At the beginning of the twentieth century, football was the most popular game in the western world and has since grown to become a common international tongue.
From street corner soccer, humble playing fields and the beaches of Brazil to the stadia of Barcelona, huge player transfer fees and the highlighting of poverty in Africa, football has come under a new spotlight in society today.
It is little wonder that the World Cup Tournament grabs the attention of every nation as it is played out every four years. Over 3.2 billion people watched the FIFA World Cup Finals from Russia in July 2018 amounting to more than half the world’s population. This year’s global spectacle unified countries, evoked patriotism and captivated us all as we were glued to the television in anticipation of what was to come – waiting for the moment when we would witness that all important goal!
As a child, I can still remember tip-toeing downstairs in the middle of the night to watch coverage of the Brazilian greats Pele and Jairzinho. And they both delivered, scoring against Czechoslovakia right there on our family’s small black and white television at 3.00am on a midweek morning in June 1970. Pele himself had his own memories twenty years earlier at a competition where it is said that India withdrew because they were not allowed to play barefoot! “The first World Cup I remember was in the 1950 when I was 9 or 10 years old. My father was a soccer player, and there was a big party, and when Brazil lost to Uruguay, I saw my father crying.”
These words from my then hero show the deep emotion and meaning that comes with following the national soccer team. The World Cup is more than just a game. It is an experience where we feel our very selves participate, weep, change travel plans, make friends, risk relationships, swear like never before and feel pride well up inside after our team has hit the net or been victorious at the final whistle.
With so much interest in the World Cup and given that the final occurs only every four years, it is an opportunity for teachers to channel pupils' enthusiasm into lesson plans and frame their teaching in a footballing context. Class teachers can tap into the various aspects of the educational value that comes with it. There is wealth of creative ideas around the coming together of any 32 countries let alone those that are bonded by the one aim of winning a cup.
It does not have to be The World Cup, but for any competition that we can adapt this model of creative thought. Here are some ideas and tips to stimulate further thoughts or activities about what might work in the classroom, primary or secondary.
Geography - The World Cup naturally brings geography to the fore as everyone likes to know where each country and continent is situated on a world map. Each country fact-file can be designed to include other interesting elements such as animal-life, population, language and economics.
Maths - Obviously, there is a lot of scope for creativity around the various figures involved in making league tables and calculating some interesting statistics. These can range from working out averages, ordering, graphing and percentages. Stadium capacities and match attendances are other possible areas of investigation.
Children love to have a sense of perspective in terms of distance. This is a useful skill that we can learn and apply in other circumstances. The distance between the easternmost host city (Ekaterinburg) and the westernmost host city (Kaliningrad) at the 2018 World Cup is over 1500 miles. For comparison, that’s about the same distance as Moscow to London, England.
Data Handling - Such skills can be developed using Microsoft Excel to insert statistics arising from points, goals, corners, fouls, free kicks, red and yellow cards and rankings. For FIFA World Cup 2018, there were in total, 32 teams playing 64 matches across 11 stadiums in Russia. They scored 169 goals with an average of 2.64 goals per match. There were 22 penalties and 9 winning goals were scored in the 90th minute or later excluding extra-time. 219 yellow cards and 4 red cards were issued by 36 referees who were aided by their 63 assistants.
History - It goes without saying that each country has its own history and students may like to complete a study or presentation on the key aspects of a chosen country. Some countries may be more than rivals on the field of play! As there is no end to how deep one can delve into this research, the major political facts or points of interest along with famous people should be adequate to produce an informative presentation.
Art - Traditionally, teams exchange pennants prior to kick-off. These triangular shaped flags usually show the country colours and crest or emblem. Once created, they can be placed around the room in the form of bunting to create atmosphere. Flags are another possibility or for the more adventurous, scarves or teddy bears are a challenge for the more creatively minded.
English - No matter what the topic, English is at the heart of it. We are always learning how to read and speak, acquiring new vocabulary and expanding our sentence construction and gaining confidence in our expression. Students are more prepared to engage with something that interests them and the vast range of themes that spring from the 'World Cup' will leave nobody disappointed.
Comprehensions, analysing published articles, commentaries or newspaper articles, holding debates or interviews and writing match reports are all great ways to involve all age groups. This can extend to quizzes prepared and delivered by the more knowledgeable!
Music - It may not be an obvious subject to explore but one immediate avenue to think about is that each of the participating countries has its own national anthem. The pride experienced by the team and the supporters having made it this far is never more on display than during the singing of national anthems before a match. These are incredibly potent and heartfelt moments not least because they conjure up memories for individuals and offer some insight into history and politics.
The English ‘God Save the Queen” has been used by over 140 composers in their compositions. Brazil’s “Hino Nacional Brasiliero” is considered to be one of the four national symbols of the country (along with the flag, the coat of arms and the national seal). This means that there is actually a law that regulates the style, time and place the anthem may be played.
The champions, France sing "La Marseillaise" composed by Claude Joseph Rouget, in 1792. He was later jailed and suspected of being a royalist. The anthem was banned by Napoleon during the empire and by King Louis XVIII.
The Japanese National Anthem ‘Kimigayo’ has a different structure and feel to many of the others. Short and melancholy, it draws its inspiration from the calming and peaceful passing to the minor key in which it ends.
These are just some samples of how the anthems can open up an opportunity for projects or further study.
Foreign Languages - As an introduction to languages, it is a good idea to place some of the phrases, (maybe basic greetings, key phrases or football associated words) on display in the corridors or classroom. There is a broad scope for developing language at any level but especially for beginners as many young students will see the practical use of language in a real setting through the World Cup. Play a recording of an excited South American commentator signalling a goal and this new experience will get more than a laugh!
Citizenship - Taking one’s place in society as a responsible citizen has become a recent new focus in our schools. Fair play and sportsmanship on the field of play are highlighted as attributes that we should carry over and into our daily lives.
French author Albert Camus once wrote “everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.” Debate and discussion can follow decisions made by a referee (rightly or wrongly) and player’s reactions. The use of 'VAR' (Video Assitant Referee) for the first time is another talking point for young people as to how decisions may be changed after reflection or revisiting an event with the support of a new lens.
Projects can be designed for different groups according to standard of age. An assignment may be issued whereby each class completes a segment of an overall project. Materials may be compiled, displayed on wall charts and/or brought together for an assembly or exhibition in the weeks ahead.
With the 'World Cup' taking place near the end of the school year in June/July it may not always be easy to fit your ideas and projects with the term schedule. It may be that some of the activities on the planner have to be brought forward, held over or even completed at another more suitable time. This makes sense as only after the competition will full facts and figures be available and at hand. Whatever the timing, projects around the 'World Cup' theme make for an appropriate, valuable, topical, popular and educational end of year activity.
“I learnt all about life with a ball at my feet” said Ronaldinho, the former Brazilian striker. We too have much to learn not only from a ball at our own feet, but from those who have entertained and even enthralled us with a ball at theirs.
And above all, we learn that there can only be one winner of the trophy despite the hopes and dreams, perseverance and endurance of many great competitors. In the end, as World Cup 2018 panned out, for France there was glory and for Croatia, heartbreak that came with a great lesson to us all about whole-hearted effort, neatly put by one commentator - ‘they died with their boots on.’