Mexico City, Soccer, Health, and a Broken Rib

Last January I volunteered to be the strength and conditioning coach for the Men’s Masters Maccabi over 45 soccer team. Basically it’s the old man Jewish American national soccer team. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s for real. Every two years there is a Maccabi Games, aka the Jewish Olympics, that is held somewhere in the world, where Jewish athletes gather and compete in every sport you can imagine from soccer to water polo.  Trust me when I tell you it’s a big deal. How could gathering 20,000 Jewish athletes in one place not be a big deal?! The Men's Master team starts training two years before the competition. The training sessions are held as mini camps all over the country in which the players show up and train Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then return home. My job was to direct fitness, nutrition, and recovery aspects of the training for the team. In February, I attended a training camp in Florida and got talked into not just being the strength and conditioning coach, but also playing as the central midfielder for the team.

I hadn’t played soccer in 15 years so I had some work ahead of me. First,I pulled my hamstring. Then I strained my calf. It was obvious that I had to do some work on programming to get to a place where I could participate without getting injured. I switched all of my programing from bilateral work (2 feet on the ground) to unilateral work (1 foot on the ground).  It turns out I had imbalances that were masked by doing so many bilateral activities with very little variation. Squats, Deadlifts, Box Jumps, KB Swings - all great activities to stay strong and fit, but they didn’t seem to transfer well to a 45-year-old transitioning to playing soccer more and more. Through the unilateral activities, training eccentric hamstring strength, and very strategic mobility each day, I was able to avoid any soft tissue injuries. Plus, I learned a ton about my body. 

By playing soccer again, I’ve had the opportunity to re-experience what was once a passion and a complete joy to me. Reconnecting with the game as a player has made me realize that being confident, creative, and fearless on the soccer field has transferred to all areas of my life. 

Fast forward to this year’s Maccabi Games in Mexico City. Once we got there, I felt great. But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. For starters, it took me a while to figure out how to relax, be confident, and have autonomy while playing soccer again. At first it was more stressful than enjoyable. Also, I have a tendency to overdo things - fifty burpees is never good enough… let's do 100 burpees! While playing in our second game against Mexico I bruised my ribs and got heat stroke. Despite being sick most of the night, I played the next day against Great Britain. It was uncomfortable and I probably should have rested. In our second to last game, which we had to win to play for the bronze, I got hit with an elbow right on that bruised rib and, snap, it broke right in half. I missed the bronze medal game. And, more importantly, I was unable to take a breath without tearing up from the pain. The healing process will take me some time, but as I reflect back on my trip to Mexico I see the positives and negatives. Reconnecting with soccer, being a leader, playing with confidence, and taking chances has made me look at work, family, and life differently. On the other hand, dealing with an injury that doesn’t heal overnight has taught me to slow down, be patient, and live more in the moment.