Romanian Soccer Team Wears Equations Instead of Numbers on Their Jerseys

April 11, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Football (soccer) silhouette against sunset.
Photo credit: Rama V/Flickr (CC BY 2.0

To encourage math literacy.

Despite the physics and geometry involved, people don’t usually associate sports with math. School cliques tend to split kids into jocks and geeks — the athletes and the mathletes — but it doesn’t have to be so.

Recently, the Romanian men’s soccer team took on the challenge of explicitly adding math to their game and replaced their numbers with math equations on their practice jerseys before a game against Spain. When solved, these equations revealed the players’ numbers.

Although the Romanian players wore their regular jerseys during the actual game, the children who walked out onto the pitch with them sported ones with the equations.

“Football and mathematics are not mutually exclusive,” the Romanian Football Federation president, Razvan Burleanu, told The Guardian.

“We must look at sports and education as not only complementary but fundamental elements integrated in the training and perfection of children. We want to have healthy generation and smart students who achieve performance and tools through tailored passions. Through this project, children will learn the basics of football and have an opportunity for the first time in our country — to discover mathematics through an attractive approach.”

The Romanian Football Federation’s attempts to make math more appealing don’t stop there. The jerseys were just one part of a bigger project. A second element of the initiative is to replace traditional math practice problems with sports-centered ones such as this example given in an article in The Washington Post:

Romania has accumulated four wins and two draws in its World Cup qualifying group. If a win means three points and a draw means one point, how many points does the team have?

In 2014, Romania had one of the highest dropout rates in the European union — 18 percent — and the Romanian Football Federation is hopeful that they can play a role in decreasing this number. Although the US dropout rate in 2013 was only 7 percent, Americans rank 35th in the world in terms of math scores and could stand to try a similar project if this proves successful.

Math anxiety has been shown to activate pain networks in the brain, so anything that can make math fun instead of stressful is a definite plus!

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