By Kristen Polizzi
Mike Marcus, a University of Kansas senior in the religious studies department, spits strategy from the sidelines of a makeshift soccer field in Watson Park.
“I don’t know why I’m yelling,” he says. “They can’t hear anything inside those things.”
Marcus motions vaguely toward his teammates, a cloudy cluster of 20-somethings whose earlier athleticism gave way to waddling and falling sometime after they suited up. This is what I came to see: a budding sport and a gawker’s delight. I’m talking, of course, about Lawrence’s premier bubble soccer league, which has drawn spectators and slowed Sunday traffic at the corner of Sixth and Tennessee for the past three weeks.
For the ill-informed, bubble soccer is, in the most transparent terms, traditional soccer with a twist. Teams of six battle for the ball in 20-minute halves. They shoot. They score. But one glaring peculiarity tips the scales from sport to spectacle. And that is the bubble.
Players bumble about with all but their legs tucked inside giant, inflated, crystal-colored orbs, which act as buffers for bumps and bruises and, at the same time, effectively level the playing field for novice and experienced athletes. This is about fun, not finesse, and most certainly not about fancy footwork. In fact, players are probably better off knowing less about soccer and more about basic physics. Because when bubble-to-bubble contact sends opponents flying with the force and directedness of a human pinball machine, you may realize that ‘sizing up the competition’ carries some serious weight.
A brief history
Where was bubble soccer born? Most likely on a Norwegian small screen, where the television series ‘Golden Goal’ publicized the sport (boblefotball) in 2011. Three years later, ‘The Tonight Show’ host Jimmy Fallon brought it stateside and inspired the inaugural U.S. league in Chicago. And now, after touring countless fields and facilities in cities across the country, the fledgling sport has finally landed in Lawrence.
One thing is certain: We’re all beginners here.
About the bubble
I should probably address the $400, 15-pound bubble in the room. How much protection does that beach ball behemoth really provide? Turns out, quite a bit. The consensus among players is that the bubble—although hot, heavy and nearly soundproof—handles high-speed collisions like champ.
“You’re living your parents’ dream,” Marcus said. “It’s a contact sport, but their kid is completely protected in this little bubble.”
Go to play
While this season is over, you may still have a (sporting) chance. Kyle Meyers, co-owner of Silverback Enterprises, the Lawrence-based event production company that hosts the local bubble soccer league, said another season is in the works.
“We’re still getting registration forms sent in and calls from people wanting to play,” Meyers said. “So we will probably start signups for another league right after this one.”
If the registration rules remain the same, leagues will be filled on a first come first serve basis. The price to play—$40 per person and $240 per team—includes custom designed uniforms. Watch for updates on Silverback’s website and the Lawrence Bubble Soccer Facebook page
Still need convincing? Check out what local bubble soccer players had to say. Then start toying with team names.
Meet the players and the ref who hosts their game
Off the field: Pastor at New Church Lawrence on campus
Team: Ball Busters With a Sporting Chance
Rival: The Winners. We beat them twice.
Position: Forward…and linebacker
Experience: I’ve played [regular] soccer since I was four.
And that helps? Not at all.
Motivation: Pure fun…a little bit of wanting to slam into people. It’s half and half.
Performance (in three words or less): Slightly beyond shabby
Game winning strategy: Our team has a motto. Two words: no mercy. But we always say ‘two words’ first. So, really it’s four words.
GOAL!s: Go pro.
From: Kansas City, Mo.
Off the field: Rocks the desk at Entercom (a radio broadcasting company in KC)
Team: The Marauders
Rival: [Calls to team captain] WHO’S OUR RIVAL? Ball Busters With a Sporting Chance.
Position: Wherever they need me.
Experience: About three years of [regular] soccer
And that helps? No. I couldn’t see my feet.
Motivation: I’ve got friends on the team, and it sounded like fun.
Game winning strategy: Attack.
GOAL!s: To score some.
Off the field: KU sophomore studying economics
Team: Echoes of Distant Thunder
Rival: Whoever we’re playing next.
Position: Midfield or forward
Experience: I’ve played [regular] soccer since I was 5.
And that helps? I think so. It’s easier to move the ball.
Motivation: Some friends recruited me.
Performance (in three words or less): Make them bleed.
Game winning strategy: Hit hard and get up fast.
GOAL!s: Oh, I hope to be making six figures by next year.
From: St. Paul, Minn.
Off the field: Co-owner of Silverback Enterprises
What are the most important rules in bubble soccer? It’s a balance of fun and safety. Sometimes there’s a false sense of security that comes from being in the bubble.
Good players never take themselves too seriously.
Previous referee experience: Absolutely none.
Most controversial call this season: Last weekend there was a tie, so we decided to do a jousting face off.
Why does bubble soccer belong in Lawrence? It’s weird. It’s out there. But it’s also family friendly.
Photos by Kristen Polizzi
Edited by Katie Gilbaugh