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Using the language of football to engage your students




Alan Redmond, co-author of English for Football, offers teaching tips on engaging your students by using the topic of football in your English lessons. Watch the video to see Alan and co-author Sean Warren discuss how football can motivate students in class.

I teach English to Premier League footballers and Academy players at Premier League clubs. For a football fan like me, it’s a great job and one that I’m constantly grateful for, but it’s a job that I’ve had to mould and shape from the start. I try to do two things: firstly, teach General English using football as a context and, secondly, teach the essential English vocabulary and terminology used in the world of football.

Football has a lexicon of its own. Expressions like ‘drop deep’, ‘man on’, ‘mark up’ or ‘hold the ball up’ are crucial for players to understand and there are a lot more of these expressions that coaches and team mates will use when speaking to a player.

I found teaching the language specific to football to be a little like teaching phrasal verbs to General English students: It often seems fine in class but the students have a high tendency to mix them up immediately after the class. To counter this, I divided the high frequency expressions into categories based on which player would say them and in what situation the player could expect to hear them. For example, ‘mark up’ is something that they will hear from a goalkeeper when defending corners and free-kicks.

Teaching English in a football context is useful for professional footballers but it can also engage students who aren’t professional footballers or even footballers at all. Try our Present Perfect explanation and exercises from English for Football and notice how easy it is to motivate your students afterwards.

Present perfect: have/has + past participle


I’ve played in goal.

He’s played in goal.


I haven’t played in goal.

He hasn’t played in goal.

  • We can use the Present Perfect to talk about an experience from the past. It is not important when it happened.
  • Compare the two sentences.

I played in the 2002 World Cup.

I have played in three World Cups.

  • In the first sentence we know when the event happened, so we use the Past Simple. In the second sentence the time is not specified, so we use the Present Perfect.

(English for Football, Unit 5 Goalkeeper, p41)

I would suggest that teachers use as many real elements in class as possible. See how these things work for you:

  1. Start by giving each student a newspaper match report from the previous day. Ask them to underline all of the irregular verbs. Then use the remainder of the previous day’s football results for Past Simple speaking practice: United lost against Tottenham. Rooney scored two goals.
  2. Use real players and teams for things like descriptions and Comparative and Superlative: Puyol is taller than Messi. Ronaldo is the most expensive player in the world.
  3. For teachers in the UK, record your own listening exercises on your laptop using local accent/dialect. If you’re teaching somebody who has just moved to Newcastle, it’s useful for them to listen to the accent they’ll be exposed to on a daily basis.
  4. Use upcoming fixtures for practising Conditionals: If Bayern beat Atletico, they’ll play City in the semi final. 
  5. Turn the volume down while watching famous goal compilations on YouTube and have your students take turns acting as the match commentator.
  6. Finally, use competitive spirit to lift a tired class. I often face a group of exhausted post-training 17 year olds on a Thursday afternoon. I find that I can motivate them to do written exercises by simply saying “and your time starts now!” as they start the exercise.

Football is a profession but it’s also a form of entertainment and a large cultural feature of many countries. Have any of you used football or sports-related materials in class before? How have you found it? Feel free to share activities you’ve used in the comments.

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  1. Good idea – if all your class are interested in football only though! It still surprises me how many teachers ignore this basic tenet of teaching: keeping things interesting. A teenage class full of boys is likely to love the idea but an adult class of women? Probably less so!

  2. Hi Alan,

    Really interesting read.. I often use football in my classes as in Sevilla where I teach, they are all crazy about the sport.

    You do indeed have the perfect job in my opinion. As an English Language teacher myself I would be very interested to know how you got involved in the teaching of football players. I am looking to move back home to the UK in the future and the combination of the two would be the ideal career for me.

    Any advise would be greatly welcomed.

    Thanks and regards,
    Dan Rose

  3. Hi Alan,

    Sorry, previous comment seems to have disappeared.

    I’m an English Language teacher and I too try to incorporate football into my lessons as my Spanish students love football as much as I do. You do indeed have the perfect job and I’d appreciate any advise or tips on how you managed to merge the two so successfully and teach football players. I’ve often thought with the amount of foreign players now in football that surely some teams have an English language teacher. It would be my dream to teach this way. I’m hoping to move back to the UK and this would be the ideal job for me.

    So anything you can pass onto me would be incredibly appreciated.

    Thanks and regards,
    Dan Rose

  4. Hi! I’m a foreign language major right now and I’m interested in teaching English, specifically to footballers. How did you go about getting that job? What did you study in university and what kind of experience did you need for this job? Thanks!

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