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Going for the goal: soccer is becoming a popular fitness alternative for women.

With an estimated 55 million women participating in athletic activities nationwide, women are now commanding movers in the realm of fitness. One area that has seen an explosion of interest is women's soccer. The rate at which women's soccer teams are growing is immense. Across the nation, fields and arenas are packed with players emulating Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers. Why are women drawn to this sport and coming from all walks of life to participate?

The year 1999, when the United State's women's team won the World Cup, was a stellar time for women's soccer. The team's benevolence and sportsmanship attracted fans and created inspiring female role models. This sport no longer strictly attracts zealots, but now brings women of all ages looking to improve their fitness levels and vary their workouts.

Getting in shape for soccer requires workouts comprised of aerobic exercise, weight training and stretching. "Even if you are in great shape, you may not be accustomed to the aerobic intensity [of] soccer," says Walter Norton, Director for Strength and Conditioning at Mike Boyles Strength and Conditioning Center in Winchester, Massachusetts. Norton, who also coaches the WUSA Boston Breakers, adds that it is important to find the proper balance between training, playing and resting.

"Many women believe if they excel on the stairclimber or jog several miles, they are fit to play the game. [However], they also need to develop speed and dexterity," explains Norton. Movements that imitate what is done on the soccer field, such as the agility ladder (which increases one's potential to change direction quickly) and the slide board (which extends the endurance capacity of lateral motion muscles, like the abductors and adductors) are beneficial. Since a professional mid-fielder can run an estimated eight miles per game, jogging and sprinting drills are also imperative.

As a mid-fielder and captain for the WUSA Boston Breakers, 30 year-old Kristine Lilly's regimen consists of running exercises, such as jogging, sprinting and climbing stadium stairs. "Exercises that encourage balance and strength training are also part of my routine," she says. Lilly's off-season routine includes weight lifting, four days per week, to build the strength crucial for soccer season. "Fitness is the backbone of my game. We have to work hard [to get] in shape during the off-season, so we are ready for the [upcoming] challenges--mentally and physically," she adds.

Breakers forward, Allie Kemp, agrees with Lilly on developing fitness before the season begins. This applies to professionals as well as recreational players. "Regardless of the level you are playing [at], preparatory workouts are vital to prevent injury," Kemp advises. "We do a lot of core strengthening routines and stability exercises to work large muscle groups and build ligament integrity." Kemp is quick to add that soccer offers benefits you cannot get from a gym workout. "[S]occer is different. In any one game you may be jogging, jumping or doing lateral movements that can't be entirely mimicked in the gym. Even if you are in great shape, soccer will tax muscles you haven't worked," she says.

"Soccer is an intense form of cross training for individuals looking to give their routines variety," agrees Gina German, an aerobics instructor from New Hampshire. German began playing soccer to diversify her workouts. A thirty-something wife and mother, she likes that "athletes can play with [those] who are just learning." Attending beginner clinics helped her learn the rules of the game and reinforced her previous knowledge of soccer. She claims even if you're on the losing end of the score, the game is still a positive experience because you learn a lot about yourself and your physical abilities.

In addition to the physical benefits of the game is the camaraderie developed by playing with other energetic women. Loyalty toward their team is a force that drives women to push their limits beyond what they once thought themselves capable of. Fitness enthusiast, Kathy Hill, a 42 year-old Spanish professor from the University of New Hampshire, states, "I have worked out through various venues, but soccer has opened my world to connections with healthy, vibrant women. The social [and] physical component of this sport has enriched my life. I invite other women to try soccer and experience how rewarding it is."

Breaking the barriers of preconceived notions of fitness, women's soccer is widening the realm of fitness. Both professional and recreational participants are reaping the physiological, psychological and sociological benefits in the process.

Additional Sources

The Complete Guide to Soccer Conditioning Ken Kontor, et al. To order, call (800) 578-4636.

Web sites For tips on training for soccer, visit www.performancecondition.com.

For information regarding the physical and psychological benefits of exercise and sports on females of various ages, visit http://education.umn.edu/tuckercenter/p cpfs/default.html.

RELATED ARTICLE: Too popular to play.

For the fourth consecutive year in a row, respondents to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's (SGMA) State of the Industry Survey voted soccer to be the hot sport in the coming year. According to American Sports Data, Inc., soccer is the only team sport that experienced participation growth between 1990 and 2000.

The increased interest in soccer is partially due to trends that affect many team sports: the influx of female players and the recruitment of young players by organized leagues. In addition, adult males who discovered the sport in their childhood are still playing and forming age-bracket leagues.

In 2001, the New York Times reported that some suburban playing fields had become so crowded, adult soccer leagues were barred from playing on them. According to the National Council on Youth Sports, the lack of playing fields has been identified as one of the most important issues in youth sports. It is conceivable that soccer would grow faster if more fields existed.

-- D.K. Howe

Gina White is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in various regional and national publications including American Fitness, First for Women, Tai Chi and the Equine Journal. She also writes for children's magazines and is a member of the SCBWI.
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Author:White, Gina
Publication:American Fitness
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:1007
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