All-Women’s Pickup Soccer at Watkins Field Is a Fun Way to Exercise and Socialize

Photograph By
Andrew Lightman

Girls as young as middle school frequent the Watkins game, where a welcoming environment is the highest priority. 

It’s 8:30 p.m. on a cool summer Monday, and women are trickling onto the turf at Watkins Field at 13th and D streets SE. They’re here for a weekly all-women’s pickup soccer game.

It’s not exactly the World Cup. A number of women are here for the first time. One of them recently caught wind of the game at a bar and another hadn’t played soccer since she was seven but came out after hearing about it from her neighborhood Listserv. The Watkins game is about getting out of the house and having fun regardless of soccer experience or ability level. It’s not cutthroat, and players don’t usually keep score. 

When a group of three, one wearing a “regional champs” T-shirt and all looking like they’ve been here before, shows up and warmly introduces themselves to the newcomers, the pickup game’s most important element is on display: attendees are welcoming of any and all women who want to play. “All Skill Levels Welcome – Everybody Plays!” reads the weekly email from Kit Arrington, the game’s de facto organizer. “The more the merrier – bring a friend!”

“It’s a fun way to get some exercise,” says Arrington. “Everyone just does as much as they are able to do, it's very inclusive. Playing a game gets your energy going no matter what your skill level.”

After Arrington arrives with a bag of pinnies at 8:45, the group, which has grown to about 10, splits into two teams. The women wheel the field’s soccer goals close enough to make suitable dimensions for their small-sided game, and without much discussion the game is on.

Who Plays?

Most of the women who play are between thirty and fifty, but girls as young as middle school have joined as well. Mother-daughter appearances aren’t unusual, and tonight there are two girls who don’t look a day over fifteen. “There are moms who have never played soccer or any other sport but have children who do, recent college graduates who are incredible players, and everything in between,” says Helen Cymrot, a regular player. “This really is what is so fun about it. Everyone plays hard, it's a fantastic workout and everyone is supportive.”

By 9:00 the group has grown to 15, which Arrington says is about the upper limit of how many come out each week. The Listserv she uses for the game, however, has nearly 120 women. Being able to drop in and out without making a regular commitment is part of the game’s informal, inviting atmosphere.

“Most of the women on the list are juggling many different things in their lives, but they've had so much fun at the game that they hang on,” says Arrington. “It's not often that someone writes requesting to be removed from the list, and the most common reason is that they've moved away. Everyone wants to play.”

How the Game Started

When the Watkins field was renovated to turf in 2011, the Department of Parks and Recreation held stakeholder meetings to discuss how it should be used. To address concerns that there weren’t enough hours being set aside for women’s sports or general use, Parks and Rec agreed to hold community hours at 8:15 on weeknights, partitioning part of the field for pick-up soccer and leaving another part for unstructured use.

Arrington says that once the women’s game got the Monday time slot, a soccer player and coach named Edith Shine encouraged friends and acquaintances to join. “I ran into her at the pool and she said ‘come play!’” says Arrington. “She had great energy and said it would be fun. And it was! The energy that got it started is what kept it going.”

Keeping Its Charm

That the game is all-women, Arrington says, is fundamental to its personality. “There have been times when guys come, looking to jump into a pickup game, and we actually say no,” says Arrington. Co-ed, she says says, can make it hard for less competitive women to ask questions, make mistakes, and stay involved in the game. “We have to be sort of protective of what we have. It’s about a different thing that comes from a different place.”

When the ball isn’t on their side of the field, women from both teams chat and laugh. After one takes a fall the gathering around her turns into an extended water break that serves as halftime. In a few minutes the teams switch attacking sides and return to play. They’ll go until the lights get turned off at 9:45.

Those involved in the game really did stress that newcomers are welcome. To get more information or join the Listserv email Kit Arrington at

A young girl fires a pass at the Monday night women's pickup game at Watkins Field.
Women at the Watkins Field pickup soccer game battle for the ball.
Players of all ages and skill levels are welcome at the Watkins game.