Using football to raise a world-wise child

Image of the FIFA logo composed of a front and backside view of the globe side-by-side with a matrix of football pentagons superimposed over the globes.

Oh no, another sort-of-parenting, sort-of-not post.

I try to practice idealism parenting. It means knowing what you should do in an ideal world and then going out and doing it regardless of your personal comfort level.

The bit of idealism I’m blathering about today is getting my 5-year-old daughter interested in international football (soccer). The FIFA World Cup is coming this spring and it’s too good a parenting opportunity to pass up.

(Disclosure: I’ve never watched a televised football game.)

I’m hoping to raise my children as world citizens. I want them to have a heightened awareness of people beyond our country’s borders, to be engaged in world events — to not be self-absorbed.

I know, I know, that’s pretty much the antithesis of the American education system. Part of being a parent means identifying the deficiencies in your own culture and educating past them.

Raising a global citizen

If you want to raise a worldly child, there’s no more worldly an activity than football. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has 208 members. That’s 16 more than the United Nations and 3 more than the International Olympic Committee.

For some context, the Super Bowl has an average worldwide viewership of 100 million people, mostly Americans. The FIFA World Cup draw where they announced the arrangement of the 32 teams to compete in the final games this spring had 200 million viewers. The final game is only held every four years; the 2006 Final had 715 million viewers.

There’s something to be said for knowing that when you sit down to watch the World Cup Final the rest of the world is watching with you.

A month’s vacation to next year’s host country, South Africa, is not in our family budget, so it looks like TV is the best option.

Watching football isn’t enough, of course. But with teams representing entire nations, it’s an opportunity to learn geography and something about countries and cultures.

America typically shuns anything that doesn’t cast itself as being #1. Did America give a damn about the Tour de France before Lance Armstrong? No. And before him, Greg LeMond? No. As a child, without cable TV, I remember the world champion getting 5 minutes at the end of a CBS sports program on a Sunday afternoon. Shameful.

Parents will swallow a big slice of humble pie in rejoicing with their kids in whomever wins the game because it’s probably not going to be the USA anytime soon… whereas children will learn from the get-go that other countries, other people, are as good, if not better, than Americans.

Case in point, her elementary school sponsored a freebie night at a local university women’s volleyball game a couple months ago. My daughter asked, “Why do we have to root for the home team? What if I like the other team?”

Mostly though, football is an easy way to engage a child in a global activity from within the US, more so than other global sports such as cricket or cycling.

That part about idealism

Idealism is involved for me because, well, what the heck do I know about football? I hate organized sports, let alone heavily commercialized sports. The simple path for me is to raise my kids around things I am familiar with, not to go out and identify new things for me to learn about and pass off as old-hat to my kids.

Oh, and there’s the whole I-gave-up-TV-last-year thing where now I need to subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

Anyhow, for Christmas, I’ll be giving my daughter the calendar of the US Women’s National Team containing some nice female role model photos. Closer to the World Cup I may get her a jersey, although they are hard to find in sizes 5T and below.

How much I can engage her in watching an entire football game at this age I don’t know, but we’ll play it by ear. At a minimum, Youtube will have extensive game highlights and she already enjoys watching football video clips.

Switching Gears

Embedded below is the 2010 World Cup anthem, Wavin’ Flag, sung by Somalian-born Canadian artist K’naan. The imagery of a waving flag is perfect for a global sport with teams so tightly tied to their home countries.

I’m no fan of pop music, or of orchestrated events (this is an official video, complete with product placements and maybe even choreographed dancers in the crowd), and it completely lacks cool football footage, but…

The lyrics:

Give me freedom, give me fire,
Give me reason, take me higher.
See the champions, take the field now.
Unify us; make us feel proud.

In the streets our heads are liftin’,
As we lose our inhibition.
Celebration, it surrounds us,
Every nation, all around us.

Staying forever young,
Singing songs underneath the sun.
Let’s rejoice in the beautiful game.
And together at the end of the day,
We all say:

When I get older, I will be stronger.
They’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.
And then it goes back.
And then it goes back.
And then it goes back.


If you enjoyed the song, you may enjoy the original even more. Its lyrics have a great deal more substance.

