Reading, maths, physics, geography - it's all there in football.
It is a notorious fact that it's nigh on impossible to get young boys interested in reading.
But you can also add to that pretty much any other academic subject: maths, history, geography, etc etc. Or perhaps my two are just especially dumb!
My youngest son, aged seven, had a particular strong dose of Learning Aversion, preferring to mess about with his mates either in the park or on his computer, than knuckling down to anything that involved opening a book or lifting a pen.
But the World Cup in 2014 changed all that. And in a way that was truly revelatory.
For it engaged him in such a way that his mum and I have been able to apply his enthusiasm for football to pretty much every area of his academic life.
It has encouraged him to read; motivated him to add up, take away, times and divide; inspired him to learn about the past and other countries; and it has even taught him about physics.
This is the power of football. Its influence doesn't only last for the 90 minutes two teams compete against each other on the pitch: it goes way beyond that.
And other sports do the same, for at their heart is not just the duration of the competition, but the excitement of the build up, the anticipation of the combat, the engrossment of the entertainment, the thrill or despair of the result – and the aftermath of the analysis.
And all of those emotions, all of that engagement, is a great way to access a child's enthusiasm to learn.
These are the 10 ways I've used football to enhance my sons' education. Perhaps they'd work for your children too...
READING AND LITERACY
Like most parents of boys, I found it very difficult to get my sons interested in reading. They'd comply with our 20 minute sessions every night, but after that they'd return to their gadgets or Lego.
And then I bought them a Match of the Day magazine (one each – because they refused to share) and they were hooked: every week they'd pester me for the latest issue so they could read up on their favourite players, post-match analysis and transfer news.
This ignited a thirst for reading beyond colourful graphics and big photos – they wanted to let their imaginations draw the pictures for them.
And thus both boys – even though they are separated by three years – are now racing through Dan Freedman's excellent Jamie Johnson series.
Dan says on his website: "The idea behind the books was a very simple one: I wanted to write the kind of books that I would have loved to have read when I was younger." Mission accomplished!
There's so much more to the game of football than the here and now and what comes next: history plays a huge part, be it a post mortem of last night's FA Cup tie or a walk down memory lane about the history of the FA Cup: the first final (March 16 1872: Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1-0); the greatest goals, the giant killings.
And then there are MY favourite moments to share: the despair I felt when Bobby Stokes scored to beat Manchester United in the 1976 final when I was 12 years old; and the elation at beating Liverpool 2-1 the year after.
Names, dates, facts, figures, context – that's what history's all about.
I was sitting with my youngest son preparing to watch the World Cup last summer when a horizontal striped blue, white and red flag with an emblem in the middle flashed up on screen.
"Costa Rica," said the then six-year-old.
Then a vertical striped orange, white and green flag appeared.
"Ivory Coast," said the lad.
WTF! Correct on both counts.
I reached for my smart phone and found a website containing images of flags and logos of the nations competing at the World Cup.
I showed them in turn to the youngest, and in turn, he identified every single one of them.
A few minutes later, we were spinning a globe and pin-pointing exactly where in the world each of those countries was in relation to the UK.
Football did that.
My lads understand the laws of the game just as much as any Premier League footballer. And they flout them just as much, too!
Wins, losses, draws, goals for, goals against – POINTS! At the end of the day, these statistics are what a football season boils down to and my Mini Statto is obsessed with them, using different scenarios to calculate each week which team will be in what position by the end of the weekend.
As in: "Why on earth have they re-designed the kit like that, Dad? It looks like an explosion in a paint factory. I could have done it better."
And no doubt he could!
Believe it or not, the first foreign footballer to play in the English league was more than 100 years ago, when German Max Seeburg turn out for Tottenham in 1908/09. But it's only in the last few years that non-English players have come to dominate .
It started in 1990 when Czech Dr Jozef Venglos became the first foreign manager of an English top-flight club (Aston Villa). Then followed some other notable firsts:
The foreign player to captain an FA Cup-winning team: Eric Cantona (French), Manchester United, 1996.
The first foreign manager to win FA Cup: Ruud Gullit (Dutch), Chelsea 1997.
The first foreign manager to win the double in English football: Arsene Wenger (French), Arsenal, 1998.
The first foreign England manager: Sven-Goran Eriksson (Swedish), 2001.
The first club to field an all-foreign starting XI: Chelsea (v Southampton), December 26, 1999.
The first club to field an all-foreign squad: Arsenal (v Crystal Palace), February 14, 2005.
This influx has been much criticised for denying opportunities to English-born players – but there's one thing you can't deny: it's encouraged our kids to take an interest in other parts of the world and to learn how to communicate with the players from there.
Kick a ball with the front of your toes and it will go in a straight line straight into the groin of an unfortunate defending and will thus deny your team a goal. Caress it with your instep at the bottom of the ball in an upward trajectory and it will float over the wall like a gossamer feather and send the goalie flailing around like a drowning man – and you will become an instant legend. This is why physics in football matters to a glory-seeking child.
INTERPERSONAL SKILLS – WORKING AS A TEAM
Glory goes to goal scorers, of course, but it's just as rewarding to play a part in that goal: the tackle that sparks the move, the pass that releases the forward. And the euphoria of celebrating a victory together is like no other. This is a metaphor your children can take into the classroom aka 11 heads are better than one!
There's a national epidemic of childhood obesity. Very, very few of these overweight children are footballers. Seemples!
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