- Photo by Franco Vogt
- Portrait of Alex Ober
While team sports continue to cancel upcoming tournaments and seasons due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, individual activities, like cycling, have surged in popularity. One individual sport you've probably never heard of is freestyle soccer (or freestyle football for our readers overseas). A relatively new sport, freestyle soccer is all about one person, one ball, and a heck of a lot of tricks. Watching an accomplished freestyler perform is like breakdancing mixed with Lionel Messi-level ball control in a series of mind-boggling tricks. Competitions are judged figure-skater style, with an emphasis on difficulty of trick, control, flow, and musicality—the ability to syncopate the tricks to music.
One of the top competitors in the US is a 16-year-old from Woodstock, Alex Ober. A rising junior at Woodstock Day School, Ober started playing soccer when he was six. He took up Freestyle two years ago after seeing a video on YouTube by French freestyle star Sean Garnier. Ober then taught himself tricks by imitating Garnier and others online, eventually creating his own routines from the various tricks he's learned.
"One of the best feelings in the sport," says Ober, "is when you work really hard and try for many hours to land one trick and you get to the point when you can execute it consistently. It's cool to push yourself to the next level and achieve that level of accomplishment from something you just figured out by yourself." (Ober's level of accomplishment is achieved through his four-to-five-hour-a-day practice regimen.)
Currently, Ober is competing in the Red Bull 2020 Freestyle Football Championships, the sport's top competition in the world. Because of the pandemic, the competition has moved online, with freestylers submitting videos of themselves in action. (One of the youngest athletes in the competition, he made it through the first two rounds as of late August to the top 80 and was working on third round video submission when we spoke.) Looking ahead to 2021, Ober hopes to finish in the top eight at the national championships.