When I was starting to learn football (keep in mind I was past 25yo already), I would practice and kick around in the nearest park almost every afternoon. When I was confident enough to register in some recreational leagues, I started with a weekly rec league. I remember that once a week was a good, consistent repetition for me: it was enough to “push me” (relative to how noob I was before), at the same time it’s not eating too much of my time. Fast forward to now where I’m doing minimum 3x a week, I asked myself lately: “Is once a week enough (in general, for everyone) and I’m just being proactive with my 3x a week OR, is 3x a week the minimum (I think for everyone) and once a week is barely making a dent in your skills, time, effort, etc”?
Here I just quickly answer that.
Benefits of 1x a week
After been playing this for years, I think 1x a week is perfect if your only goal is to just break a sweat and really, just casually play. You’ll probably lose a more than you’d win at this point but if you’re in a very beginner enough league, you’ll definitely get a good fix of serotonin with this. This is enough to qualify you by telling your co-workers in the office that “I play football every week”. This is if you are/were like me who’s just starting and trying to improve.
If you’ve been playing this since you were a kid and you’re a Messi but life’s just busy and getting you caught up, once a week is also enough for you to “not lose muscle memory”, break a little sweat, and “pwn a couple of noobs”. You will probably own a lot of people but I don’t think you’ll be progressing (pushing your skill level further) and if someone’s really keen on improving, s/he will eventually surpass you.
With my experience, I was like paragraph 1. At first I thought it was “a big help” because I was sweating, I was panting, and my “strength was getting pushed”. After some sobering realization, I found that I was just sweating because that’s naturally part of it. My “strength was getting pushed” yes, but it doesn’t mean I’m getting stronger than everyone. It just meant that I was so weak that the basic football motions were really working me out big time (I was basically starting from a very low bar LOL).
Before, I thought once a week was well enough already. I was plagued with injuries too (see, weak), so I was also fearful of getting more, as I play more.
I found that it was detrimental though (now that I can comfortably play 3x a week) because once a week was a bad cycle. Basically if I played Monday, the physical benefits I got and mental things I learned would just stick up until Wednesday. And then Thursday to Sunday I’d just be a potato so not only did I lose my gains, but I reverted back to sedentary lifestyle that it’s making it worse again. Come next week Monday and in a scale of 1 to 10, the motions I would do would be enough to get me from -5 (yes, negative) to 0. And then the cycle happens again and there would be no physical, skill, mental gains.
Benefits of 3x a week (or more if you want)
Now, I’m doing 3x a week, especially for Spring, Summer, Fall seasons. I throttle it down during winter because you know, snowboard ❤️
I did it gradually: from once a week, to twice, to thrice, to twice again (due to schedule), then normalizing at 3x a week.
My biggest concern was injury. I was very injury-prone before so that’s a big aspect of it already. I’ve done my training, exercise, physio, and strengthening but I was still fearful to try to see if it works. Eventually, I dispelled my own fear. Previously I thought that “more games = more injury”. Turns out it’s false.
Assuming you do proper warm-up, cooldown, stretching, skills training, some form of strength training and listening to your body how to improve and strengthen what you need to improve, 3x a week is very beneficial.
No more injuries
Remember this was my biggest concern? Turns out, the more you play, strengthen, and improve, the more you avoid injuries. Since if your skill is improving, the less you do risky/experimental moves. The more you strengthen your body (due to increased games), the more you mitigate injuries if it ever becomes dicey. The more you smarten up with your game sense, the more you can tell if you’re actually going to win a 50/50 for example if it’s going to be a painful collision waiting to happen.
First, there is actual improvement, physically and mentally.
Physically, the game 1 is your “warm up” game. You get a day in between as a break and muscle recovery and then game 2 becomes an opportunity to improve on the things you were failing at during game 1. Again you’ll have a break in between and then my game 3 is my “culmination” game where in I try to push myself (I imagine I’m trying to qualify for La Liga LOL). I’m really giving my all and if there’s a skill I was practicing in game 2, I should be able to bake it in game 3 BUT, it has to be quality. Everything should be on point. Game 2 is the practice day to do a skill “just for the sake of”. Game 3 should be done with efficiency, quality pass/shot.
And then come next week’s game 1, your game 1 isn’t a warm-up any more because the “warm up” was essentially last week’s game 3. So next week, you’ll scale more and you won’t be stuck in a cycle of “warming up” like once a week.
Mentally you improve your game intelligence too. First, the more you improve your muscle memory and your skills, you more space in your brain you free up to think of other things. If before you were mentally (and visually) focused in trying to do elasticos for example, now you won’t have to look or think about it because you’ve finessed that skill so much already. This allows you to not think about it (and look at your foot!) anymore and possibly have more time to look up, scan teammates/opponents, and think of your next move.
The more you play per week, the more you get into this rhythm which helps weekly improvement. Contrast this with once a week and the rest of the 6 days you’re being a potato. I love potato days, but in terms of football and improvement, it’s not doing you any good.
You get to think strategy
This one’s a step above the mental improvement I wrote above. When you start, you’re probably just looking at the ball and you’re slowly/poorly executing football moves. The more you refine that skill, the more you can afford to look up, and think of your next move (as mentioned above).
Now adding to that, the more you can master your individual physical and mental capabilities, the more you can think strategy with your team. This means, the more you can find and attack spaces or the more you can read (and anticipate) third man runs. When defending, this gives you more time (mental and temporal) to anticipate the opponent’s move and how to execute an effective counter.
Oversimplified, you get to not just think about yourself any more, you think as a team.
Health and happiness
Lastly, I’m a believer than your mental health is also connected to your physical health. The more you move, the better you feel, both physically and mentally. I can and will write a separate article on this but the benefit is that, not only do you feel good while playing, you still have a continuous and longer-lasting happiness effect after the fact. E.g.: celebrating a goal or celebrating the personal goals / improvements that you’ve given yourself.
If you can afford it, I’d suggest more than once a week if you can. Of course it’s given and understandable if you have a kid or something or life’s tough. In that case, once a week is definitely better (and even a big accomplishment already in some cases) than nothing.
Either way, keep calm and play joga bonito. Get the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of football on and off the pitch.