Fit in my 40s: will Soccercise get me closer to my World Cup dream?

It has the look of a Pilates class interrupted by someone throwing footballs into it

There’s nothing more annoying than listening to a person who’s no good at stuff complain how intimidating it is when you’re no good at stuff. So I’ll keep this quick: football is not for cissies. Socially speaking, I mean. I started off looking for a mixed beginner game, but the lowest level I could find was “recreational”, which is meant in the same sense as “recreational drugs”: “Yes this is my leisure time, but I take it very, very seriously.” I was too cowardly even to make myself known to the players, just sloped up, had a look, sloped away. In my heavily gendered analysis, this is men’s fault: the ones who are no good but want to play just organise kickabouts with their friends in a park. So as soon as you’re in the company of strangers, the level will be too high if you’ve never played before. Too late, I discovered, which organises things like a “social sports mix”, where beginners are welcome, because it’s not a real game.

By then, though, I was on a different track. If you have no sense memory of football, played it once as a child, never watch it, aren’t as familiar with its core principles as those of hockey, the best thing is to do exercise crossed with ball skills for a while, and then find a proper game to ruin. If you’re young, there is quite a bit of this through Goals4Girls; but a pathway into the sport for the middle-aged isn’t such a priority for its assorted bodies.

That’s how I discovered Soccercise: no, first I went to a church hall, but they’d actually changed it to reggaecise (we’ll talk about that another day, because it is brilliant).

Soccercise is deceptive. It has the look of a group of women whose regular Pilates class has been interrupted by someone throwing a load of footballs into it. Quite easy-looking ball-familiarisation moves (tapping it, moving round it) feel after a couple of minutes like extremely high-impact aerobics, which is either because, or why, the average age is about 18, max. The ball element is either desperately contrived or incredibly innovative; it’s hard to say until you get good at it. There’s quite a bit of dancing around it, trying not to touch it, dropping to the floor and giving someone 20 press-ups when you do, which everyone does. Sometimes it’s used as a prop, gripping it with your knees as you do sit-ups, which can’t improve your foot‑eye coordination, but unmistakably makes all your muscles burn. Standard moves (planks, leg lifts, wall sits, squats) will give no trouble to your average British Military Fitness aficionado.

But it was designed by the Football Association to get people who didn’t understand balls at all to a basic, end-of-primary-school skill level, so there’s a lot of group work, which is basically throwing, catching, passing, stopping, doing all that stuff other people make look easy. Compared with the warm-up, it is easy; but that might be because I was doing it all wrong.

What I learned

Keep your eyes on the intended destination, and your ball is more likely to get where you want it to.