Monday, September 14, 2009
Our eight year old neighbor informed me yesterday that it was only 29 school days until teacher convention break. There have only been seven days of school so far. This type of countdown to vacation preoccupies most students who attend any type of school. I had one of my college students, who can't seem to remember an assignment deadline, correct me about the dates of the mid-semester holiday without even referencing his calendar. Yet depressingly Americans don't take advantage of their time off. Every year Expedia does a vacation depravation survey which, depending on your point of view, Americans either ace or fail miserably. We get the fewest number of paid vacation days a year, thirteen, and even then we leave three of those days on the table. Of the nations surveyed, America comes in the lowest, meaning that we are the best at depriving ourselves of vacations.
French workers get 38 paid days of vacation a year. Germans get 27 while Britain has 26. Austria, Spain, Italy, and New Zealand average in the 20s, while Australia and Canada get nineteen days. Japan gets fifteen days a year, but 92% leave an average of seven days on the table. The only reason they aren't the worst vacationers is that they power vacation, meaning when they travel, they go for a week or more and travel outside the country. What I have noticed is that those countries with twenty or more vacation days also have intense soccer fever. Laugh if you want, but I'm thinking they have grown to depend on those extended vacation days so they can follow their beloved teams or attend UEFA Cup or even the World Cup without making a huge dent in their vacation time.
Given our nation's woeful vacation history and our burgeoning, but not yet fully realize, interest in soccer, perhaps there's a way to make soccer work for family vacation time in America. While those families with players on traveling teams obviously have an immediate and necessary vacation excuse, any soccer family should be able to combine vacation time with their soccer schedule. Use the sport as your vacation portal.
This Saturday, for example, my grandson has a game in Poynette, Wisconsin (pop. 2,300) about thirty miles north of Madison. At first blush the possibility of doing anything vaguely family vacation oriented seems unreasonable in a small town. But with the power of the internet you'd be amazed what a family can find. If you're going to drive to play a game, you might as well find somewhere fun to eat and visit. Check the Chamber of Commerce, your state's recreation department and tourism bureau, or just put the town's name in your search engine and see what appears. Poynette it seems is home to the MacKenzie Environmental Center, a 250 acre nature preserve with trails, a fire tower, three museums, maple sugaring demonstrations in the spring, and a large picnic grounds. There are herds of buffalo, packs of wolves, flocks of birds including bald eagles, and abundant smaller wildlife all visible from trails. So after the game we'll head over and spend the afternoon having a walk amongst nature and if the weather holds out a picnic as well. This is free of charge, although donations are always welcome.
Rather than rush up to a game and then rush home, families can extend their time together with some creative planning and limited expense. Not every vacation has to include a cartoon mouse and twenty story thrill rides. More importantly, every vacation doesn't need to be longer than a few hours of family togetherness in order to recharge the batteries. Look upon soccer as an opportunity to create an adventure. While you might not independently travel to see the chicken who always wins at Tic-Tac-Toe, you might take a five minute side trip on the way home from a game. The books "Off the Beaten Path" written for a number of states offer some great surprises. They emphasize the finds on the back roads nearby many of the small towns and fields you'll be visiting as you play league games or even tournaments. Taking time out to do a corn maze or see a Hopi Indian Village can take some of the stress out of preparing for a game or having to travel for a while. It doesn't have to be long – it can be as short as a stop to get some homemade ice cream from an old time soda fountain. But having the family discover it and plan it jointly adds even more family time together.
For really young players you might consider doing planning together as a team. Sometimes large families have to be three places at once so you can't plan something for every game, but the team could plan things to do together. Given the internet savvy of kids, teams could even assign a town to each player to research and find something fun for everyone to do when in town. It could be something they do for fun or a place to eat or picnic. On one trip to Iowa, we were introduced to Maid-Rite by a team member's mother who grew up in Iowa. Maid-Rite is ground beef cooked in boiling water that is dished out onto a bun and garnished with whatever you want. It's kind of like a dry Sloppy Joe. But it's good, and we would have never thought to eat there because in truth it sounds like a cleaning service.
If we can't get 38 vacation days like the French, we can use American ingenuity to carve more days out for ourselves by crafting mini-vacations. Rather than dissecting the game on the trip home, you can hop out at a fruit stand and dissect a few apples. Rather than dwelling on a tough loss, you can relax at a trout farm catching dinner. Instead of dreading the drive back, you can break it up with a stop to see the world's largest rubber band ball. They aren't things you'd ask Expedia to reserve for you, but given the next Expedia survey you might be boosting America's score.