by Joan Allison | photo courtesy of LBL
In Memphis, organized soccer for girls goes all the way back to the early 1970s. Back then, choices for player were limited to four recreational teams for girls through the Southeast Memphis Soccer Association (SEMSA): Red, Blue, Green and Yellow. You bought your own team-colored shirt from a store, threw on a pair of shorts and sneakers, and played a game that most of the players’ parents had no idea about. I remember fondly that most (if not all) of the referees spoke in thick foreign accents. The coaches were parents of the players and came from places that were definitely not in the South.
As the years passed, the soccer opportunities for girls grew. These days, girls can play for fun, for their school, and for some serious competition on travel teams. Teens and women can also play on area teams, both women and co-ed.
But what became of the girls who started it all? Many are still playing here in Memphis (or at least they do when there’s not a pandemic). They’re in recreation leagues, intramural college teams, D1 college teams, indoor, outdoor…you name it. If girls and women want to play soccer in Memphis, they can.
One local Memphis league is catering to women who want to play without competitive pressure. Some of the league’s players knew little about soccer when they joined the league and some knew much. But they all wanted the same things: comraderie, exercise, and social time. The league is called the Laid Back League, or LBL.
The Laid Back League kind of grew out of the O35 (over age 35) indoor soccer league whose lineups featured tough competitors with impressive soccer resumes, and some enthusiastic competitors who were there to have some fun. It was soon clear that for some, a different mission was needed. Something more relaxed, more like easy, fun pick up games (though LBL has five teams, each with about 10 players on the roster).
Paula Seward was a player in the O35 league. In 2014, she and fellow O35 players, Carrie Hough and Carolyn Grisanti, decided it was time to bring play down a notch. “We knew we wanted to take a different approach and create an environment that wasn’t focused on winning or losing,” Seward said, “but more on learning the game and having fun. Laid Back League was born from that desire.
“The name was intentional and reflected our approach. Many women who played with LBL also played in the 035 league but we wanted our name to be indicative of what you could expect when you stepped on the field,” Seward said.
Players are straight allies, or on the rainbow. Informally, 21 is the minimum age, but Seward says most players are between 30 and 50. The league welcomes anyone who identifies as female and wants to play soccer.
Seward says that players don’t have to be in great shape, but having some level of cardio is helpful to enjoy the game more and help prevent injury. For those players who’d like more training, LBL usually hosts three practice or clinic sessions a year in
addition to games.
No fancy equipment is required, but players need shin guards and a ball (size 5) to practice with. Tennis shoes are OK, but you can also invest in shoes that are specially made for indoor soccer. These can be found at all sporting goods stores and are usually cute enough to wear off-field.
The league used to play its games at Midtown’s Greenfield Arena, but Greenfield closed at the beginning of the COVID outbreak. Now, the same folks from Greenfield are building a new facility off of Summer Avenue, north of Broad, and the league will play there when it’s completed and safe to return to indoor athletics.
“We started this league as much for the opportunity to play soccer as the opportunity to build and become part of a network,” Seward said. “We have come to love the word “huddle” thanks to Brooke Baldwin’s book by the same name, and we think we were building a huddle in 2014, before we had a word for it. “
Meeting new people and making friends as an adult is hard, but that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to create this group of strong, powerful women who had a space to play a sport but also find community. We’ve celebrated weddings, babies, promotions and big life changes, but we’ve also supported each other through divorces, job loss, or losing a parent or loved one.
“We have also held some pretty epic social events — progressive dinners, World Cup watch parties, bike rides to Panchos (across the Big River Crossing in Arkansas), and karaoke parties, to name a few. During COVID, we also did a ‘Guess the Baby Photo’ contest that was a ton of fun!
“The socialization and community is probably more important than actually playing soccer… We wanted to build something that could grow and evolve when that time (to quit playing) comes. LBL may not always be soccer, but we will always find a way to have something that we can call our own. Something that gives us the opportunity to continue the friendships and connections that we’ve built.”
Because they’re without a playing field and because COVID is still causing problems for sports such as indoor soccer, LBL is not registering players at the moment.
INDOOR SOCCER BASICS
Indoor soccer can be played year round with the arena air conditioned or heated. It’s a much faster game than outdoor soccer. Indoor fields are typically a hard surface that is likely covered with an artificial surface resembling grass. The field is about the size of a basketball court A match is played between two teams, in two 30-minute halves. Each team has about six players, including the goalkeeper. During the match unlimited numbers of substitutions are permitted. Some leagues use referees, but the LBL does not. Also, the LBL doesn’t keep score.