Update: Kids and football

It seems I’ve worried my parents by not blogging for a week. Here’s an update on my previous post, Using football to raise a world-wise child.

Our almost entirely TV-free home has been obliterated in the name of watching World Cup games with my 6-year-old daughter.

I bought a sparkly new 40″ TV and subscribed to cable, bundling it with phone and Internet service, and of course a digital video recorder. In short, I went whole-hog back into media. (Yeah, it’s not just for World Cup. Umm, it’s for the Tour de France too!)

My daughter watched her first two football games completely enraptured. Subsequent games involve my watching while she reads a book by my side, sort of half-watching the game. When I react to an amazing play on the field, she looks up to watch the instant replay.

I find it amusing, and also a tad scary, that nutjobs like Glenn Beck rail against international football as un-American. I stand by my original notion that football is a positive parenting tool.

She’s completely in love with the theme song in that video and has it memorized.

I didn’t expect much at (a newly minted) 6-years-old, but here are some of the things I’ve noted.

1) In talking about which teams will be playing, we discuss countries and look them up on our globe.

2) My daughter chooses a country to root for. Usually, she chooses a South American country or Spain because she’s learning Spanish. Japan and Germany have curried her favor as well because Mom and Dad know people from those countries. I suppose I’m pleased team colors never influenced her decision-making process.

3) Football provides a tremendous example of teamwork. Unlike toddler football where she had typically dominated the field by monopolizing the ball, she understands now that every player plays a distinct (and frequently relied upon) role in maintaining the team’s possession of the ball.

4) She enjoys watching the fancy footwork and headshots. (Check the amazing headshot at 3:29 in the video above.) I don’t care for American complaints that football is boring because very few goals are scored. I see a parallel in kids who can’t enjoy any game or sporting activity unless he or she wins. The fun is found in the process, not the outcome. We enjoy watching the whole game, not just the scoring.

5) Unlike American sports, football has two non-stop commercial-free 45 minute periods. I can avoid her seeing adult beer commercials and other topics I’d rather not explain right now by turning the TV off during the 15 minute halftime. If I’m late in returning, I rewind to the start of the second period using the DVR.

6) Despite her book reading during the games, she has a tremendous level of enthusiasm for football and reacts accordingly when her favored team wins or loses.

Meanwhile, here are the downsides I’ve observed:

1) Between grabbing jerseys, tripping and slide-tackling, there is a lot of unsportsmanlike behavior in the games. I explain it away by noting that (sometimes) the players get in trouble for it. She’s not yet aware of the theatrics involved in some players feigning injury in order to grab a ref’s attention.

2) The dreaded vuvuzelas (horns blown by fans) drown out audience cheers. It’s like a truck continuously blowing its horn for 90 minutes. It’s muffled on TV, but I’d never attend a live game in a country that embraces horns.

3) Dare I say it? I’d like to see more fan faces on TV. With many cultures represented at the World Cup, seeing more of them would help convey the global nature of the sport to my daughter.

4) When watching her second game, my daughter asked where the women players were. I don’t have a good explanation for why sports are segregated by gender. I believe football could be a gender-neutral sport. Maybe the teams would still be heavily stacked with men, but there are women who can compete at the same level. Anyone who questions the strength of women has not witnessed a child being born over a 30 hour period. Besides, when a male player falls on the field and sheds crocodile tears, I’d love for a female player to shout at him, “What are you waiting for, bon bons and a hug? Get up!”

Or at least that’s what my wife envisions one saying. I envisioned something about the women telling him to grow a sack and stand up because his mother is watching.

The final game for the World Cup, between Spain and the Netherlands, will be held this Sunday. We’ll be watching the first half at a community center event being hosted by my daughter’s football league, and the second-half at home as my son naps. I want her to get a sense of the communal nature of the sport, a sense of the globally shared experience.


5 Responses to “Update: Kids and football”

  1. DJM says:

    I enjoyed your post and agree with many of your observations. However I have to disagree with your contention that women could compete with men on the football pitch. A parallel that I can draw comes from women’s hockey. The US Olympic womens hockey team, in preparation for the Olympics competes against Minnesota high school boys (in a no checking game). They sometimes win, but have beaten more than once. Their skills are fabulous, but the physical differences are too great when competing at such a high level.

    July 9th, 2010 at 6:08 am

  2. ffarfan says:

    First of all, I love that you call it by its real name! FOOTBALL! “Futbol” ls also acceptable! hehehe
    I’ve also experienced some of the same reactions from my 4-yo son… going back to his maps and looking for the playing teams, or rooting for the countries from where his preschool friends are originally from.

    July 9th, 2010 at 7:11 am

  3. AJ says:

    DJM, what you’re describing sounds like an issue of skill, not physical limitations. How much different would the women’s hockey team be if North American women were raised with the belief they can compete professionally with men in every sport, and were encouraged to play any sport from toddlerhood and onward? Answer: We’d have a lot more kickass female hockey players. Women’s hockey is a distorted sport manufactured by a backward society. We don’t know what women are capable of because we keep the majority of them from trying.

    What I’ve read indicates women are at a physical disadvantage in brute force sports such as boxing, but excel at endurance sports (such as international football). The issue, to me, is one of historical perceptions of women that date back to before women even played sports.

    I favor integrated sports that let men and women compete together at whatever level they can. If that creates some sports dominated by men and some dominated by women, or most sports dominated by men, that’s okay with me. It gives women a barrier to break, and surely some will do it.

    Here’s an opinion piece on the subject, albeit mostly opinion and not much data.

    It was written by the authors of Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports.

    July 9th, 2010 at 7:29 am

  4. Drew says:

    When I clicked to read this one I thought it would be a stretch to argue for soccer (thank you cracked.com for revealing to me that the term “soccer” isn’t an American invention) as a learning tool, but this is a pretty balanced look at both sides of it. Pleasantly surprised:)

    July 11th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

  5. KGS says:

    I’m glad your plunge into television is going well so far! To me, having a DVR is great when watching TV with kids. The occasional non-PBS programs we watch are riddled with ads that are confusing, slightly scary, or just not things we want our daughter to see, but with the DVR we can breeze right past them. (The same applies for the adults at our house– watching ads really bugs me now that I’m not used to them anymore!)

    July 12th, 2010 at 11:08 am

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