The main rule of "walking soccer" is no running.

‘Walking soccer’ trend in Spain keeps people of all ages in the game

Soccer is a sport with lots of contact – and injuries. But imagine the game played much slower. In Barcelona, “walking soccer” allows soccer lovers of all ages to continue playing the game.

The World

When Albert Maiker Martín steps onto the soccer field in Barcelona, he has one goal — to prevent his opponents from scoring. 

“Out here you have to avoid doing stupid things,” the 82-year-old goalie said, “like throwing yourself on the ground just to stop a shot. I won’t even consider it!” 

Martín plays a game called “walking soccer,” a trend that allows soccer lovers of all ages to continue playing the game. As the name suggests, there’s one main rule: no running. 

These soccer players are part of a new trend called "wabol," or walking soccer.

These soccer players are part of a new trend called "wabol," or walking soccer. 

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Fernando Mayorga, 72, said not breaking that rule is the hardest part of the game for him. 

As referee Silvio Simms blew the whistle on Mayorga in a recent game, he could not resist going from walk to trot, as he tried to reach a slow-rolling pass.

The players are not allowed to run during their game of soccer.

The players are not allowed to run during their game of soccer.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

This is just Mayorga's third day playing walking soccer. But he played regular soccer in his native Argentina as a younger man. 

To play this game, he said, you really have to change your mentality — and your expectations.  

Simms, the referee, added strategy as another factor. 

Simms co-founded the Spanish chapter of the global walking soccer movement, where it’s known as “wabol.” Walking soccer is still soccer in the strictest sense, Simms said, but much safer.

The Wabol Spain team consists of folks of various ages.

The Wabol Spain team consists of folks of various ages. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Silvio Simms

When a player has the ball, he said, the opponent can’t touch the referee in any way.

"In the two years since we started this league, we’ve played a ton of games and never had a single injury," he said. 

Simms himself is a former pro. He is Australian but played in Spain with Football Club Barcelona, or Barça. 

But in this game, he said, former greatness and glory will get you nowhere.

“If I were to bring former Barça legend Leonel Messi down here he’d be a nobody. Neither his speed nor skills would help him,” he said. 

Some players are experienced, but say the main goal here is to have fun.

Some players are experienced, but say the main goal here is to have fun.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

That’s because of another rule — as soon as you get the ball you have to pass it. You get just two touches, total. No dribbling. No slide -tackles. No headers. The ball can’t go above shoulder height. 

When 51-year-old soccer mom Ingrid Regadell heard about it, she became, well, a walk-on. 

“I wouldn’t dare play against these same guys in regular soccer,” she said after practice. "They run faster, shoot harder." 

Regadell now has her own team in the Spanish wabol league. It’s one of 12 teams total. And every week new players join the play.  

The game is catching on wherever soccer is played, which is pretty much everywhere. 

Wabol Spain soccer players on the field.

Wabol Spain soccer players on the field.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Wabol Spain has a tournament in Morocco later this year. And clubs from France, Senegal and elsewhere will also be competing. 

But Simms said this is not about winning.

“We have two other key rules,” he said. “Getting mad is forbidden. And you must have fun.” 

 That suits goalkeeper Maiker Martín just fine. Like Simms, he played for Barça years ago, in two games.

“It was in 1961, or '60,” he said. “I’m no longer sure who we played against. But it was amazing for this 20-year-old kid. Walking soccer is about getting out and running around a bit. It might seem like nothing, he laughs, but at 82, it helps keep the ole beer-belly at bay.” 

And with that, he assumes his goalie stance, hoping the next shot will reach him and not the net. 

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