What Academia Could Learn from Uruguayan Soccer
By Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts PhD on Thursday, August 18, 2011
On Sunday July 24th 2011, Uruguay played the final game against Paraguay for the America Cup (Copa América) at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay is legendary. Both countries had 14 wins in this tournament up to 2010. They were tied, and Argentina was dreaming of breaking the tie by winning the title once more in their own soil, but it was not meant to be. Uruguay beat them on the way to the final, much to the disbelief of the Argentineans who were one of the favourites together with Brazil. And you may be asking yourself by now, how soccer can teach something to academia? Let me explain…
Uruguay, a small country in the Southern Cone of Latin America, with 3.5 million people, has been known for the quality of its soccer, but for a long time, they were also known for not playing fair. Under the leadership of O. Tabárez, the Uruguayan team showed its brilliance during the World Cup in South Africa, and now in Copa América.
The team that nobody expected to win has gained the respect and admiration of many by the quality of the players, by their sense of pride for the country they represent, by the respect they have towards each other, and by the unselfishness of the plays. Passing the ball to a team-mate that has a better opportunity to score is not an uncommon event for the Uruguayan team. They pass the ball with the precision that comes from hours of practise and with the understanding that it doesn’t matter who scores the goal: when one of them scores, they all do. The purpose of the game is to score more goals than the opponent, and the players of La Celeste (their jersey is sky blue – celeste in Spanish) understand this and execute the plan with exquisite precision. They celebrate each play together. They enjoy seeing others in the team succeed and they help and support each other at all times.
I was reflecting on their behaviour, their sense of fair play, their cohesiveness as a team and their extraordinary sense of togetherness and pride, and I thought, wouldn’t be incredible to achieve the same level of performance across academia? Where the size of the institution is not what really counts, but its sense of purpose, pride and deep sense of community. Wouldn’t it be priceless to join in the victory of the individuals in a department, for example, because the success of one in the team is actually the success of all? Wouldn’t it be rewarding to treat each other with respect and consideration instead of trying to undermine the work of others by ignoring their victories and enjoying their defeats? Wouldn’t it be a great way to mentor students in an indirect way, by show-casing the high level of unity within departments, programs, Faculties, etc.? Sadly, this is not what happens in most campuses, and rivalry and opposition, the protection of one’s own discipline in detriment of others, is not uncommon, and faculty members sometimes seem more concerned and consumed by their own personal agendas than by the well being of the group. Frictions and competitiveness take precedence over the sharing of resources in a fair and constructive manner. And, so, yes, I believe Uruguayan soccer can teach many good lessons to academics and perhaps, in the near future, we could be joining together in the celebration of everyone’s success: students, professors, institutions and the country as a whole. Because, when one wins, we all do!
Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts, Department of Languages and Literatures, Wilfrid Laurier University, and 3M National Teaching Fellow.
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