STEM Matters: Football’s coming home?…

Author : Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor

19 July 2018

Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

As I write this month’s STEM column, World Cup fever is once again gripping the nation – indeed, the world! Held every four years, football’s most elite tournament is the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world, contested by the senior men’s national teams from the 208 Member Associations of FIFA...

It is also the world’s most widely viewed sporting event, with an average audience of 3.5 billion, outstripping even the Olympics. But, after a succession of poor tournaments, I have never known expectation, and arguably enthusiasm, to be so low among England fans going into a World Cup.

Of course, a good start, with strong performances and results in the first couple of games, alongside a refreshingly humble, positive team ethic and attitude, plus of course, the unexpectedly cool and impressive Gareth Southgate and his waistcoat, soon changed all that. The media got on side – and there were even whispers of support from other home nation supporters.

The team’s best performance at a World Cup in a generation saw them win a dreaded penalty shootout there for the first time, and then progress with apparent ease to the semi-final for only the third time ever – and the first since Italia 1990 28 years ago.

As I write this column, the nation is dreaming of Football Coming Home – and holding its breath, hoping that this side we have taken to our hearts like none other in recent history can achieve the incredible feat of reaching the World Cup final. And if they can do that, well anything can happen! Times like these happily remind us all of the power of sport to unite, enthuse and delight people – even many who might not be regular fans.

Those of us who are interested and responsible for encouraging interest in STEM among young students should look upon this as an opportunity to capitalise on World Cup fever to do so. As with everything else in life, a great deal of science, engineering and technology underpins and is involved in delivering a World Cup – so it presents an ideal opportunity to harness fan fervour to highlight the role STEM plays.

You could talk about the incredible civil engineering that goes into preparing the host country, from building new stadiums (including making sure they deliver the best spectator view and experience all around, and incorporate safety features such as real-time structural monitoring) to improving transport infrastructure (which might include road, rail and more).

Or you could consider the growing role of sports engineering, which encompasses the design and production of sports equipment and facilities, performance measurement and athletic feedback systems.

This could include everything from how team kits, boots and equipment – or even the ball itself – are engineered, through wearable personal GPS tracking and vital sign monitoring systems that help coaches more closely analyse individual player fitness, performance and statistics, to the advanced study of kinematics, dynamics and biomechanics as they pertain to sport. Some teams are even beginning to experiment with virtual reality as a training tool for players.

And at this particular World Cup, engineers have obviously played a key role in developing, testing and implementing VAR (video assistant referee) and goal line technology, both of which are intended to reduce human error in referee decision-making, making the game fairer and more transparent.

The impressive array of technology involved includes sophisticated sensing technologies, advanced vision systems and complex real-time communications designed to minimise the effect of slowing down games as much as possible. Of course, such technology always generates fresh controversy among fans and pundits – but overall, most would probably agree it is a positive step forward.

To help educators looking to take advantage of these opportunities, the team behind the government’s Year of Engineering initiative have partnered with FIFA’s Technology Innovation Department to develop a range of supporting curriculum-linked STEM resources. The resources demonstrate the engineering behind the latest game-changing innovations and include videos case studies designed to help pupils discover how a job in engineering could combine a passion for sport with an exciting and fulfilling career.

The resources can be downloaded from: www.yearofengineering.gov.uk.


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