Tour Director Spotlight – Robin “Woody” Wood

Woody has been with Excel since our first trip in 1998! From Scotland, has looked after teams in all parts of Europe and is a season ticket holder at St. Johnstone FC! He holds a UEFA ‘B’ level coaching license and has coached numerous football clubs in Scotland, including a semi-professional club based near his hometown of Perth, Scotland. He was also a semi-professional player for sixteen years, scoring numerous goals as a striker with various clubs. Woody is by far our most experienced staff member. He has led youth, ODP and college teams through Scotland, England, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Holland and Sweden.


You’ve been a part of the organization since 1998. How did you and Eric McAleer meet?
I first met Eric in the Summer of 1995. We had both been invited out to America to coach soccer camps. That summer we ended up sharing a room in the apartment provided for us, and it became pretty obvious that we shared a lot more in common than our love for the game.

What stands out to you most about the early days with Excel Sports?
In the early days Eric and I pretty much done everything, we drove the mini buses, we did the laundry, we had Eric’s mother making packed lunches, coached the groups, managed their games and were the social conveners for the duration of the trip.

We involved everyone and made time for everyone, we had fun and the participants had fun.

I believe that it was being so personable and approachable that made the company the best in sports travel, and these are the biggest attributes that we still look for when recruiting any new tour directors today.

What, in your opinion, is unique about American soccer players?
We have to remember that soccer in the US is still a very young sport. I remember first coaching in the US in 1994 and you could hardly find a soccer field.

But from my first encounter with players in the US, I have always been impressed with their hunger for knowledge and how they can improve their game.

When we organise professional coaching sessions for our visiting groups, that is still the feedback I get back from the coaches.

As a Tour Director, you’ve seen a lot of groups over the years. If you could put together the ultimate soccer tour, with a blank check and no concern for money or access, what would it look like?
This is a great question. Working with WorldStrides Sports, I have been privileged to travel to some of the biggest hotbeds of soccer across Europe.

But for me, my tour would be split between two destinations: Barcelona in Spain, and the northwest of England.

Barcelona has everything in a city: it has the architecture, culture, food, beach, mountains, weather and, of course, soccer. Being in a full Camp Nou is an experience never to be forgotten.

From the sunshine of Barcelona to the northwest of England, whether we stay in Manchester or Liverpool, in both cities, football is not just football. It is religion. And for any soccer player to get the opportunity to play in this part of the world is an experience never forgotten.

I have been in the stadiums of Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City and the atmosphere is electric. I have felt the hairs on the back of my neck rising as the Liverpool fans sang their anthem “You will never walk alone”.

Program Spotlight – Iceland

Fire and Ice and Football

In the last 15 years, Iceland has seen an incredible increase in visitors. The credit for that goes to a number of reasons: Iceland Air, Game of Thrones, it’s otherworldly landscape, good old fashioned global wanderlust, and plenty of others. Whatever your reason for going, it’s an experience impossible to forget.

Soccer in Iceland has risen in the ranks lately, too, bringing the country’s infectious fandom along for the ride. Passion, teamwork, pride – nothing is more apparent, win or lose, than the energy of the Viking Clap. Shivers down your spine, every time.

Fairfield University signee Sam Kersey traveled with the East Region ODP team to Iceland on a WorldStrides Sports program in 2018. We caught up with her about that experience – how the games went, her thoughts on the weather in Iceland, and her advice for soccer players who are deciding on colleges.

Was this your first time playing abroad? How would you describe the feeling of playing soccer in another part of the world?
This actually had not been my first time playing abroad. My first time was about two years earlier, when I traveled to Spain. I would describe playing in another part of the world as both an eye opening and beautiful experience. Being able to play abroad allows you to learn more about other country’s styles of play, and beyond soccer it allows you to learn about that country’s culture and see its landscapes.

What was special about your team’s experience in Iceland?
One thing in particular that I found special about the trip was our hotel. It was a small one, and was very authentic to the Icelandic culture. With animal print rugs, and other Icelandic details, it truly made it feel like you were living in an ordinary home in Iceland. Another thing that was very special were the sights that we went to when not practicing or playing. We went to the Blue Lagoon, which was such an amazing experience! We saw natural hot springs spew from the ground, we saw amazing waterfalls, and we went to fields late at night to try and find the northern lights.

