Some of the greatest debates that arise around the World Cup season.

  • Was Pele or Maradona the better player?
  • Is Messi or Ronaldo the greatest modern player?
  • Did the referee get paid to make that call?
  • and lastly, is the game called Soccer or Football?

In our field of Instructional Design and content development, every word counts. With each learning experience written, our words are chosen carefully to be sure it makes the largest impact and reach our target learners.  In North America, we all know football is a game played by carrying a ball from one end of the field to the other, meanwhile, in Europe, football is played by kicking the ball and the use of hands is not permitted.  Both sports are very popular and both have almost 150 years of tradition. But this begs to question, which sport is right? If an instructional designer were to build a learning experience on the history of sport they would first need to be able to understand who their learners are. If we take look below, we can see how they would approach the choice of football or soccer by referring to the expert body of knowledge available to select the most impactful terminology for their learners.

To solve this debate, we need to actually examine the development of three sports in the mid-19th century.


Already a very popular sport in 1863, the first official rules for Football were written by England’s Football Association. The game was played by kicking the ball from one end of the field to the other while trying to score a goal in the net.  The rules became the foundation for the game that will be played this year in Qatar.

At the very same time, a new variation of the sport was developing called Rugby Football. This game was named after a boarding school in England and the main difference was that players were allowed to advance while carrying the ball. This was a completely different Football from the game described by the Football Association.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the first appearance of word soccer came to light. In order to tell the two athletes apart students at Oxford University coined the term rugger for athletes who played Rugby Football. They used the term assoccer for the ones that played Association Football.

Assoccer was soon shortened to Soccer and quickly spread beyond the university’s gate becoming the game’s unofficial nickname. Association Football wasn’t the only sport to shorten its name. With the turn of the century in England, Rugby Football was shortened to simply Rugby. With no other competition for the name Association Football won the name Football and is referred to by this name by millions worldwide.

Football is the correct name for the sport. Keep that in mind if ever you find yourself writing training for a European target audience.

However, while all this was taking place across the pond, another new sport was developing in North America. Merging aspects of both Rugby Football and Association Football, Gridiron Football was born. Named for the field it was played on, in this sport player could only advance while holding the ball. however, very much like the other two sports, it seemed as though its name was decided by its fans, and it became more commonly referred to as football.

The rising popularity of Gridiron Football meant that North American Association Football players needed to choose a name for their sport to distinguish themselves from the new game. Soccer being an already-known nickname for the sport from England, it became the natural choice for Association Football players to refer to their sport.

By the mid-1900s, what was once the ruling body for the American Association Football game, the United States Soccer Football Association, changed its name to the United States Soccer Association, removing football from the North American version of the game forever. This made the ultimate distinction between Football and Soccer in North America.

Soccer is the correct name for the sport. Likewise, if writing for a North American target audience, be sure to use Soccer when referring to the sport.

Interestingly, both terms are correct, and both come from the same sport. Groups of friends and students played a game that they enjoyed and loved. Ultimately it was the evolution of different sports, in different places that gave way to unique fans. Fans and players are what makes sports special, and it is up to them to decide the best name for their favourite games.

If you ever find yourself debating which terms to use in your training, you can count on the team at Novaconcept to help you make the correct choice. Training is our game and as fans and players, we know which terms to use so that together we can make the winning goal. And remember, if you’re starting any debates this World Cup, you can already skip this one, we all know the real name of the game is…

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