2.4.1. The five playing fields of interculturalism

As discussed above, culture is a man-made resource which is unconscious but strongly determinant. So, an intercultural encounter is made up of the different elements of the cultural background of the people meeting one another. These elements include not only factual differences such as geographical place of origin, colour of skin, hair etc. but also differences in subtler aspects, like values.

What’s more, in the case of an intercultural encounter, communications and perceptions are often differentiated by the encountering parties, which can cause irritation and produce negative emotions. To deal with this, we propose that facilitators work on the following five ‘playing fields’, each of which deals with a different aspect of interculturalism:

  • Cultural resources
  • Values and conflicts
  • Emotions and irritations
  • Perception and communication
  • Cultural diversity in sport.

The fifth playing field will deal with concrete examples of sporting activities in an intercultural environment. There is no chronological or hierarchical order to our playing fields and they should be prioritised according to the qualification of the facilitator or the needs of the group.

In each of the playing fields key questions provide orientation. By answering these questions, the processes of sensitisation and self-reflection (discussion with participants) can be more easily understood.

Playing field 1 - Cultural resources Key questions:

  • Where am I from?
  • Where are the others from?
  • What do I expect from others?
  • What do I expect from myself?
  • What can I do?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What is identity?
  • What is my identity?
  • What are my orientations?

This playing field reflects on our own culture as an available resource. It helps to define what the person is made of and how he or she is organised. Thinking in a more detailed way about oneself and comparing those results with other people helps participants to accept the diversity of the group, the sports club, indeed, of an entire society.

Reflective exercise: “River of life”

Starting from the question “What has influenced me in my life until today?”, every participant paints his or her own life’s river with all its tributaries. The river should be divided into at least three parts: childhood, adolescence, adulthood. This helps to raise awareness of the different influences on the person during their whole life – for example, the role of parents, friends, school, religion, trainers, sport etc. When they are ready, each participant presents and describes their own picture to the group.

Figure 6

This exercise makes it obvious that every person is a creation of many influences and determinants. What’s more, it explains some characteristics or behaviours which may seem strange or different at first sight. The “River of life” helps the group not only to open up but also to develop more understanding and tolerance towards each other.

Playing field 2 – Values and conflicts Key question:

  • What is good? What is bad?
  • What is normal?
  • Who decides this?
  • How do I understand the values of others?
  • How do I fight for the truth or for my own opinion?

The second playing field focuses on values as the core element of culture. As such, it focuses on not only the factual presence of differences, but deals with rating these differences. It makes clear that the definitions of good and bad are not universal, but are dependent on the cultural imprints of individuals. Resolution through our second playing field contributes to a better mutual understanding and a smoother dialogue.

Reflective exercise:

“Iceberg” The idea of the iceberg model is that values, as the core element of the culture, are not visible. During the first interaction with people of a different origin you might notice some obvious differences in terms of appearance. However, you cannot know about the values of the other person. By assuming that everyone defines bad and good in the same way, people can be irritated and start to judge others in a negative way.

An illustration of an iceberg can support the facilitator to make the group more sensitive to this issue.

Figure 7

Figure 7

It is widely known that the biggest part of an iceberg sits under water (and this represents the fundamental basis of values). What we can see is just the small tip of this huge ice edifice (in our analogy, this represents a few obvious differences on the surface).

And when two icebergs come close to each other it is the parts under the water which first collide and which can clash. The same situation often applies to intercultural encounters.

Clashes of people with different cultural backgrounds are not rare. The only way to prevent these clashes is through an open and tolerant interaction, communication, reciprocal questioning and reciprocal listening. So, via the “Iceberg” exercise, facilitators can highlight the issue of values and their potential conflict in a visual way.

Playing field 3 - Emotions and irritations Key questions:

  • What irritates me?
  • What is my reaction to what kind of behaviour of other people?
  • What is foreign?
  • How do I feel that something is foreign?
  • What causes feelings of strangeness in me?

