The desire to play a team sport, maybe even engage in a bit of friendly competition, does not necessarily diminish in older age, but certain athletic pursuits may not be ideal for people with joint issues or who cannot run for long periods of time. Walking soccer may be the answer! It was created as a modified non-contact sport to promote health and safety while allowing people of all ages to enjoy playing the game.
According to the Canadian Walking Soccer Association, walking soccer enables people with mobility issues to rediscover their passion for the sport, in a fun, recreational setting. The modified rules allow no running or jogging, and the ball cannot travel above head height. No physical contact is allowed, including blocking, pushing, or tackling across a player. The goal is to provide a more inclusive environment that is safer and less intimidating for players of varying ages and abilities.
Participating in a recreational sport not only improves physical fitness, but players report having more energy and experience a boost in mood. The social aspect of the game is also a vital component of walking soccer, helping to connect people with others in their community. Being part of such a team can boost self-esteem and increase one’s sense of value and belonging.
Walking soccer clubs have been popping up in cities across Canada and the United States, including Saskatoon, Guelph, Sarnia, Pickering, Oakville, Sherbrooke, Toronto and Nanoose, British Columbia. Many of the players are over 55 and in Sarnia, a regular player recently reached his 90th birthday. Occasionally, younger players – including the children and grandchildren of regular participants, join in the fun.
Walking soccer originated in England, where there are about 600 walking football clubs. The sport recently gained the attention of soccer fans worldwide with a World Nations Cup held in August 2023.
A 2015 study found that 12 weeks of walking soccer, with a two-hour weekly training session significantly reduced body mass and body fat in older men. It is considered safe for healthy people as well as those with medical conditions including hypertension, knee osteoarthritis or Type 2 diabetes.
As always, talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program, and begin slowly, gradually increase intensity and duration.