Young Athletes Will Learn About More Than Soccer Traveling to the World Cup this Summer
This was originally posted on the blog soccerparenting..com.
The 1.3 million people expected to gather in France for the FIFA Women’s World Cup starting this month will likely set a new attendance record for the event. The most successful U.S. women’s national team in history will take the field highly favored to win the cup. And in the crowds, cheering them on, will be over a thousand young soccer players who are traveling with our organization to France this month with school, club, Olympic Development Program, and university teams from across North America, hoping to be a part of women’s soccer history.
Like so many young soccer players who travel abroad each year with our organization, these young athletes will no doubt develop an entirely new sense of their sport’s culture and significance. They will attend matches alongside hundreds of thousands of fans from across the world, and see firsthand soccer’s unparalleled ability to unite a global community through love and respect for the game. They will participate in friendly matches against European teams, and see a different style of play and a different athletic philosophy. Off the pitch, American players who rarely see coverage of soccer in their local newspapers will find several pages devoted to the sport, avidly followed by countless fans who match their passion.
International travel allows young players to see the world’s passion for this game, inspiring them to channel that joy and energy to their growth as athletes and their membership in the U.S. soccer community.
For the young women and girls who attend the World Cup this month, it may be their first opportunity to see a professional women’s match. While soccer has increased in popularity in recent years — with female athletes fueling the country’s growing interest in the sport — women’s teams still often receive short shrift. The World Cup will provide U.S. girls and women, who now play soccer in high school and college at higher levels than ever before, with the chance to see women competing on the world’s largest stage in sold-out stadiums, surrounded by 50,000 supporters.
But traveling to the World Cup will provide young athletes with the opportunity to learn about more than just soccer.
I first learned of the joys of international travel when I visited Switzerland from Scotland as a 13-year-old high school soccer player. During that trip, a light went on that has never turned off. I started to see myself as part of the global soccer community. It fueled my own soccer career. So, since 1998, I have worked to help more than 15, 000 players travel abroad.
From teamwork to leadership, coaches know how much students can learn from sports. International travel can reinforce those lessons, while providing students with a new understanding of their sport and the world.
For many of these young athletes, it will be their first experience traveling overseas. They will learn to navigate new cultures, mining meaning from novel experiences. Through travel, players become more adaptable, confident, and independent.
Teamwork takes on a new meaning when players leave the pitch and learn to navigate the complexities of sharing hotel rooms and getting around strange cities. They bond through interdependence, learning the importance of watching each other’s backs and relying on one another in places a world away from home.
Players who travel are able to grow by interacting with other athletes and coaches from around the globe. They become better communicators, overcoming language barriers through the process of getting to know athletes and referees from different cultures—even just engaging in day-to-day life in a new place. They develop their own aspirations—whether athletic or not—as they get a better sense of the opportunities available to them. Off the field, they learn about foreign cultures and histories, broadening their understanding of the world in ways that are only possible by hands-on learning.
This trip uses the familiar to help student athletes experience the unfamiliar. They get out of their comfort zones while working within the framework of the sport they know and love.
For young athletes developing their love for soccer, grappling with their personal identities, and perhaps even wondering whether professional soccer is an attainable goal, experiencing the Women’s World Cup on the ground is a transformative opportunity. I hope these students will be inspired and energized as they explore their passion from a new lens, connecting with peers who share their soccer fervor. I hope they find role models in the athletes taking the field. I hope they come to see themselves as a part of this passionate, driven global community. And, through the process, I hope they wind up learning about themselves off the pitch.
I will be waiting to see how these young athletes bring back the joy, inspiration, and wisdom of this experience to make their mark on the U.S. soccer community.