7 things my sons learned from the 2014 World Cup

After being a main source of conversation and entertainment for more than four weeks, the 2014 World Cup is now over. And, I think my whole family is a bit in shock.

For one whole month, we cheered on our favorite teams, we kept track of our favorite players, and we talked about which teams stood the best chance of advancing to the finals. But, now it’s all done. This morning, we talked about just one thing – Germany’s victory over Argentina.

Of course, my eight-year-old son also had to remind me that he picked Germany as the likely champs at the onset of the competition...

While my older son schooled me on the ultimate winner, he and his younger brother learned a lot during the course of the World Cup, too.

With more than 60 games played by 32 teams in one country with three different time zones over the course of four weeks, there were ample opportunities to not just cheer on the players and the teams. There also were many opportunities to learn important things about the sport, about people, and about the world.

Here are the top 7 things my sons learned from the 2014 World Cup: 

1. Pride is a powerful thing. A person’s pride in their country and their continent can bind them together and encourage them to show their spirit in many different ways.

During the World Cup, we saw national pride spur some people to dye their hair, paint their houses, and even paint their whole street to show their support of their country and their team.

We loved seeing images of the most spirited fans who cheered on their favorite teams from their seats in the Brazilian stadiums, including the American man (and fellow Chicagoan) who dressed as Teddy Roosevelt for the US - Portugal game. On Saturday, we saw a Dutch man, referred to as The Netherlands biggest fan, receive the treasured captain’s badge from Robin van Persie after the Dutch came in third place.

Image via Twitter (@dante_bonfim)

Image via Twitter (@dante_bonfim)

Of course, it’s hard not to forget the images of streets of Brazil painted with the emblem emblazoned on the country’s flag and houses in The Netherlands and Germany painted in their country’s colors.

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US Men's National Team fans head to Grant Park for the US-Portugal Game.

Pride also can cause people to crowd together in one place to cheer on their national team – together.

Here, in our hometown of Chicago, organizers of the viewing party for the US Men’s National Team’s first appearance in the World Cup were surprised by the amount of fans who came to cheer on the team. With each US game, came a new venue with a larger capacity.

But, pride doesn’t have to be country-specific. Yesterday, fans of many different European teams cheered on the German team thanks to their European pride, and a desire to keep the cup in Europe.

2. Adults who don’t have good behavior get in trouble, too. During any soccer game, it’s common for us to talk about why a player received a yellow or red card, and then discuss the ramifications for their actions. But, I have to admit, I never thought we’d talk about the punishment bestowed on a player for biting his competitor. Yet, we did.

The day after Uruguay striker Luis Suarez bit an Italian defender, that was all we could talk about. But, it proved to be a good discussion and a helpful reminder that everyone – even adult, world-class soccer players – need to have good behavior.

We spent a lot of time talking about how no one should have to walk on a field in fear of being bitten (or attacked) by another player, and also the seriousness of the punishment.

It was a heavy, but good conversation. And, honestly, I hope it’s not one we never  have again during an esteemed international competition. I thought I was done with discussing the seriousness of biting after my sons graduated from preschool.

3. A team is bigger than one individual player. During the World Cup, it seemed like a big topic of conversation was how a team can’t thrive with just one star. Rather, it needs a team of players who shine together as one.

Of course, it’s hard to not feel for Brazil, especially when the team faltered after its star, Neymar, fractured a vertebra during the team's quarterfinal match against Colombia. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t recover, and the world was quick to say the team needed to rebuild so it could win - even without Neymar.

When Germany beat Argentina, the team was congratulated for being just that – a team. And, in being a team, it was able to defeat another world-class team led by legendary Lionel Messi.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the German player who scored the game-winning goal came into the game near the end of regulation time. Mario Goetze wasn’t one of the team’s starters. But, that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he joined the team and supported it the best way possible – one that no German will ever forget.

4. Greatness is a journey – and it’s not always easy. 32 teams competed in the 2014 World Cup, but a lot of teams didn’t make the cut. The teams that did played hard, trained hard, and worked hard. And, they deserved their spots.

My family talked a lot about the journey many of the teams took to get to the World Cup. And, that once they got there, they couldn’t just sit back and coast. No one expected England and Spain to be out after the first round. And, yet they both exited the competition earlier than expected.

We talked about how for the US team, it’s often viewed as a “win” just to qualify for the World Cup. And, yet, the scrappy team made it through to the second round, even after being placed in a tough first-round bracket.

Together, we also talked about how these World Cup-caliber players work hard each and every day. They may be the greatest in the world, but they still need to practice hard and strive to get better.

5. Rivals can be teammates on and off the field. My sons are international soccer fans. They've been known to favorite a particular English Premier League team. So, they know that some of the greatest teams in the world are made up of players from different parts of the world, many who don’t speak the same language.

Wayne Rooney and van Persie happily grace the walls of my son's room.

Wayne Rooney and van Persie happily grace the walls of my son's room.

They understand that Manchester United teammates Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie play for different national teams. But, that doesn’t matter. The “rivals” are still teammates. Soccer just gave them the opportunity to come together, play together, and achieve greatness together – no matter where they call home.

6. It’s good to celebrate the teams that don’t come in first place, too. I enjoyed sitting with my family to watch the playoff for third place match to see whether Brazil or The Netherlands would come in third place. It was refreshing to celebrate two teams for coming so far – even if they weren't vying for first place.

And, when The Netherlands won the game, we cheered them on, too. They came in third place – in the world. That’s an amazing feat, too.

But, I have to admit, that I was a bit troubled by the announcers who talked about the shame of the Brazilian team for coming in fourth, after losing to The Netherlands. It’s true that they lost the playoff for third place game in front of a “hometown” crowd, but they’re the fourth best team in the world. Nothing to complain about there.

I found myself feverently defending the Brazil team to my sons and urging them to celebrate the team, too.

7. Soccer deserves time in the spotlight, too. In the US, it sometimes feels like soccer takes a backseat to sports like baseball, basketball and football. But, it seems like the tide is turning.

During the World Cup, soccer fans proudly wore their jerseys in the city streets, crowded into sports bars for every game, and played games in the parks. And, it was wonderful.

A helpful get-out-of-work note from Jürgen Klinsmann for the US-Germany game.

A helpful get-out-of-work note from Jürgen Klinsmann for the US-Germany game.

For four straight weeks, soccer was king. The players and teams were celebrated. Twitter kept me updated on the World Cup, sending me notifications at the start of each match. And, Chicago even seemed to come to a standstill during US games, with people posting photos of teams watching the games from conference rooms at work. I mean, even the Wall Street Journal shared step-by-step instructions for how to "flee the office" to watch the US - Germany second-round game, and US Men's National Team headcoah, Jürgen Klinsman provided everyone with a note to get out of work that day.

Soccer fever was strong and spreading fast. It united us together as individual countries cheering on our national teams and as soccer fans celebrating the game itself as it took over our cities, our nations and the world.

Now the wait is on for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

What did your family learn from watching the 2014 World Cup? Please share your own lessons in the comments below.

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