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Speaking Sports

by Kathleen Cason



Soccer and Spanish? Judo and Japanese? That’s what some grade-schoolers learned last year in an experimental after-school program that combines sports, foreign language and fun.

“The idea was to use children’s natural love of sports to introduce them to other cultures and languages,” said Gwynn Powell, who developed the program with fellow UGA College of Education colleague Billy Hawkins. Moreover, Powell explained, the students were in charge of “choosing their own adventure.”

“Because the kids pick the language, country and sport, they are more interested,” said Jennifer Thompson, a physical education teacher at Chase Street Elementary School in Athens, Ga. And their interest is infectious. “Other kids find out the program is fun and want to join in.”

Called “Soaring with My Heroes, Broadening My World,” the program lets children select a country based on the ethnicities represented at their school. At Chase Street, third-graders picked Mexico, Spanish and soccer while fourth- and fifth-graders chose Japan, Japanese and martial arts.

Using the school’s computer lab and library, they investigated their respective country’s culture, sports and languages. Community volunteers, meanwhile, were invaluable resources. For instance, a UGA exchange student taught Japanese and local martial-arts professionals taught judo and karate.

The program aimed to expose students to language, not to make them fluent. They dabbled in Spanish when keeping score during soccer games or playing the card game Uno®. During warm-up exercises before judo lessons, students counted in Japanese. Each child adopted a new name, such as “Takara” for “treasure” in Japanese, or “Amador,” which is Spanish for “lover.” The program even included a year-end fiesta that featured kid-made decorations, piñatas, games, soccer, music and Mexican food.

But the program wasn’t all play. UGA graduate students and after-school staff implemented and fine-tuned the program at two elementary schools in Clarke County, Ga. They investigated children’s awareness of other cultures and attitudes toward language at the beginning and end of the year, noting significant improvement both in positive attitudes toward the use of a new language and in teamwork behavior.

The project developed a “how-to” manual that can be downloaded and modified for use by other after-school programs.

“Our hope is that school systems will adopt this program, and incorporate it into their multicultural learning and after-school programs as well,” Hawkins said. The program was funded by a grant from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation.

For more information contact Gwynn Powell at or Billy Hawkins at The resource booklet Soaring with My Heroes, Broadening My World is available at ~gpowell/heroes.


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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