181 This shows the home made goals–shoot between the two bags. Think she’ll score?

DSC_1201

I believe we are all capable of playing fair. We have all played with children and know what it is like to play at their level. I believe we can match others where they are at, and play at their average, so that about half the time they would beat us and half the time they would not.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, in THE MORALS OF CHESS, that he often found himself more capable than his chess opponents, and then he would play down so that they could feel better about themselves. This benefitted both people as the relationship was improved. He felt this was a better outcome for himself than had he earned the spotlight by winning.

“Lastly, if the game is not to be played rigorously, according to the rules above mentioned, then moderate your desire of victory over your adversary, and be pleased with one over yourself. Snatch not eagerly at every advantage offered by his unskilfulness or inattention; but point out to him kindly, that by such a move he places or leaves a piece in danger and unsupported; that by another he will put his king in a perilous situation, etc. By this generous civility (so opposite to the unfairness above forbidden) you may, indeed, happen to lose the game to your opponent; but you will win what is better, his esteem, his respect, and his affection, together with the silent approbation and goodwill of impartial spectators.”

Benjamin Franklin

I believe competitive sports are not helping us to be better people. Yes, the exercise is good, but you don’t need to beat others to get good exercise. Yes, sports provide a sense of teamwork but you don’t need to beat others to feel this. Yes, it is fun to win, but there are things in life that are even better than winning.

If you live in Tucson and would be interested in getting together to play rotating, noncompetitive soccer in socks, please contact me!

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