Soccer players who are going to go far in the sport, such as David Beckham, begin to gain notice as young as age 8 and may be signed by a top team such as Manchester United by around their 12th birthday. So if you want to learn soccer in your 20s, you probably aren't bound for a career as a pro, but rest assured, plenty of recreational players take up soccer even in their 30s and 40s and make headway in their skills -- and most of all, have fun.
You can certainly learn soccer in your 20s. "Of course, it all depends on what level that you want to play," says Wes Harvey, former men's soccer coach at Morgan State University in Baltimore. "The older you get, the harder it is to play at a higher level. Not everybody can be Michael Jordan," he said, alluding to the basketball superstar's switch to baseball when he was 30 years old. "Jordan wanted to play baseball and he managed to hold his own at a lower level. He did not excel at playing at the Birmingham Barons, but he was able to do it," Harvey recalls.
As with younger players, who learn soccer from a combination of informal pickup games, league play and watching games in person and on television, older players can follow the same approach. In addition, indoor arenas and outdoor leagues from New York to Chicago offer courses, limited to new players above the age of 21, to teach soccer to adults. If you are in your 20s and you want to play at a competitive level, it would take you a few years of such training and playing to grasp the game, "but you could do and you can certainly play and excel at a recreational level," Harvey says.
Men may be able to make greater strides in becoming creative players than women who start in their 20s. "The player pool is larger for men, and that has advantages and disadvantages," Harvey states. "You can find people more willing to play pickup with you. The difference with women is, because there are fewer of them, there will be fewer pickup games. Those that do play have children, so women are often more interested in official leagues with official schedules than casual pickup games. But playing in official leagues, you just reinforce what you already know, whereas in pickup games, you experiment with new techniques."
You can learn to play the sport at any age, "but playing at a competitive level is the question," Harvey notes. "The good thing about soccer is that you can perform certain duties even at the highest level if you are in good shape." For example, a coach can train a good athlete in her 20s such as a runner or marathoner how to play wing defender and shut down an opponent. "You could train them to do something very simple like that," he observes, "but if you are talking about teaching overlapping runs, square balls, crosses and passing back, that would be more difficult."