I spent many years sitting on the sidelines cajoling each of my five children to stop picking the flowers and “KICK THE BALL!!!”
So when the opportunity arose to climb inside a huge plastic bubble and play soccer, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to show off my fancy foot skills. My confidence rose from the moment I surveyed the indoor soccer field and sized up my competition.
The biggest challenge at hand was wiggling my way into the inflated plastic ball.
In my case, it was like trying to stuff a big tomato into an olive jar.
After some wrangling on the artificial turf and some friendly tips and counseling from the fine folks at Bubble Soccer, I found myself fully and safely stuffed into my plastic cocoon.
Once inside the bubble, you have to contort your arms through a pair of straps and hold onto a set a handles for dear life.
Think of the bubble like a great big circular backpack.
If you are limber and athletic and young, climbing into the bubble and putting the straps over your shoulders should not be too much of an ordeal. Remember: I may not be the best litmus test. After all, I am the guy who wore wing-tip shoes to play soccer.
The next big challenge is getting upright. I resembled one of those nature videos where a giant tortoise struggles to roll over onto its feet.
After rocking and rolling around on the turf for a bit (and with a little bit of luck) I found myself upright.
The rules of bumper ball are pretty simple — there are no real rules.
First you will learn to run. Sounds simple enough, but not so much.
Running with a giant bubble — the one for big guys like me weighs around 35 pounds — covering everything except the bottom of your legs is like running in space.
While the bubbles are made of clear plastic, your vision is about 20/70. And then there’s that matter of that extra weight and the fact you are inside a giant bubble.
The next part of the training is the art of warfare or what they like to call bumping into each other.
Like two bulls squaring off in the barnyard, we tore off toward each other with reckless abandon.
With a muffled thud we met. Our eyes met for a brief second. The next thing I saw was ceiling, turf, ceiling, turf, ceiling then a lot of turf.
My bubble intact, I took a quick assessment of my limbs, legs and noggin. Check. Check. So-so.
The final test was learning the art of the “roll.”
One of the greatest challenges of bubble soccer — aside from that whole soccer thing — is learning the art of rolling in the bubble so you land upright and don’t fall out or end up upside down with your legs dangling helplessly in the air.
There I was: left rocking on belly inside a ball in the middle of the soccer field.
After rocking back and forth for about 30 minutes or so (OK maybe it was a mere minute) I was able to awkwardly get back on my feet.
After a brief prayer, I set off again.
I think I may have lifted my feet about an inch off the ground and floated like a lead weight for a nanosecond and then headed head first toward the turf.
I let out a loud groan as the top of the bubble hit the turf. To my amazement, I saw a pair of Nike shoes high in the air.
Before I could admire those scuff-free new sneakers, gravity took over and my body was rolling over and over again.
This wasn’t one of those crazy fast rolls, it was more like 195 pounds of girth flipping ever so slowly over and over and over and over and over again.
I ended up like that ol’ tortoise back on my backside once again, trying to figure out how to get back on my feet.
But first I had to run through the checklist once again. Bubble — intact. Limbs — working. Legs — fully functional. And as for the noggin — still so-so. A soccer ball is placed in the center of the field and players from each side charge toward it.
Any resemblance of soccer ends there.
Instead it is a fun, manic free-for-all as players bounce like pingpong balls trying to KICK THE BALL!!!
Size really doesn’t matter, nor does age.
The bubbles are humbling equalizers as the plastic limits your vision and the weight slows your step down just enough that everyone struggles to keep up.
In some ways, it is a bit like a video game with players bouncing left and right and the ball seeming just out of reach.
Like a real professional soccer match, goals are rare.
But with some focus and bit of luck, it is possible to take a shot on the goal.
In bubble soccer, there are no goalies, so players have a free shot at scoring.
By some miracle, I made my way through a field of players stuck on their backs and had a clear shot at the goal or so it seemed through my limited field of vision.
Wide right was an understatement. I missed my direct shot on goal by some 20 feet.
Seven minutes of tripping, stumbling, rolling and panting for breath was enough for me.
I slinked my way out of my bubble and took my more comfortable place on the sidelines where I could once again yell at players to just KICK THE BALL!!!