Emotions are normal, vital and important. The third playing field makes this clear. It allows us to have positive but also negative emotions as the natural response of every human being to something unknown. Emotions help us to define ourselves. However, reflection on emotions helps to prevent the judgments we may arrive at as a consequence of our emotions.

The third playing field promotes the acceptance of emotions as a first step and the development of our own tolerant, behavioural mechanisms in unknown situations. So, this playing field teaches us to control emotions and to go into a dialogue even in uncomfortable and unknown situations.

Reflective exercise: “Chairs”

This reflective exercise is suitable for groups of 15 people or more. The facilitator divides the group into three unequal, smaller groups. At the smallest, one group consists of just one person. Each of the groups is given a task, on a piece of paper, involving balls. E.g.

  • The first group has to lay down all the balls in a line • The second group has to lay down all the balls outside of the sports hall
  • The third group has to lay down all the balls close to the windows.

All the tasks are different but they all have a common solution, namely a line of balls outside the sports hall, close to the windows. (The tasks and objects can vary depending on the available circumstances).

The only important rule during the exercise is that the participants are not allowed to speak to each other, but can communicate in any other way.

During the exercise, the participants have to deal with different emotions, potentially including anger. The single person, especially, will have the most intense emotions. At the same time the exercise shows that emotions are not everything. Despite frustration, a common solution and dialogue are possible even if those involved don’t speak the same language.

Playing field 4 - Perception and communication Key questions:

  • How do I see, listen, smell, feel?
  • What is my evaluation of this?
  • What is the difference between perception and interpretation?
  • How do I communicate? How do other people communicate?


Reflective exercise: “Man and mouse” Reflective exercise: “Man and mouse”


Reflective exercise: “Man and mouse”

For this exercise, different paintings can be used. They can be found on the Internet. We suggest three paintings: a man, a mouse and a mix of both pictures.

Figure 8

The group should be divided again – this time into two smaller, equal groups. The most important rule is again that there should be no verbal communication between participants.

The facilitator shows separately the first picture (of a man) to the first group and the second picture (of a mouse) to the second group. The participants are asked to remember the paintings including all the details. After that the facilitator discretely hides both paintings and then shows the third mixed picture to the entire group simultaneously, saying that this was the original and that it is shown as a reminder to everyone. He or she should then hide this picture too.

Without speaking, participants must then form mixed pairs. (One person from the first group, the second from the second group.) These pairs must then paint the picture they saw, using one sheet of paper and both holding one pen.

By performing this exercise, participants will develop different kinds of communication as they try to paint the picture most similar to the one they saw before. However, one person will try to paint a man and the second the mouse. Participants have ten minutes to finish and must then present their common paintings.

For the reflective part of the exercise, the facilitator shows the mixed picture and discusses with participants what they recognise in the image. Ideally, the different groups will see different pictures – a result of their imprint from the very beginning (being shown the original images). After some minutes of discussion, the secret can be revealed. Both groups get to see all three pictures.


Practical exercises Footbasketball
(Topic: Cooperation)

Duration:  20 minutes
Number of participants:  8 people or more Materials:     Football, two basketball baskets, two small football goals (which should be placed 1.5m behind the basketball baskets)
Idea:  Cooperation, handling of irritation, change of perspective
Activity: Facilitator divides the entire group into two equal sides. On one side of the field the groups have to play basketball, on the other, football. If the ball crosses the centreline the teams have to switch to the other type of sport. If one team scores a point or goal, both teams have to switch sides. The game starts from the centreline again. In this way, the team playing basketball in defence starts to play basketball in the offence part and vice versa.
Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • What was the biggest trouble?
  • How did you manage your irritation?
  • Did you cooperate as a team? Or did you play by yourself?
  • Did you have a common strategy?
  • How did you communicate?
Reflection for the facilitator:  Traditionally known rules of two popular types of sport will be broken by the switch of the game, and of the side. This can cause irritation and a chaotic style of game.     The same emotions can arise in the context of intercultural encounters when the counterpart’s behaviour is unknown and new and also influences the handling of the other side. The ability to change your perspective in similar situations is of a great importance. Common strategies can also support the approximation process.















