Sober Soccer: How The World’s Favorite Sport Aids In Addiction RecoveryAug 25, 2016 06:04PM ● By Sarah Almond
Brian Knight (in blue) runs drills with several participants of the sober soccer program during a Wednesday afternoon practice. When Knight started the first sober soccer team, just six people came out. Today the program has four different teams with players of all skill levels. (Sarah Almond/City Journals)
Twenty-seven-year-old Brian Knight moved from California to Utah 18 months ago to seek addiction treatment. Here, he joined the Fit To Recover gym in downtown Salt Lake City, where he met a community of individuals who were all working towards one goal: to free themselves from the thralls of addiction and live a life of sobriety.
“It was a community that I really wanted to get involved in,” Knight said. “One of the things that helped me stay sober was definitely the Fit To Recover gym, but also rediscovering the hobby of soccer - something that has always been a passion for me growing up.”
Within weeks of moving here, Knight found himself playing at the Gardner Village Indoor Soccer arena almost every night of the week.
“It kept me sober and it gave me something to look forward to everyday and something to make me feel accomplished,” Knight said. “I just wanted to share that passion with other people.”
Though Salt Lake City has an expansive sober community with dozens of programs designed for those in recovery, Knight immediately recognized an opportunity to combine his drive to live a sober lifestyle with his passion for the game of soccer.
“There are other sober sports like volleyball and softball, but there was no sober soccer,” Knight said. “So I just wanted to take the initiative and see if I could get people involved.”
After deciding to launch a soccer program for those working towards sobriety, Knight started networking and getting the word out about his idea.
“I started talking to people at Fit To Recover; I started talking to the alumni department at my recovery center; I started announcing it at AA meetings,” Knight said. “Wherever I would go, I would promote it by word-of-mouth.”
It took time, but Knight’s efforts paid off. Though just six people joined the sober soccer program in the beginning, now, nearly a year later, more than 40 recovering addicts gather every Saturday and Monday to play the world’s most popular sport.
“One of my biggest goals of starting sober soccer is to get people involved even if they don’t do other forms of recovery like AA programs or treatment centers,” Knight said. “I wanted to give them somewhere they could come and be around people of similar backgrounds who are trying to achieve the same thing, which is changing your life and doing something positive in sobriety.”
Though Knight recently established a men’s team, the majority of the sober soccer program is coed, with ages ranging from 19 years olds to players in their late 40’s.
“We have four teams right now,” Knight said. “One of our teams is called Fit To Recover, and another is called FTR - pretty much short for Fit To Recover. We also have one called Socceriety and another called Attacking Sobriety.”
The sober soccer program runs in eight-week intervals with session games played every Saturday and Monday from 5 to 10 p.m. at Gardner Village in Midvale or Let’s Play Sports in Murray. Knight also holds weekly optional practices on Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. at Stratford Park near Sugarhouse.
“We end every game by getting together and talking about ways we can directly relate our recovery to playing soccer,” Knight said. “Things like communication - that’s a big one; for people who haven’t played a lot, it’s about achieving something and doing it with no judgment.
“We talk about teamwork and how you can’t win a game on your own - you need your team. And that’s the same in life, you know? You can’t stay sober on your own; you need people around you. When one of us is struggling, the rest of us are there to pick them up.”
For many sober soccer players, this sense of sportsmanship is one of the biggest draws and benefits of the program.
“My favorite part of playing soccer here is the friendships I’ve made,” said Mario McLaughlin of Midvale, who’s been with the program for the past eight months. “It’s been a blessing to know Brian, because his drive to get people involved with being active in sobriety and his leadership have really helped me get to where I am.”
Knight said that many of the people who come out for sober soccer have little to no experience with the sport, yet their willingness to grow as both individuals and players is something that inspires him and gives him purpose.
“I haven’t played soccer since I was a kid,” said player Steven Lopez of Sugarhouse. “But playing now, it’s challenging, and I think that’s helped me in my sobriety. It challenges me to get out of my comfort zone, to think less selfishly, and to work through things even when I want to quit.”
Lopez, who’s only been playing with the program for two months, found sober soccer after joining the Fit To Recover gym.
“Being here in Utah, there are a lot of different options in the sober community and a strong sober group here,” Lopez said. “But I can totally see this soccer program really growing and taking off.”
And growing the program is exactly what Knight intends to do. Though his biggest challenge is funding the program, Knight hopes to continue spreading the word about sober soccer and getting people from across the Salt Lake Valley interested in the program.
“I would love to eventually get Real Salt Lake involved,” Knight said. “But I have this bigger plan right now of trying to do something within the youth community. Once we have the numbers and the stability, I’d like to start a camp for youth were we not only teach them about soccer but we teach them about addiction and substance abuse and alcohol.”
Ultimately, Knight hopes the program will grow large enough to create a sober soccer league and that sober soccer will continue to inspire other leaders to start sober initiatives of their own. Lastly, Knight’s biggest hope is that the program spurs community involvement and increases awareness of active addiction recovery.
To learn more about sober soccer or to get involved, email Brian Knight at [email protected] or visit Fit2Recover.org/contact-us.
*Statistics drawn from 2015 National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Facilities compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov).