For two hours each week, a group of middle-aged men get away from the grind & recapture the best feelings of their varsity days.
What do you get when you put a pilot, an engineer, an entrepreneur and a whole bunch of executives together on an elementary school playground?
Old Man Football League.
The definition of old is a relative one, of course. The particular men I am referring to have an average age of only 42, yet compared to their high school varsity selves, the are old. Each of these 10 athletes lettered in baseball, golf, lacrosse, football, soccer and/or tennis.
Now, every Saturday morning this under-caffeinated group gathers on a makeshift gridiron to play as though they were still boys.
Whether they know it or not they are doing more than having fun.
They spend these two hours each week yelling at each other to go long. The football flies, they talk smack, and when they gather along the sidelines they talk about other things too. Their play strengthens their friendships, their muscles, and even their mental health. It brings them closer to both the teenagers that they were and the men they want to be.
I was feeling curious about how these men envisioned their weekly time together, and sat down to ask them some questions about it.
I asked each member of the team to tell me the first word that comes to mind to when they think of the league. They chose vehement, entertaining, Herculean, reckless, friendly, and glorious. One player eschewed adjectives but spoke to a core element of team sports when he chose the word camaraderie.
One gridiron gladiator says the best part of football league is, “Realizing you still got a piece of what you once had.”
The league they describe is the personification of your high school best friend — the one with whom you’d grab a pizza, sneak a few beers, and toss around the pigskin. This piece represents not only be physical prowess on the field, but also a chance to reembody the characteristics of your teenage self.
I’ll second down that.
When I asked them to name the best thing about their weekly pick up league, they seemed to huddle up before answering. More than half of the group gave a variation of a thought on being able to simultaneously look foreward and backward.
“The best thing about Old Man Football league is combining nostalgia and sharing the experience of refusing to get old too early.”
It is a rare experience You can be completely in the moment while you are concentrating on catching a pass. You can remember your past as you channel your younger self. And you can project the future as you imagine many more years on this same field, filling your lungs with fresh air as you work up a sweat.
Third down’s the charm.
We all know the physical benefits of exercise, but exercise as team play can have a profound effect on your mind as well as your body. In fact, the positive effects of team sports far outnumber those of individual exercise. In fact, a 2009 study at the University of Ballarat found that people who participate in club sports enjoy improved mental health and “life satisfaction” as compared to people who exercise in a gym setting or by walking.
One member described his favorite aspect of their football league this way:
“I love being able to encourage each other (and give each other crap) while trying to prove that we can still play.”
Here these men have a space to be both cheerleader and heckler, coach and player, star and referee. The resulting mental and physical exercise benefits both brain and body.
One player pointed out that he feels an element of getting away with something when they gather on the field.
“Sometimes you catch one across the middle that shouldn’t be caught.”
In a way, the league is all about getting away. Every week they get this specially sanctioned time off from errands. When they are lucky, they get away with throwing an errant ball. More often than not they get away with a little more than a two handed touch.
And for those two hours every week, they get away from seeing themselves as old men.
The Old Man Football League isn’t only about friendship, fun, brain and brawn. There is an one additional benefit to playing with your friends.
According to an article on Salon.com, a study conducted by researchers at Laurentian University found that women are more attracted to men who play team sports than men who are regularly engaged in other leisure activities.
I most certainly agree with this every Saturday around noon when my husband leaves the field and returns to our family.
Photo credit: Flickr/5N7sn9