My seven-year-old son, like so many other boys of similar age, is collecting football cards. These cards are about 2in by 3in, have a picture of a Premiership football player on the front with the badge of his team and the position he generally plays on the back. They cost about 40p for a pack of six. Similar cards have featured in the childhood of many generations.
Last Saturday he was asking for two packs of cards so he could swap with his friends. My initial reaction was to think why are we throwing our hard-earned money away on meaningless pieces of card? Then I saw what he was doing with his cards and I started to realise he was learning important skills that will stand him in good stead in school and out-of-school life. These include:
- Thinking about and defining what is included and what is excluded from football concepts. For example, he now knows that a striker is a player whose primary objective is to score goals. A striker might help out in defence, win balls in midfield and pass the ball to other team members, but ultimately he will be judged on his ability to score.
- Categorising, which aims to sort, in this case footballers, in some meaningful way. For example, he can sort his football cards into goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards, so he knows their position in the team they play for. Categorises are important as they are used by experts, such as football managers, commentators and newspaper journalists, to understand what is going on in a football match.
- Comparisons between categories. He is concerned with whether Michael Owen is a better striker than Wayne Rooney, or if Rooney is a better player than Ryan Giggs. By undertaking comparisons, he is able to get a better understanding of categories.
- How prices are determined. When back at school, he will attempt to swop his surplus or duplicate cards for those he does not have with his classmates. Here he realises that he might have to trade two or more cards for the card of a player in limited supply. This represents an introduction to economics.
There is a mass of research studies which tell us that boys' interest and performance in education falls away as they progress through school. Thinking about football, if harnessed appropriately, is one way to keep their interest in education.
Jon Simon, Head of accounting and finance, University of Hull's Business School.