K’naan grew up in Mogadishu in the run-up to the Somali Civil War, which began in 1991. His father is a classic (to me) American success story, moving here and driving a taxi while sending money home. (See, the real classic American success story involves the immigrant becoming a millionaire, which is an example of how screwed up American ideals can be.)

Anyhow, K’naan and his mother received an exit visa on the last day the US embassy was open, boarding the last flight out of the country before the onset of war. They found themselves in Harlem and then eventually migrated to Toronto, Ontario. As he began learning English he also picked up hip hop and rap diction and now finds himself a performer.

Here’s an interview with the artist on Q TV. From that same interview, embedded below is an acoustic version of Wavin’ Flag with its original serious lyrics. My wife says, “He can’t sing!” I think she’s spoiled by the use of Autotune software that makes people with no skill sound perfect. I dunno, I really liked both the sound and the message:

Many of his other songs are explicit, but hey, everyone is allowed one good song.

Here’s a cute get-excited-about-World-Cup commercial running in South Africa:

The World Cup begins June 11 with six groups of four teams competing through June 29. The quarter-finals take place July 2-3 and semi-finals July 6-7. A playoff for third place happens July 10th and the Final is on Sunday, July 11th. The US plays England June 12 and Sweden June 22.

Then the Tour de France starts on July 25th, but that’s a whole other blog post. My daughter still has training wheels.


6 Responses to “Using football to raise a world-wise child”

  1. Liz says:

    I enjoyed your daughter’s question of “what if I want to root for the other team?” You go girl! Shows an independent mind. That will serve her well. A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football could be the ticket to helping you help your daughter get the basics of football down. Not only does it give you answers to questions about the game, it also has a lot of hilarious stories and anecdotes about football and the players (and the “industry,” for lack of a better word). I’m not sure it will make your daughter a global citizen, but it will help her know about football!

    December 10th, 2009 at 8:20 am

  2. AJ says:

    Liz, I removed the link you embedded in your comment because it’s a guide to watching American football. What we call soccer in America is called football in the rest of the world because, hey, you actually handle the ball with your feet.

    I try to avoid using the term “soccer” with my daughter, although she is obviously familiar with it. Because she is learning Spanish, she spells football as fútbol.

    December 10th, 2009 at 8:26 am

  3. Penguinmommy says:

    Be forewarned: I had no idea that my techie geek of a husband cared about any sport… but then, magically, the world cup happened and his Brazilian roots went CRAZY!

    I have never had so much fun as waking up at O’Dark thirty because the game was happening on the other side of the world and we could NOT just watch it recorded later. Or, for that matter, seeing one of my in laws, an 82 year woman who uses a walker, jump onto the couch a la Tom Cruise screaming GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!

    Yep, I felt cheated that I’d been missing out on the biggest sports event in the world because America wasn’t very good at it… Good luck!

    December 10th, 2009 at 10:19 am

  4. Elizabeth Wickoren says:

    :::Sigh::: That sounds so awesome in theory except for soccer is soooooo boring to watch! It’s like the feet version of basketball or hockey (two more sports that, while fun to play, are very tedious to watch). I totally don’t get what other people are getting out of these things, though I do of course admit that some people find them entertaining. Why not take her out and PLAY some soccer instead of just watching other people do it? Then you can expose her to a worldwide cultural phenomenon and fight childhood obesity all in one fell swoop!

    December 10th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  5. AJ says:

    Elizabeth, yep, she’s been in a football league since she was 4-years-old. A few photos (at the bottom). We also have a local Futsal league we’re eyeing because the game is played indoors, and we experience a lot of rain.

    From what I’ve seen of TV clips, football coverage is a little more engaging than the days of only showing a distant whole-field perspective.

    Now, talk about boring, baseball is boring, even when you’re at the A’s Coliseum with your grandfather, receive a free hat on Hat Day, and get to see Ricky Henderson get one stolen base closer to breaking the record for stolen bases… too much waiting between actions. Football has less downtime than a lot of American sports. Baseball’s saving grace is the chocolate malts from the concession stand. Go A’s!

    December 10th, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  6. Liz says:

    You know, I read the post — because I loved the idea of your introducing sports to your daughter! And I realized you were not in America, but somehow I totally missed the fact that you were more on the soccer side of the fence and not American football. My apologies — but hey! Teach her about football too! There are probably significant difficulties involved in this plan…

    December 11th, 2009 at 8:54 am

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