Cat and a weak mouse (Topic: Cooperation)

Duration: 20 minutes
Number of participants: 10 people or more
Materials:  No special materials
Idea:  Cooperation, communication, attention to weak members in a group
Activity: One person – a cat – is on one side of the field, the mice on the opposite side. The mice need to decide which of them is the weak one, but must do it secretly. Both the cat and the mice start to change sides during which the cat must catch the mice. Once caught the mice leave the game and stay on the sidelines. The task of the cat is to catch the weak mouse. If the weak one is the last caught by the cat, the cat looses the game. If the cat catches the weak one, the mice lose the game.
Reflective discussion:
  • What strategies did you use during the game?
  • Where and when did you experience similar situations in reality?
  • Who is normally the weak mouse in society?
  • How did the group manage this?
Reflection for the facilitator:  Who is usually the weak mouse in a group? Is it linked to the group structure and dynamic? How does the group manage the strong mice? What is most important for the group – to secure your own life or to help colleagues/other mice? What are the values of the group members? How do they communicate?


Magic triangle (Topic: Cooperation)

Duration: 30 - 40 minutes
Number of participants: 10 people or more
Materials: Long rope (20m or more), blindfolds
Idea:  Cooperation, deepening of communication and tolerance towards frustration
Activity: The task for the group is to build different geometrical figures with the rope by holding it only with one hand. Also the eyes of the participants are covered with blindfolds. After each figure the participants can check the result out. For the second round, to make it more challenging the participants are not allowed to speak. 
Reflective discussion:
  • Are you satisfied with your results?
  • How did the group manage the task?
  • How did you communicate?
  • How did you feel being blind and what helped you?
Reflection for the facilitator:  To be blind for a certain amount of time is challenging for everyone. It is interesting to observe if there are different strategies used by people of different cultures on how to manage the task.


Guide me blindly (Topic: Trust)

Duration:  45 Minutes
Number of participants: Any
Materials:  Blindfold or bandage (numbering half of the number of participants) 
Idea: Strengthening of trust, sensibility, promotion of empathy
Activity: Facilitator divides the entire group into pairs. The person without the blindfold guides their partner through the sports hall. At the beginning, body contact is allowed and the route is clear. Later in the game, guidance should be non-contact and verbal only. Sports equipment can be introduced as obstacles. Players may then take turns.
Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • What was easier/ more comfortable – to guide or to be guided?
  • How did you communicate?
Reflection for the facilitator:  Trust is connected to power and the absence of it. The idea here is to observe how the partners treat each other. After the activity, it is also interesting to discuss with participants the role of power in their daily life and what kind of different and culture-bound strategies they use to manage this.  


Flight controllers (Topic: Trust)

Duration 15 Minutes
Number of participants: Up to max. 15 persons
Materials: One blindfold or bandage
Idea: Strengthening of trust, sensibility, cooperation
Activity: All participants, except two people, build a landing strip - two rows facing each other with 4m distance between the rows and participants on each side. The two remaining people have the roles of airplane and flight controller (blindfolded). The airplane takes position at the beginning of the landing strip and the controller at the end. The airplane starts running fast towards the flight controller. By making noises, the people forming the landing strip inform the airplane about the distance to the controller. The louder the noise, the shorter the distance. The task of the controller is to say stop at the right moment so that the airplane can arrive at the destination without any accidents.  
Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • Was it easy or difficult to trust but also to guide someone?
  • What supports the trust in the group?
  • What breaks it?
  • Why is trust so important?
Reflection for the facilitator: To come to a new place is sometimes similar to flying with no instructions. That’s why it is very important to have people around you that you can trust.  


