Monday, August 25, 2008

The Side Effects of World Football (Soccer for You Americans)

Updated 8/26/08

That I am a soccer fan should be readily obvious to anyone who has read this blog in the past couple of months since I started blogging more about the world's most popular game. Those who have been reading this blog regularly also know that I write regularly about education. One of my favorite education bloggers is Bill Ferriter, who has recently talked about helping students make connections between their passions. Well, I have taken that to heart and made a connection between my passion and my children's curiousity.

While my family is generally amused at my obsession with soccer(hey it keeps me off the streets), there is a wonderful side effect to the Beautiful Game, geography and the ability to teach geography.

International sporting events are fabulous to provide a means by which you can learn about other nations, where they are located and what makes them unique. Sure, the Olympics are nice, but they last two weeks every two years (Summer and Winter games). Yes, they involve lots of nations, but given the short time span of their existence, it is hard to get really into geography. But soccer, particularly international soccer, is a great geographic toy.

In 2010, the World Cup will be held. I don't care what anyone says about American Football or the Olympics, but the World Cup is the single largest sporting event in the world. The tournament features 32 teams from all over the world and all six continents (there is no penquin team from Antartica), and has, literally, a world-wide audience. But the important thing is that qualifying for the tournament has started this year and you can following the regional qualifying on the soccer news sites. This is where the geography lesson comes in, as during qualifying each and every country in the world, for the most part, has a team (I don't think the Vatican fields a squad) and you can follow where they are and how they are doing.

My oldest daughter (now a first grader) usually won't sit and watch a 90 minute game on TV with me (she does like to go to live games), but she will ask me where some countries are located. So, with World Cup qualifying going on, I have taken the opportunity to have a little geography/history/soccer history lesson with each game the U.S. National Team will play.

For example, the United States Men's National Team will play qualifying group play against Guatamala, Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago. There is your regional geography lesson. The U.S. will probably move to the next round which will feature five more teams from the North American, Central American and Carribean areas. If the U.S. get to the World Cup there are 32 teams in that tournament, with 8 four team groups and all the political, geographic and soccer history that can keep you enthralled for the entire month's tournament.

Aside from the Olympics (which last for two weeks), what other major sporting event lends itself to the betterment of American understanding of the world? That's right, none. Not American Football (Throwball), not hockey, or baseball. Basketball is changing a little with the influx of foreign players to the NBA, but it is not like soccer. In soccer, you can have the stories of Nigeria, Cameroon and Cote D'Ivorie all advancing in the Olympic Tournament. You can have the history of Brazil v. Argentiva, the European/South American rivalry. You get all of that, a geography lesson and wonderful competition all at once.

So the connection offers the opportunity for me to teach my daughter geography, history, some biographies (we are talking about Pele now), and I get to watch soccer for "ecucational purposes" and my wife has less ammunition for smirking at my passion.

1 comment:

Bill Ferriter said...

Hey Matt,

From one soccer fan to another, great post! I couldn't agree more with your approach to teaching geography---and couldn't argue for a more important topic for our schools to address.

We constantly talk about wanting to prepare kids to be "Global Citizens" and participants in a "Global Economy," yet the vast majority of American kids have no idea where anything on the globe really is---let alone what it's like there!

That's one of the sad side effects of NCLB---right or wrong, teachers and schools teach what's tested because that's all anyone really cares social studies in general---and geography in particular---has taken a beating.


PS...I'm sure you've seen it, but if not, you've got to pick up Franklin Foer's book on Globalization titled How Soccer Explains the World.

A remarkable read! Finished it in a night....