Monday, October 12, 2009
Throw a virtual stone on the internet and you'll hit a tour group ready to provide the international soccer experience for your child. Promoters of these one week to summer long tours made bold claims about what a summer overseas playing soccer can provide a player. Since November to February constitutes the biggest push to sell these tours to clubs, teams, and individuals, it's likely you'll receive a number of brochures slickly produced and definitely enticing. They will tell you that colleges now want players with international playing experience, they will imply that players who don't get the chance to play "real" soccer won't progress very far in the sport, and they will outline the drawbacks of other tours which don't provide proper competition. So wading through all the hype and the options can be difficult.
In reality reputable tour companies end up offering about the same experiences for about the same price. Tours will cost $2,500 to $3,000 a person for seven to ten days and should include at minimum airfare, two meals a day, land transport, a day of sightseeing, three friendlies, two training sessions with pro teams, and tickets to at least two professional matches. Most importantly any tour company should supply a 24/7 tour director to oversee the trip and insure the smooth operation of the tour. You should have a contract where everything is spelled out, and you should have trip insurance because you never know what might come up.
If you can afford to provide an international soccer trip for your child then by all means do it. America is a soccer neophyte compared to the rest of the world, so there are traditions, attitudes, and style of play that only a foreign nation can provide. Anyone who has attended a professional match in Europe or South America knows how intense the passions run within a certain pageantry and tradition of the game. Players who have the opportunity to play overseas come back with a new found respect of the game and an enthusiasm for playing. Wrap soccer up in the packaging of spectacular scenery and significant historical venues and you have pretty much created the ultimate experience.
Soccer clubs might consider establishing a certain age group that takes a soccer trip every year to a specific location. Being able to promise this experience to players can make a club very attractive come tryouts. I would definitely consider having my kids join a club that saw the value in overseas play. Clubs who have the custom of taking teams abroad usually opt for the U-15 or U-16 age levels. Younger ages might not have the maturity or confidence to travel and older ages are focusing on summer jobs and college. Both of my sons had the opportunity to train with English Premier League teams and play friendlies with several English youth teams, and Robbie also traveled to Spain to play friendlies there. Both boys credit these trips as huge eye-openers for how to train and what is required to play at the top levels. Having the chance to see some of their soccer idols play in live matches only added to the experience.
A few tour companies are sanctioned by soccer organizations in America such as U.S. Soccer and National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Sanctioning may be construed as an endorsement, but actually means that the opportunities and the training fit with the objectives of these organizations. Nevertheless having some seal of approval certainly indicates the integrity and structure of these tour companies are sound. If an entire team is traveling, most tour companies will offer the 19th or 20th spot on the tour for free both as an inducement to fill up the tour and as a way for coaches to travel with their teams without charging the team for that expense. Many tour companies offer fundraising opportunities so that players or teams can earn additional free trips. These opportunities usually involve selling raffle tickets to win trips with the tour operator or soccer gear provided by the operator. It's a fairly painless way to help offset the costs, and any savings can be passed on to an individual or spread across the entire team.
However, if you can't afford to go abroad, there are ways to gain international soccer playing experience here in the United States. Clubs can attend tournaments that have international team entries and request that they get at least one international opponent. They can also register with tour operators to be the clubs that international teams play in friendlies when they tour the U.S. on their soccer trips. Crossing our northern and southern borders to play in tournaments in Canada and Mexico can provide international experience within driving distance. There are a few more hoops to jump through in terms of getting your State Association's approval to attend and in making sure you have player insurance, but these aren't major roadblocks. Clubs can also consider finding a partner club in either Mexico or Canada and doing an exchange where you open your homes to one another. The expense would be limited to travel and gives everyone a chance to get a true flavor of living and playing in one another's countries. While Canada may not seem to be as exotic a destination as Brazil or England, it does offer some exciting sights and some interesting differences in playing styles. Robbie attended a tournament outside of Toronto one summer where we stayed in Niagara Falls and toured the many historic sites in the area. It's one of our most memorable trips.
Bottom line remains that overseas play offers any soccer player a richer experience and deeper understanding of the game and its history. But no parents should feel pressured to spend money they don't have just because Jeff or Joan down the street are traveling. At the same time, you might explore with your club about establishing the tradition of traveling as a team every summer between U-15 and U-16 with an eye towards preparing for and financing the trip as a club effort. Families can then begin setting aside $50 a month for the two years preceding the event to help make the financial impact smaller and kids can add their babysitting or lawn mowing money to the mix. It would establish a savings goal for everyone and something exciting to look forward to. If you do go, drink it all in because it will be an amazing trip.