Teaching Football To Thai Students


Blue 42; Blue 42!!

Our interactions with our sister school in the rural hill country of Thailand went beyond the classroom. Scheduled for two days were: a service project and a sports day. And like my Mom taught me, you do the work first. Then you can go play in the field.


A service project is one of those things that sounds like a nice thing to do with your day. Help out. Do your community some good. Make the world a better place.

Well, the world here had a heaping pile of sand that wasn’t going to move itself.

The day after our students joined theirs in classes, we arrived via our vans cruising over and around green hills of farm and forest on the warm, sunny morning. We arrived, parked, and disembarked to see the local students already in action.

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Shovel and shovel the dirt into the wheelbarrow to roll and dump over yonder, and do it all over again. And again. And again.

But no worries. Many hands make for light work, and we had 37 students to go along with theirs, who admittedly worked harder than ours. The stereotype that First World life can soften a person held true, though our students certainly worked.

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I compared the Hmong youth from here in rural Thailand with sun-baked skin and wearing only flip flops on their feet vs. our students in looser, cleaner clothing, trendy baseball caps and tennis shoes, many of whom probably hadn’t put in a hard days’ labor in ages if not their entire age.

First World living is preferred by most, but easy living also means the option to get soft. You may have to work to work–to choose it. Though it may seem an odd choice, strenuous athletic activity is part of our body’s evolutionary expectation, and thus, our mental makeup. In order to feel good from head to toe, we have to get up and get active.

We asked the students to do so a bit today and they stepped up alongside their Thai peers.

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The job was finished within two hours.

And that was really it for that day. Other tasks were on the docket, but the task leader from their school was unable to arrive. So we didn’t have to put in as much work to reap the reward of playtime the next time we came to the school.


This next morning we arrived to a downpour, a rain on our parade of a plan for a sports day. We settled for indoor, gym class-type games in the school cafeteria.

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But then things let up.

Some students went to the cement basketball court to shoot hoops and bump volleyballs. Others followed me down to the football field.

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Field to the bottom right

And when I say football, I mean soccer. This isn’t America.

But I’m American. So though it may have been a soccer field, I carried with me a football–the American, egg-shaped one. It was likely the first time the local students in this isolated village had seen one, let alone use.

I had a little work to do.

In fact, football isn’t exactly a popular sport in the Hmong community in the US, either. Our K-8 institution does not offer football. So I was tasked to show Americans and Thai alike the finer points of throwing, catching, and eventually even playing.

Five boys from the school here wanted to give this odd ball a try. We started with some catch.

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They caught on to catch pretty quick.

Good thing, too, because now it was game time. The big leagues. The international games between a Hmong charter school from St. Paul and a Hmong village school from Thailand.

A match for the ages.

The teams lined up, the quarterback yelled, “Hut!”, and the players all ran out for a pass in this two-hand-touch, American football recess-style.

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Here, too, the Thai students caught on–as did one of the teachers, a 40-year-old fella with excitement in his step and tight grimace of a game face as he ran out, caught a pass…but then would think rugby or something and pass it again to another teammate.

Didn’t matter.

The point was that all enjoyed and got involved. Sports–like chores had been the previous day–was a conduit for building relationships.

While they continued bonding in competition, I looked around outside the field to the adjacent village action.

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Teachers called out to the students, and all ran back up the hill to the cafeteria. Well, most used their feet. These two from the Thai school used their scooter.

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After a lunch of rice, spicy meat, and mango, students from both schools teamed up once more–and once more over chores: doing the dishes.

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From shoveling to sporting to soaking, these two teams worked as one.

While they did so, I caught glimpses of more of the surrounding village.

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The afternoon saw the sun come out.

Under the burning bulb in the sky, I used an umbrella for something other than rain for the first time in my life. Students weren’t so concerned about sunburn and “non-American” football was now in play.

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After an afternoon session, the sports day came to an end. Yet those village shots above proved a foreshadow.

After the afternoon games, we all took a stroll. Earlier Hmong village visits on this trip had been influenced by tourism, vendors ready for our and others’ arrival. This time was different. This late afternoon village wander was quiet minus the calls for goods for sale and less colorful minus the flamboyant Hmong traditional wear hanging on racks.

This was what you might call a “real” village in the hills of Thailand, and I’ll show it to you next Sunday.


What say you?