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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Watching sports is fun – and a good way to learn math and geography

By Fred Bowen Special to the Washington Post

Another year is almost over, and it’s been a tough one. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is still around, and most kids are wearing masks in schools and other places.

My guess is that kids and adults are spending much of their time following sports as a fun way to forget about the virus. Watching games is not just an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. If kids are curious and pay attention, they can learn a lot from sports.

Math: Sports constantly test math skills. If it’s third down and 13 yards to go at the 35-yard line, that means a team has to reach the 48-yard line if they want to get a first down. That’s addition. Or if the team is in its opponent’s territory, they have to reach the 22-yard line. Subtraction.

Batting averages, completion rates, the number of saves a goalie makes compared to the goals she lets in – they are all fractions and percentages.

Geography: Any fan of professional sports should know all the major cities in the United States and Canada. You may even learn something about the cities and their history. The teams are called the Colorado Rockies, Philadelphia 76ers and New England Patriots for a reason.

This year, kids also learned about countries around the world by watching the Summer Olympics. More than 200 countries competed in the Tokyo Games.

Law: Each sport is governed by a set of rules, just as people in states and countries are governed by different laws.

Listen to the discussion during any instant replay. The officials are trying to apply the rules of the game to the action on the field or court.

Did the receiver have control of the ball when he was in the end zone? Did the ball leave the shooter’s hand before the buzzer went off? Was there a defender between the forward and the goal line when the ball was passed? They are applying the law (rules) to the facts.

Debates: Who is the best quarterback in the NFL? Is Serena Williams the greatest female tennis player of all time? Is it harder to be a figure skater or a soccer goalkeeper?

Sports are full of arguments. Kids who follow sports learn to use facts to support what they think. That’s an important skill.

Issues: The controversy about whether star quarterback Aaron Rodgers should have been vaccinated is an example of the rights of the individual versus his obligations to the group. Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka dropped out of competitions in 2021 and introduced many kids to the important issue of mental health.

Math, geography, law and lots of important issues. You aren’t just watching the games, you’re learning.