No matter the path you have taken or the journey you are on, every soccer player out there has one thing in common; a love for the game! We all play because we want to win but also because we want to build friendships, and be part of “the team.” For most players, it is Sunday league that keeps you going through the week, that all important weekend occasion that gets you together with the lads for 90 minutes and maybe a few beers afterwards.
We wanted to take a minute to evaluate the squad, and piece together the different “stages” you will find on your soccer team. I’m pretty confident you will be able to find one player that fits each on your current Sunday league team!
Stage 1 – Fresh Meat and Skills
A player with a bit of skill, freshly released from a good college soccer program or a stint in the pros. It is the MLSers or USL guys that are best to have around, as they instantly give your team some extra credibility. Don’t be surprised if more players jump on board to play alongside these guys. But having left their prime, they are usually the guys in limbo – trying to figure out their next move. As a result, don’t expect them to pay to play. In fact, don’t even ask as they will probably jump on another team. Not likely to ever buy beers either, but they will have no problem downing a few free ones. But lets be honest, all guys care about is their contribution on the pitch – especially the “Stage 5” guys! Likely to show up with the newest boots on the market, and also likely to ask for a new pair to be hand delivered the following Sunday, just so they will show up.
Stage 2 – Sunday League Baller
With a little Sunday league experience under their belt, these guys will be a focal piece of the squad and the first names on the team sheet. Passing the ball has become more of a staple of their game, rather than trying to take players on every time. They bring the fresh legs and might show up 10 minutes before kick-off to get a quick warm-up in before starting. Trouble is brewing here because they either just have, or will be thinking about, getting married – very likely to have their girlfriend with them on game day, sitting contently on the sideline. May not always want to, but has the ability to pay his league fee. Can be counted on to bring beer occasionally as well. No problem picking up new boots as needed and are first to jump into a conversation with the guy who shows up with a fresh pair. These are really good times!
Stage 3 – The Family Man
Now we are stepping into the early 30’s phase and a lot is changing! This is the stage where your wife starts to notice you are gone a few nights each week, and she is questioning why you play so much. This is also likely to be the time when kids and coaching start coming into play, and it becomes a habit to miss a game or two because of the kids. Or just because you are feeling the strain! It also becomes easier to step out of tackles, save those legs and avoid going to work with a limp the following morning. This guy will commit to the team, pay the fee and then become generally unreliable. Sometimes you’ll hear “who’s the new guy?” when he walks up to the pitch after a few absences. You will also see this player start to move toward more “traditional” style boots, usually black and leather.
Stage 4 – When Excuses Begin
The stage where you start to question why your body isn’t doing what you think it can do! Those long runs become really long, and there are times when you are more than a second late on a tackle. No more fresh legs! Think of this as the “transition” period, when the younger players start to take more and more of your playing time. But you still put in a shift when needed, although that usually involves you playing left or right back. In your late 30s or early 40s, you tend to be the first to apologize when the opposition scores; “sorry, I lost my man”, “didn’t realize that guy was so fast”, “haven’t been able to jump as high since this beer belly started to grow.” You’re probably increasing your coaching role, so your choices for game time are becoming even more limited. Loves going for a beer with the Stage 2 guys, and is more than willing to buy them as much beer as they want. Might surprise you by showing up in a new colorful pair of boots, and they will receive plenty of well deserved stick for wearing them.
Stage 5 – Player Coach Phase
With your mid 40’s age comes more responsibility to keep the team going, in other words you are starting to become a team sponsor. But that isn’t a problem, just as long as you get to keep your place in the squad. I did say squad and not starting line-up. But no worries, when needed you will jump and play, reliving the glory days with every moment you get out there. You will frequently hear players telling new guys on the team that they “should have seen him play 10 years ago.” Don’t be surprised if they score an absolute bomb from 20 yards out, or pull off a wonder save when the ball was already past them. But, with those moments comes a need for several days of rest and recovery! Used to be the go to guy but now volunteers to sit on the bench so the Stage 1 and 2 guys can go out there and win it. This is a particularly rough stage if you are a keeper. The minute you walk out of the room, you know the whole team is scheming ways to get a new, younger guy in nets.
Stage 6 – Continuing The Dream
An end and a beginning at the same time. This is the point where it’s finally time to move to the “old guy” division and say good bye to the “open” division forever. Kids are grown, wife no longer cares if you are home or not. Probably playing on 3-4 teams just to get out of the house. Sits and drinks beer with the fellas telling old stories until the wee hours of the morning because he either doesn’t care what his boss thinks or is the boss. These are good times and your new home until you decide to hang them up completely. If they are not wearing a pair of adidas Copa Mundial, they will be wearing a turf specific shoe in a black colorway and raving about the comfort they get. A player that has a lot of stories to share over a beer!
One thing is for sure, whether you win an open division league or an over 35s tournament, that wonderful winning feeling is just the same! And you play and live for every one of those moments, they are part of your story. One of the most important rules is to never stop playing, as soon as you do it becomes even harder to get back into shape. So, just keep on churning and embrace the journey as you welcome younger players into the team. Always share your knowledge and experience, and don’t be afraid to buy the younger guys a beer just to make them feel special! Keep playing for the love of the game and the lifelong friendships you will build along the way.
The inspiration for this one came from a hockey version I read a few months back. And given the fact I’m personally moving onto the next stage (not telling you which one!!!) I wanted to put together a soccer version.