The celebratory cry of soccer players and fans can be heard in just about any backyard, field or stadium in the United States and across the globe.
Soccer isn’t just the world’s most popular sport. For many, it’s a cultural cornerstone – a rite of passage, a conversation piece and the center of many family activities.
And according to UNCG’s Dr. Ignacio Lopez, Alex Hortal and Felipe Troncoso, it’s a tool for teaching.
The three faculty members in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures came up with the idea for their innovative course “Global Crossings: The World Explained by Soccer” at Old Town Draught House, a local pub near campus and their go-to spot for all things soccer.
“We meet about every other week to talk about soccer,” Troncoso said. “Through these conversations, we started to realize that we could use soccer in the classroom to explain different aspects of culture.”
Ninety students are enrolled in the cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural course, which explores a variety of global topics embodied in literature, film, music, art and other cultural practices related to the sport.
So how can soccer teach students about important global issues? According to Hortal, something as simple as a soccer ball can be used to explore complex problems.
“Soccer balls are typically made in developing countries where labor laws aren’t very strict,” Hortal said. “We use soccer balls to learn about consumption and labor issues.”
The class has analyzed how soccer is used as a political tool, and how team rivalries often reflect social and economic divisions. In addition, the class has hosted a variety of guest speakers, including former FC Barcelona soccer star José Mari Bakero, as well as representatives from TOPSoccer, a local soccer program for children with disabilities, and Greensboro United Soccer Association.
For junior Asha Hashim, a member of UNCG’s Global Village living-learning community, the course has opened her eyes to the impact of the sport worldwide.
“I’ve learned how soccer – including its history, rules, players and fans – is deeply connected to so many cultures and global issues,” Hashim said. “We’ve been able to use soccer to talk about topics such as religion and nationalism. I’ve learned so much about the significance of the sport internationally.”
The collaboration of Lopez, Hortal and Troncoso provides students with unique perspectives on soccer and its impact in different regions. Lopez and Hortal are from Spain, and Troncoso is a native of Chile.
“I grew up near the training camps of Real Madrid,” Lopez said. “My family and I would go there every weekend and watch the team practice. Soccer is something that brought us together.”
The ultimate goal of the course? Facilitate cultural analysis and critical thinking.
“We want our students to think critically about important issues from a humanities perspective,” Troncoso said. “For example, why are people actually fighting over competitive sports? What’s behind that violence? These are the kinds of questions we’re exploring.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications