The Architecture of Sport: Soccer in Italy, affords students the opportunity to walk, run, and kick their way through the history of Italy and its favorite game. Head of the program and Professor of Classical Studies, Pedar Foss brings DePauw soccer players and non-athlete students off-campus to Europe approximately every two years to learn about the historical and cultural background of soccer.
“So what we’re doing is taking a look at space and urban context of the apparatus of sporting events and sporting venues in three different time periods and three different places” said Foss. The students began in Rome to explore ancient Roman history, then traveled to Perugia for the medieval background of sport, and also went to Florence to discover the power of the Renaissance. These three cities provided the students with the opportunity to better understand the historical background of sport, especially soccer. “By taking a look at how cities change and cultures change over time, the use of space and expression in art changes. Over time students can gain appreciation both for the continuities that exist concerning space in a single country and also the developments that occur across time.”
Sophomore Dana Shedd found the two and a half week experience to be almost indescribable. “I was in a beautiful foreign country getting to play soccer with all of my friends while also exploring really unique landscapes,” said Shedd. “It was everything I loved.”
Students were able to not only explore the historical context of the sport but also to use their new knowledge to understand professional games. They went to watch two professional games while they were abroad. “They could see that sport in action at the highest level and not just how the teams interact,” said Foss, “but how the crowd interacts with the teams and how the architecture of the sporting venue space facilitates or inhibits crowd behavior.”
This course tackles a multitude of tasks, and Foss believes that the students were fully engaged by actively having the players train with Italian coaches, including training at the national team training center. Then, students played matches against local opponents; both the women’s and men’s teams played three games while abroad. Foss finds that students are able to learn a lot simply by playing someone else who grew up in a different style. “Teams and players that are trained in another environment are going to see the game and play the game differently” said Foss.
First-year Jenna McCarroll participated in this course and stated that the games and three cities were “a good experience to bond with teammates as well as take in a whole different culture."
Head coach of the DePauw women’s soccer team, Megan McCormick had a large part in the course this year. “Sports has shaped the physical world in Italy,” said McCormick, “and examining the Italian culture and what’s important to that culture translates into youth soccer players and how they eventually play professionally.”
The men won two of their games and lost one, while the women tied two of their games and won one. Foss declared that the women “in particular played some very difficult opponents.” The women played against a team that is in the second professional level in Italy as well as another team which is one of the top professional first division teams.
Foss declared that much credit is due to McCormick and her ability to elegantly guide the team. “They very quickly realized what caliber they were dealing with, but they adapted,” said Foss, “and the teamwork that DePauw women have is a pretty extraordinary thing.”
McCormick states that the abroad experience is a really unique opportunity for students to be able to tie athletic opportunities to academic experience in the classroom. “Athletics and academics are very compartmentalized,” said McCormick, “but by being more mindful of the game, the students are able to reach further with what they’re doing academically. It’s a holistic approach.”
Foss, too, is attempting to collapse the categories of sport and academics through this course. “I think those categories are artificial things that we place on them and we can blow those up,” said Foss. He hopes that the students can avoid categorizing these two topics and instead will translate what they’ve learned into their everyday lives.
He states that experiential learning in another country is the single most important thing a student can do, and learning how the world works in other places positively shapes students. “So, when we run up against something that doesn’t work like we expect we can react in one of two ways: we can reject it and we can be fearful of it, we can hate it,” said Foss, “or we can ask ourselves whether we’re the ones who need to adapt our view and expand our horizons and think differently.”
Mostly, Foss hopes that his students are able to expand their comfort zones and become more flexible when learning about the world around them. “Students, especially the next generation, need to be capable of reaching out and making connections,” said Foss. “It’s a matter of survival and also of thriving.”