Maryland ODP’s Linda Norton shares her experience with WorldStrides Excel Sports

The Maryland State Olympic Development Program (ODP) has been traveling with WorldStrides Excel on international soccer programs since 1999. This year, from March 27 through April 4, 2016, Maryland ODP is taking six teams to Europe. The 2003 Boys are traveling to Stirling, Scotland; the 2003 girls’ team is traveling to London; the 2001 boys and girls are headed to Barcelona; and the 1999 girls and boys are traveling to Verona, Italy.

Each team will have the opportunity to tour soccer stadiums, attend professional matches, play international friendly matches against some of Europe’s top academy teams, and sightsee in each city with guided walking tours. We sat down with current Maryland ODP Executive Committee member Linda Norton to discuss what she is most looking forward to:

WorldStrides: Tell us about your background with MSYSA.

Linda Norton: As a long-time MSYSA Board member, I’ve served as 2nd Vice President of Player Development (ODP), 1st Vice President for State Cup and Presidents’ Cup, and currently serve on the Executive Committee, BOD Secretary, ODP Committee and Adjudication.

WorldStrides: Why do you think it is important for teams to travel internationally to play soccer?

Norton: Travel and international play is an interesting combination for a soccer player. The idea of breathing in the soccer atmosphere in a foreign country and being challenged on and off the field is part of the wonderful experience.

WorldStrides: What are you most looking forward to seeing or doing when you are in London?

Norton: I’m looking forward to seeing the players as they face international competition, knowing this is a first for many of the participants—including the UK side. Having been to London on a shorter excursion, I would like to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, tour on a double-decker bus, and just enjoy the ambience of London and all the city has to offer.

WorldStrides: You said that you’ve taken many Excel trips over the years—what is your best memory and what is your favorite destination that you’ve visited?

Maryland Olympic Development Team

Norton: I have traveled with Excel to Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and several times to Scotland. My favorite destination by far is Scotland. I have visited Edinburgh (home of my grandmother) and Glasgow (home of my grandfather). I’ve toured Kilmarnock FC and Stewarton (where my grandfather and his eight brothers played soccer as children). The Scots are amazing, very caring and proud people. Woody Wood, the Excel travel representative, does a fantastic job in his handling every detail in Scotland. Eric McAleer is the best host, and introducing his native country to the visitors is one of his many passions.

WorldStrides: What sets an Excel International Sports Trip apart from any other trip you’ve been on?

Norton: I had the opportunity to visit Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a different soccer tour company.  While I did enjoy the experience and certainly loved the country, the thing noted was the absence of a constant tour guide, where that person participated in all of the tour functions. Language wasn’t a problem, but it would have made a difference if the tour guide was constant. Excel always has a constant tour guide—from the beginning to the end of each trip.

WorldStrides: Can you share any positive feedback from parents and players from past trips?

Norton: Parents are always amazed at the display of attentiveness the Excel staff has in caring for the players and spontaneous events. One trip in particular, Verona, Italy, we played a match in a small town outside of Verona and were treated to an amazing post-match picnic by the home team and their parents on huge picnic tables with the mountains in total view. Before the match, both teams paraded through the town, and the townspeople waved as we walked to the office of the town Commissioner and exchanged pendants.  After the picnic, all the parents and players hugged and wished us a great tour. We all came away with something very special, a true International spirit where language was not a barrier, but in knowing this is what International soccer trips are all about.

WorldStrides: How has offering international trips to the Olympic Development Program set you apart from other youth soccer organizations?

Norton: While other youth soccer organizations do offer International trips, the MSYSA Olympic Development Program offers the players an opportunity to display their soccer abilities with others who are equally or more talented—i.e., some will participate in Region 1 and others perhaps on the National team or a pro team.  This is an opportunity for the players to grow, and they do in many ways on these trips.

For more information regarding WorldStrides Excel Sports and planning an international tour, please visit our website at or contact Eric McAleer at or Daniel Dicce at