Tell us about the games you played and what you’ll always remember about them.
We played four games. We won 3 and lost 1. In our first game, I will never forget the weather. It was very windy and raining. It felt like rocks were hitting my skin. It was very cold and a tough game to play. It was probably the harshest conditions I’ve ever played in, but it made it so much fun. That game we won 1-0, and I assisted the goal. The second game we played indoors and fell short to a very talented team. The third game we played on a gorgeous field right on the water. We won 4-2 and I scored two goals. The final game was in a stadium and we won! One thing I’ll always remember is after every game, we’d exchange pins with the teams we played, and I still have them to this day, two years later.

You’ve recently committed to Fairfield University. Congratulations! What was that process like for you and what would you recommend to other athletes navigating the college signing process?
Thank you so much! Luckily, prior to COVID I had attended a Fairfield ID camp, that is where I was first seen by them. Then, they came to my games in tournaments and I continued to go to ID camps. The coaches at Fairfield and my club coaches remained in contact because it was before I was able to talk to them. Once June 15th came around, and the dead period was in place, we had countless phone calls and Zoom calls, filled with presentations about Fairfield, questionnaires with the team, and just talking about soccer in general. I went to Fairfield one more time, but had to stay in my car due to COVID reasons and could not see the coaches because of the dead period, and that’s when I decided that Fairfield was where I wanted to be. I continued to talk with the coach and then committed when I was fully sure it was the right fit. My advice to anyone going through the process I went through would be that, you get what you give, and to not stress. You must put in effort, and colleges will begin to notice you. Email colleges for tournaments and games, go to their ID camps, show that you’re interested. And I know with COVID it’s hard to say “don’t stress,” but you’ll end up where you’re meant to end up, so make an effort, but don’t stress too hard!

Watch the video Sam and her mom created when they returned from Iceland. What a great way to capture their trip experience. Thank you for sharing this with us, Kerseys!

Legendary NCAA basketball coach Grey Giovanine joins WorldStrides Sports

As WorldStrides Sports expands to deliver more international travel opportunities to college and university teams across North America, finding the right people who can bring their experience and perspective to share with coaches and student athletes is job number one.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that Grey Giovanine has joined us to do just that.

Following his retirement as Head Coach, Men’s Basketball at Augustana College, Grey will put his enviable NCAA career to good use as he takes his passion for the game (quite literally) farther than ever before, by building programs abroad with WorldStrides Sports.

Of course, Grey is no stranger to the impact of seeing more of the world through the eyes of sports.

A cornerstone of our program’s success has been the international travel and competition experience. It was key to recruiting, retention, player and team development. Our alumni always share that it was a highlight of their athletic experience.  I couldn’t be more excited to be working with WorldStrides Sports, the industry leader in providing competitive international opportunities for coaches and their teams.”
Grey Giovanine

“On paper, Grey’s career is about as intimidating as I’ve ever seen. In person, ‘intimidating’ isn’t a word I’d use to describe him (what a relief!) – and I firmly believe that that’s been one of the keys to his success. What’s more, he knows, deep down, what basketball has given him, where basketball has taken him, and that’s exactly the kind of message we can’t share enough with coaches and players alike. Sports are more than a way of life – it’s a window to the world. And I love what Grey sees through that window.”

Eric McAleer, Senior Vice President, WorldStrides Sports

About Grey Giovanine
NCAA basketball coach for 39 years
514 career wins as a Head Coach
20 consecutive winning seasons and the most NCAA tournament wins in the last five seasons of any NCAA basketball coach at any level
Head-Coach, Men’s Basketball, Lamar University 1993-1999
Head Coach, Men’s Basketball, Augustana College 1999-2020
3-time Division III National Coach of the Year
Leader of 10 international tours to Europe, Asia, and South America

Welcome, Grey! We can’t wait to hit the courts all over the world together!