By Leidy Klotz, Associate Professor Of Architecture, Associate Professor Of Civil And Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia
My course, Sustainability through Soccer – Systems Thinking in Action, is a response to a question posed by Socrates:
“What if we could one day direct this enthusiasm that we have for soccer towards positive causes for humanity?”
Wait, what? No, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates did not play soccer—at least as far as we know. The Socrates who posed our question was Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, the legendary Brazilian soccer player.
In my course, we explore two possible answers to a slightly modified version of Socrates’ question: How can we use soccer on our quest for social impact?
The first answer to Socrates’ question is that we can use soccer stories to align passion for the game with the quest for social impact, tapping into the passion for soccer shared all over the world and channeling it toward social change. Soccer is played and watched in every corner of the world, and therefore affects hundreds of millions of lives. Soccer has caused (Google “Honduras Soccer War”) and paused (Google “Pele Nigeria war”) wars. Soccer can certainly help connect us in our quest for social impact.
The second answer to Socrates’ question is that we can use the system of a soccer game, and the interdependencies within it, as a framework to understand complex social systems and the interdependencies between all of our social impact efforts.
In other words, social impact requires a systems view, and so does soccer. Soccer is a holistic sport; a slight change in one play can affect what follows in unexpected and dramatic ways. Appreciating soccer requires us to go beyond simply analyzing specific moves or plays. Sure Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo score a lot of goals, but they score even more when they have good teammates and coaches. We must also expand our perspective to appreciate how all of the moves and plays in soccer are strongly interdependent.
As I hope you will see in this course, real-world interdependencies link the soccer system and the positive social impacts we hope to have. For example, through their success and resulting popularity, Brazil’s Women’s soccer team has broken down sexist perspectives about who should play sports and therefore opened the door for more young girls to play the game. In this course, you will discover interdependencies between soccer systems and the social impact challenges you care about. By doing so, I think you will sharpen your ability to find them in other seemingly unrelated systems.17