Friday, May 30, 2014

The Language of Soccer

By Tricia McCarthy, Assistant Principal, Howard County Public Schools
& Laurel Conran, ESOL Team Leader, Howard County Public Schools,
Elementary IS Co-Chair

Published in MDTESOL, Summer 2009

It was a hazy, humid May spring afternoon and the 5th graders were enjoying a game of soccer during their afternoon recess. This particular afternoon, the recess monitor brought the students to the front office to help settle a dispute that had arisen during recess. The students were having a physical altercation during a recess time soccer match. The disagreement primarily involved newly arrived limited English speaking students and the English speaking boys during the soccer game. Administration, ESOL teacher, and parent liaison listened to each boy’s side of the story. After listening to their stories, administration and staff realized that while both groups said they were playing soccer, it was clear that the students were playing by two different set of rules. 

For example, the American English-speaking boys were playing “street soccer.” Street soccer is simply what the name implies, a disorganized hodgepodge of running, kicking, and passing that somewhat imitates soccer. The game was not organized, rules were not set, and behavioral expectations were not clarified. While some students had a high level of understanding related to soccer rules, others had only a basic comprehension of the appropriate rules. The conflict arose when those who understood soccer, its rules and its outcomes were met by those students who played a disorganized game.  The outcome was FRUSTRATION for the players that knew how to play the game and for the students that do know how to play the game. One thing that became apparent to students, and staff alike was that recess soccer was not being played by a set of rules that both groups understood and could follow.

A quick review of cultural norms for the newly arriving students allowed staff to better understand soccer’s significance in the lives of these students. The limited English speaking students were very experienced soccer players. They understood the rules, played by them, and expressed frustration at trying to get their new English speaking peers to understand. As is the case for many new arrivals to our school, soccer is part of their culture. In other countries, students can go to any open field, and play. The game needs minimal equipment and is therefore easily accessible regardless of country or individual resources.
In contrast, youth sports in the US, are organized, and often cost money to play. Children must sign up for a sport or team, practice at a designated location, and more importantly, pay fees that are often prohibitive for newly arriving families. An interesting similarity among the majority of the students who played soccer at recess at our school was that most of them came from similar socio-economic backgrounds. In other words, the organized nature and monetary requirements kept both groups of students from participating in the local soccer clubs. 
The  (AP) assistant principal, a former PE teacher, school counselor and a soccer player with the help of the school counselor and teachers, facilitated a soccer tournament for the students during their recess. The students that were interested in playing soccer, signed up for the tournaments. The AP brought the children together and explained the basic soccer rules, chief among them was sportsmanship and an adherence to safety during play. Basic soccer vocabulary was taught to the students and demonstrated. For example, a throw in was defined, explained and demonstrated so that the level of understanding and comprehension was the same regardless of language.  Expectations were established and students were expected to follow the rules during their recess games. When the rules were explained, teams were formed and the tournament began.  The rules were followed and demonstrated when needed. The students played their soccer tournaments 2-3 times a week for 2 weeks. The students ended their games with a handshake. As the students learned to play together, referrals decreased!
Soccer Rules:
Only the goalkeeper may use their hands to catch or touch the ball.
No pushing will be allowed. Pushing another player will equal a warning, if you get two warnings, you have to sit out for five minutes and your team plays with one less player.

  • There are no corner kicks in our games.
  • There are throw ins in our games.
  • To score a goal, the ball must be kicked through the cones not over the cones.
  • Each game will begin with one team kicking off (i.e. passing the ball to a teammate from the center of the field).
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide which team kicked off first.
  • Games are played during recess time ONLY.
Teams should play 6 players vs. 6 players; extra players are subs.
All teams MUST have a goalkeeper.
One team on each field MUST wear the colored vests.
Each team should have one captain and come up with an appropriate name for their team.
Good sportsmanship is important. Players should shake hands with the other team at the end of every game.

Team Composition:
Six teams were chosen (48 total students; 8 students per team)
Teams were placed into two groups (A group, B Group)
Two games played at a time. The school soccer field was divided into two smaller fields for the games.
Games were officiated by staff members (AP, Band Teacher, Guidance Counselor):
 A win is worth 2pts, a tie is worth 1pt. A team receives no points for a loss.
Top team from each group will meet in the final.

Soccer Vocabulary:

Goal: The space or opening that a soccer ball must go through to score a point. Also, the score gained by getting the ball through the cones.

Throw-In: returning a soccer ball to play from the sideline by propelling it from behind the head with both hands.

Hand Ball:  When a player, other than the goal-keeper, touches or “hands” the soccer ball during a game. When this happens, the other team is awarded a free kick.

Foul: Behaving in a way that is unfair or unacceptable (ie. Pushing or kicking an opponent)

Sportsmanship:  Showing respect for others and the rules of the game. Being gracious in victory and defeat.
What we learned:

Some amazing outcomes presented themselves both during and after the recess soccer tournament.  First, student behavior during recess improved. With the majority of our fifth graders involved in the organized soccer tournament, discipline issues and subsequent referrals decreased. Those students who didn’t play in the tournament, often watched from the sidelines, cheering on or supporting friends. Behavior during the matches was appropriate and each match ended with the requisite handshake.
Secondly, students began to share their soccer background with their peers. Teams were strategically comprised of students from many different backgrounds and cultures to help facilitate the building of friendships that continued in the community.
Third, staff began to see a connection between improved classroom behavior and a increased sense of class unity. Our fifth grade staff shared examples of how students who might otherwise not have spent time with one another began to work together, talk more frequently, and develop respect for each other.
Finally, it wasn’t just about the soccer anymore. It was about building relationships with our students, assisting them in working through conflict, respecting the cultural diversity of one another, and playing a little soccer too. Clearly, the lessons learned for both staff and students far and away exceeded the dimensions of the soccer field. 

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