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Why Is Soccer Called ‘Soccer' Instead Of 'Football?'

Why do Americans say soccer when the rest of the world calls this sport football?

7-year-old Kala wants to know why we say soccer in the United States, when the rest of the world calls the game "football." In this episode we hear from people who make their living in the game, professional players, coaches and commentators.

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"It's an interesting question because so many people around the world play the game of football," said David Saward, men's coach at Middlebury College.

"What happened with the words soccer and football goes back to the 1800s when the game was developed. There were two groups of people in Britain who got together to set the rules of two different games, one that was known as rugby football, and another that was known as association football. From those two first words: 'rugby' and 'association,' came two very separate games. Rugby was abbreviated to the word 'rugger.' And out of the word 'association' came 'soccer.' That's the root of where the two differences came."

So although these days you probably won't hear many Brits calling the sport "soccer," the word actually originated there. Americans brought the nickname to the US, and as the sport became popular, soccer stuck.

Why is soccer called 'soccer,' instead of being called 'football?' - Kala, 7, Colchester, Vt.

Credit Kala's dad / courtesy
Kala loves to draw, read books, ride her bike, ice skate, swim and watch the Montreal Impact play soccer.

"When you look around the world," says Coach Saward, "there are all sorts of different forms of football: American football, Australian rules football, Gaelic football, rugby football and association football. I think for the clarity of everyone over here when we say the word football, we think of people running around with helmets and pads on; so soccer is a very clear distinction."

Listen to the full episode to hear former pro players Alexi Lalas and Alejandro Moreno.



Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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