Pendulum (Topic: Trust)

Duration:  15 Minutes
Number of participants: 10 persons or more
Materials:  No special materials 
Idea:  Strengthening of trust, sensibility, cooperation
Activity: All participants, except one person, form a circle and hold on to each other’s shoulders. The last person takes a position in the middle, closes her/his eyes, keeps their body strained and falls down with their back to the circle. The people standing in the circle catch him/her and return them to the starting position. In this way the person in the middle will be reached by the whole circle.  
Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • Was it easy or difficult to trust?
  • Did you keep your eyes closed?
  • How did you feel giving the support to the one in the middle?
  • What does the exercise say about my trust, my borders, my courage?
Reflection for the facilitator:  Because of cultural imprints there are different understandings of body contact. The topic can be discussed on the basis of this exercise.    


Hunting (Topic: Communication)

Duration: 25 Minutes
Number of participants:  12 persons or more
Materials: Small ‘Post-Its’ or pieces of paper, individually numbered from one up to the number of participants, including the facilitator
Idea: Non-verbal communication, cooperation, attention

At the beginning, each participant gets a piece of paper with a number on it.  They are not allowed to show it to anyone.  The facilitator can also join the game.  The group form a circle.  One volunteer from the group stands in the middle of the circle and starts the game. He/she shouts two numbers (e.g. 001 and 007).  The two people with these numbers have to find each other and make a sign without anyone noticing (especially the volunteer in the middle).  Then these two people have to swop seats quickly.  The volunteer should try and notice who they are and, when they change seats, should try and steal one of the seats so that there is a new person in the middle. This person then calls out two new numbers.   

Possible variation for a more advanced level is to make the circle smaller, to blindfold the eyes of the person in the middle so that they have to find out who is changing seats simply by listening.

For groups with multiple languages, the numbers should be called out in all different languages.    

Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • How did you recognise who is your partner?
  • How did you communicate?
  • How did you decide when was the best moment to switch seats?
  • How did the volunteer feel being in the middle?
Reflection for the facilitator:  Non-verbal communication is a very important part of mutual understanding.  Different non-verbal signs have different meanings in different countries: eye contact, distance, facial expression etc. It’s important to reflect on the consequences of different interpretations of non-verbal signs.


Everyone who, like me, … (Topic: Communication)

Duration:  15 Minutes
Number of participants:  Any
Materials:  Chairs or pillows (number must be one less than the number of participants) Idea:     Communication, first contact, opening up
Idea:      Communication, first contact, opening up

All participants take position on chairs/pillows. One person is in the middle of the circle and says “Everyone who, like me…” and then mentions something specific about him or herself. (Examples are hobbies, personal look, characteristics etc.). All participants who share this sentence need to change their positions very fast. Hereby the person in the middle tries to take one of the free seats. The person who did not manage to find a new seat asks the question in the middle.

Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • Was it easy to share something personal?
  • What did you learn?
Reflection for the facilitator:  In this very informal way the participants learn a lot about each other. The most interesting part of the game is that the information learned in this playful way stays longer in the minds of others


Remember my name (Topic: Communication)

Duration: 25 Minutes
Number of participants: 5 persons or more
Materials: No special materials
Idea: Communication, respect, attention to others, first contact 
Activity: All participants build a circle. The first one says his or her name and performs a small physical activity, e.g. three jumping squats. The second person repeats the name of the first person and his or her sport activity, then introduces themself. After the introduction they perform another activity. The third person repeats the same pattern. The last person in the circle must repeat the names and activities for the whole group. To make it fair the person who was last in the first round can start the second one introducing for example his or her age and performing a small activity, then pass it to the second person.
Reflective discussion:
  • How did you feel playing this?
  • Was it easy to share something personal?
  • What did you learn?
  • Did this playful way help you to memorise more things?
Reflection for the facilitator:  This exercise is a good combination of a personal contact and a small warm up at the same time and brings the group closer together.


Interim conclusion for sports facilitators:

You as sport facilitators have now learned some reflective activities and practical games to help you to manage interculturality in your daily work. For better results we suggest you use a combination of both, starting with some reflections and then examining them through sport activities and games. Find a good balance of theory (reflection) and practice (game) depending on your target group.

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