Contributed by Quinton Aguilera
A prospective 211 countries and territories, from ones as large as China to ones as small as Gibraltar, go through months of grueling qualification and gameplay for a chance to make it to the prestigious FIFA World Cup, a global event that draws in 3.5 billion people. As exciting as the sporting aspects of the event are, there’s a lot more to the World Cup than just goals and medals.
What matters most is that the event brings people together. And while this year’s World Cup is well underway, it’s not to late to spend some time thinking about the learning opportunities for kids that arise out of watching the beautiful game.
Introduction to Different Cultures
Every game is preceded by a display of flags and the playing of the national anthems. Just exposing children to this display of national pride and pageantry can expand their knowledge of different countries and cultures, and inspires curiosity. Piggyback off this curiosity by having kids play World Cup-themed mapping games or learning the continents of the two competing nations.
The Power of Respect
Teams from opposite corners of the planet are routinely drawn against each other in the World Cup. However, despite the differences in language, political orientation, values and other aspects of culture, all players shake hands before the game in a meaningful and conspicuous display of mutual respect. Good sportsmanship is a character trait that all kids should abide by, in both sports and every day life, so it’s worth making note of the important example that professional athletes set in this arena.
In addition to the formal displays, there are several more animated campaigns that also reinforce the importance of respect through sport. One such organization is Kick it Out which, formed in 1993, has started initiatives to end discrimination of all forms in soccer. While the organization initially formed in England, by the 2006 World Cup in Germany they were delivering anti-racism content on the world stage. While tremendous progress has been made, Kick it Out remains a vocal organization even during the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Value of Gratitude
Whether for the win, the opportunity or the dedicated fans, teams are constantly seen giving thanks. Seeing role models place such an emphasis on expressing their gratitude is another great learn-by-example moment for children to see. While professional athletes work tremendously hard to get on such huge international stages, they still recognize the efforts of their support system in getting them to where they are. This allows kids to see the importance of appreciating those who help them in their day-to-day.
Perhaps most important is observing athlete reactions in defeat. Losing a game as high stakes as a World Cup match is a devastating blow for both players and fans alike, but even in their sadness professional athletes handle their emotions with grace. Especially after losses, teams will make a point to applaud their fans for the effort they made to support them. It’s valuable for children to see how there’s gratitude to be found even in defeat.
Soccer is the World’s Mutual Interest
The World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world, and soccer (excuse us, football) is the biggest sport in the world. While it’s not the biggest sport in the U.S., soccer is a worldwide passion and having a basic knowledge of the sport is a way to ensure that your kids are that much more cultured. A better understanding and appreciation of something that the world likes is a better understanding of the world as a whole, and that’s not even taking into the account the friendships and camaraderie that can come as a result of understanding the sport.
Additionally, soccer viewership and interest is growing in the U.S. and Major League Soccer has been striving to boost its profile by acquiring notable international talent. With the MLS playoffs poised to start in the fall, now is the perfect time to transfer your child’s interest in the World Cup into an interest in the sport itself.
And Let’s Not Forget the Fun!
The World Cup is a joyful celebration of the beautiful game, so who better to enjoy it with than your children? Have them pick a team or country to root for and let the cheering begin!