Thinking Outside of the Net: Mind-Bending Ways to Teach With Soccer

If you’ve somehow missed it, another World Cup begins today and the entire world is prepared to glue themselves to their TV and computer screens to join in. Twitter feeds from Providence to Athens are alight with #WorldCup2014 and we here at PASA know that many, if not most, of our AfterZone and Hub youth will watching and celebrating (or groaning, depending on their team). 

Soccer—or football as non-Americans call it—is the world’s most popular sport and interest in soccer among U.S. young people has exploded in the last 30 years, with US Youth Soccer membership going from just over 100,000 players in 1974, to over 3 Million today—a number nearly evenly split between boys and girls.

PASA’s AfterZone soccer programs are some of our most popular, so in celebration of The Beautiful Game, we’ve made this handy list to prove that soccer can be connected to just about any subject you want young people engage with. 


1. Art and Design

Think sports and art don’t mix? Then talk to portrait painter Kihinde Wiley. Wiley’s work is known the world over for his ability to take historical painting styles and make totally new and vibrant works. 

Back in 2010, he was commissioned by PUMA to paint portraits of three African soccer players PUMA was sponsoring for the South Africa World Cup. Know a kid who’s really into soccer, but doesn’t care about art? Send them Kihinde’s way. 

Click on Kahinde’s Artsy page to see his work.


2. Civics

Having played soccer while imprisoned in South Africa for being an anti-apartheid politician, Nelson Mandela recognized it as being more than a game. It can create hope where there was once despair … this game made us feel alive. 

When he was elected as South Africa’s first black president after the abolishment of apartheid, he saw sports as a way to unite his country under a common cause and lobbied hard to bring the World Cup to his country in 2010. 

He recognized how much soccer meant to the vast majority of South Africans. The 2010 World Cup was one more example of using sports to bring together a nation in a common cause. This time, victory wasn’t to win a trophy, rather to show the world that the new South Africa was ready to play host to a month-long international sporting festival. 


3. Geopolitics/History  

Did you know that the most politically charged World Cup game in history wasn’t 1938 in France (leading up to WWII)? It was the 1998 game between Iran and the United States. Football reporter Neil Billingham credits the game with doing more to repair relations between our two countries than any act of diplomacy. 

One of the first problems was that Iran were team B and the USA were team A. According to FIFA regulations team B should walk towards team A for the pre-match handshakes, but Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei gave express orders that the Iranian team must not walk towards the Americans.

[But] the president of the Iranian Federation wanted to use the match to show his country in the best possible light. He asked the kit man to buy a bunch of flowers for every player to take onto the pitch. They were white roses, a symbol of peace in Iran.

The two sides had a joint team photo taken and then the whistle blew for the start of probably the most politically charged match in the history of the World Cup. 

We did more in 90 minutes than the politicians did in 20 years.



So you know a student who wants to be a GREAT soccer player. Better tell them to hit the physics books, because there are a lot of natural laws you need to know about and calculate to maximize your game.

Did you know that the predetermined path the ball will take when kicked is a perfect parabola, but wind and drag factor in to affect the way the move plays out? Kick it with a spin to minimize drag effect. When the ball spins, the magnus effect steps in to dramatically decrease air resistance. 

Watch out! Projectile in motion! 

5. Music

In a not-surprising, but still pretty cool discovery, Institute for Sports Science at the University of Hanover has found that soccer teammates listening to synchronized music play better. How did they do it?

The first match was without music. In the second game one team w[as] given wireless headphones and fast-paced electronic music of 140 beats a minute was transmitted to them from the sidelines and synchronised to within a thousandth of a second.

The other team were also given headphones, each player receiving different pieces of music of differing rhythm. During the third game, the teams switched places, with one hearing music synchronously, the other asynchronously.

Their analysis of the data led to the sort of clear and conclusive result scientists hanker after but rarely get: the team hearing synchronised music played “significantly better” from a statistical point of view.

Coaches have now started using music to create a sense of team identity during practices. They can also use music to practice different game scenarios—using fast-paced music for an offensive attack, and slow music to use up the clock at the end of a winning match.

We could go on and on with ways soccer relates to just about any subject, but the World Cup is calling. Point being, Soccer can be a really useful gateway subject!