Coastal FC’s new Walking Soccer program – in which the sport is played at a slower pace – is geared towards the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s 50-plus crowd, in the hopes that it serves as a leisurely, fun way for seniors to stay active.
There are no sliding tackles or headers, no players bursting full-speed down the sideline – unless speed-walking counts as a ‘burst’ – and no one is keeping score. It’s all about fun.
That said, it’s hard for some to keep their competitive spirit in check, even if it’s been decades since they’ve been on the pitch. Take, for example, Mervyn Annett.
About halfway through a session last week – the program is held Thursdays, 10-11 a.m., at the BMO Coastal Soccer Centre at South Surrey Athletic Park – the 76-year-old, playing goal, left his feet and dove to his left to make a highlight-reel save, resulting in, at first, a collective holding of breath from anxious fellow participants and Coastal FC staff alike, followed by cheers once he picked himself up off the turf, no worse for wear.
A celebratory wave from a smiling Annett to an imaginary crowd of spectators, and the game picked back up again.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was about six – it’s all I had to do back then,” he said. “I’ve always tried to stay active, but I had a heart attack four years ago, so that got in the way of my soccer playing. But now I’m back doing it again and it’s like I’ve never been away from it.
“It’s a great mix of people and it’s been a lot of fun. I think it’s a great thing.”
Fellow participant Norm Goodall – a longtime soccer player who grew up with the sport in Northern Ireland – feels similarly, telling Coastal FC senior staff coach Jay Caffrey – who heads the program – that the club’s inaugural session on Oct. 31 was the first time he’d been back on a pitch in 45 years.
But there he was a week later, dribbling the ball through legs and displaying skills reminiscent of the younger version of himself.
“You don’t really lose your skills. You maybe just don’t do it quite as well as you did before,” he said.
“I’ve had balance problems and I have a pacemaker, but this is a great thing for people like myself who want to keep in touch with the game. Soccer is competitive, and guys like me, you need a little bit more than just going for a walk or a bike ride.”
Caffrey, too, was impressed, if not completely surprised.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the things they can do,” he said. “Norm’s out there making plays, playing at a fantastic level.”
Of course, the weekly sessions aren’t just for those with backgrounds in the sport. Of a dozen or so participants at the club’s second session, there were a handful of players who clearly had experience – “You can tell who has played before – it’s their passing,” Annett said – as well as others who were brand-new to the sport and who came out to get some exercise and meet new people.
A few Coastal staff members filled out the rest of the positions on the field, or came off the bench when someone needed a break.
The rules of the game are largely the same as the regular version, aside from the fact that players can’t move faster than a walking pace. There are also no corner kicks, with out-of-bounds balls given instead to the keeper to play.
Caffrey said he was intrigued by walking soccer – which is popular in Europe and the U.K. and gaining steam in clubs across Canada, too – because he comes from a “neuro-scientific” background.
“I’m heavily intrigued by the (health) benefits of it,” he said. “There’s actually an inverse relationship between neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and exercise.
“For the (senior) demographic, it’s perfect… I’ve looked at the statistics and there’s a lot of social isolation and things like that – things that can affect a person’s mental state. So this gives them an opportunity to come out and meet and converse with people.”
Coastal FC executive director Chris Murphy said the program – which he hopes will eventually grow to between 30 and 60 participants – is something the club had been looking to start for awhile.
“It’s been on our radar for as long as we’ve been planning this facility,” he said of the indoor centre that opened earlier this year.
“There was always a missing opportunity for seniors and recreational socialization, and we thought this was a good way to open that area up and give that part of our community access to the sport.
“At Coastal, we want to be a club for all. Sometimes, trying to find a way to do that isn’t the easiest (because) … at the end of the day, the majority of our 4,000 members are youth players, but this is a way to get that segment of the community involved.”
Murphy echoed the idea that no experience is required to take part, and it’s a non-competitive environment.
“You see people smile and engage and see these interactions, and that’s what it’s about. Soccer is just a vehicle for that, at the end of the day.”