It may look like a sport better played by astronauts. Or a bubble-wrap joke gone too far. But bubble soccer is a real sport with thousands of players all over the world who strap themselves inside large balls of plastic. They then proceed to kick around a soccer ball, weightlessly bumping into one another and merrily falling down or bouncing around.
The sport was invented in 2011 in Norway by a couple of comedians as a joke. But this 2014 video of a match went viral and made people take it seriously.
"The thing about bubble soccer is that it's just silly and ridiculous fun," says San Diego-based Jake Sibley, a co-founder of the U.S. Bubble Soccer Association (USBSA). "It takes players back to childhood, when they could run, play and fall down without getting hurt. Bubble soccer immediately gives you that liberty again — you have grown men running around giggling like little girls."
Bubble soccer matches usually will have a total of four five-minute quarters. Goals are scored by kicking the ball into the opponent's goal. The players are wrapped in personal protective bubbles that allow them to shake, tackle and roll without getting hurt. As you might expect, the rules are pretty fluid, varying league by league.
At a Sibley-led event in San Diego, you're not allowed to bump somebody if the player is already on the ground. "They're already embarrassed. Don't rub it in," Sibley says. You'll also have to obey the whistle and don't get too rough – a subjective rule, he admits. Meanwhile in the Chicago league, you can't bump a player from behind.
A five-minute quarter may seem very short, but this is an intense sport. "You're carrying a 15 to 25 pound [6.8 to 11 kilogram] bubble, hitting the ground, hitting other players, getting back up. It's very cardiovascular, very exhausting," says Randy Carlson, the USBSA's other co-founder, who is based in Chicago. Not to mention, it gets hot in that plastic suit!
"I'm in San Diego where we serve U.S. Marines all the time," Sibley adds. "Those guys last five minutes and they need a break."
Does bubble soccer sounds like something you'd like to try? Here's how to get started:
You'll need a venue – the game can be played indoors or on a soccer field. The bubble soccer company will bring the bubbles, a ref, soccer balls and goals, and will teach folks the basics of the game. One group even throws in a DJ, a great touch at a party or picnic. You can also join a bubble soccer league or start your own at the National Association of Bubble Soccer or the U.S. Bubble Soccer Association.
DIYers can order a bubble soccer kit from Amazon, at $50 for a child-sized bubble up to $1,500 for a set of nine adult bubbles. They should also read up on the rules at this website or here. But the main thing to remember is not to take this all too seriously. "The soul of bubble soccer is silliness and just having fun," says Sibley.