Get there in spirit

Lisbon, Portugal Benefica Stadium

It’s hard to duplicate the feeling of walking into a big time stadium or club museum, but these virtual tours will inspire you to discover what’s waiting to be explored from home.

Even better than the real thing? Not quite. But these days, getting as close as you can is as good as it gets, and that just might be enough for now. What’s more, a few of the links below might even inspire you to dig a little deeper on your own to discover what else is out there for exploring.

Virtual Tours
Warning: actually walking into a big time stadium or club museum simply cannot be duplicated virtually. Having said that, here are a few examples of what’s out there. Give them a go – maybe you’ll be inspired to see how close you can get to your favorite club’s stadium/museum/store experience.

Virtual Tour – Allianz Stadium

Johan Cruijff Arena

FC Bayern Musuem Virtual Tour

Use these starter ideas for background noise while taking a walk, cooking dinner, getting some work done – it’s up to you. You might be surprised (or not!) at how much you missed regular sounds. Plus, dialing in to the right kind of noise can improve your creativity and mental health.

Missing the sound of a stadium? Here’s 10 hours of stadium noise.

What about listening to quiet? Here’s over an hour of library audio.

Missing the calm, soothing sounds of London rain. No problem – here’s 8 hours of it.

Get in to the driver’s seat
Sit back and enjoy the ride, let your claustrophobia take control, or simply marvel at the difficulty of steering a vehicle at top speeds! These first-person points of view are pretty incredible, however it makes you feel.

An entire NASCAR race

A Formula 1 test drive  

Enjoy, and have fun finding what else is out there!

Partner Spotlight – EPYSA

Checking in with Gary Stephenson, Director of Soccer Development and Performance, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association. 

How is your season going so far? Any notable games you’d like to share with us?
ODP is just starting up after being on pause due to Covid. We are all so excited to get the staff and players moving again on the field!

Are there any particular staff members, coaches, or players that you’d like to single out and acknowledge at this point in the season?
One player or one staff is hard to single out! When the playing staff, admin staff, and players put the Keystone shirt on, they act as ambassadors wherever they are. The parents need a shout out of recognition, too, and should be proud of how their children represent them, EPYSA, ODP, and the country.

Tell us a little bit about your history with WorldStrides Sports. How’d did we connect originally? Where have you traveled with us? Where are you planning to travel to next?
A relationship was formed after Mike Barr met with Eric McAleer who was working with Maryland ODP.  WorldStrides have been our partner for over 10 years. I have personally traveled with WorldStrides for 8 years of those years, to Scotland, England, Spain, Italy and Portugal.  

Can you share with us what an international travel experience does for your players, teams, and families?
Until you see it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe it to be true! The change in your team in a one-week timespan is amazing and shows the versatility and resiliency of our players. The independence in our players really grows as well. It starts with getting on a plane to a foreign county, traveling without parents for the first time, handling new kinds of nerves in their first game against a home team with their a style of play they’ve likely not encountered before. By the end of the week, they are ordering their own food and it’s usually not what they normally eat at home!

As for the matches, I see our teams developing play more quickly, adjusting to a more physical style game, and making smarter soccer decisions in the flow of the game.

Overall, I would say that I really witness our travelers understand the tempo and lifestyle of a new environment, and it’s fantastic to see every time! 

What have been some of the highlights from your trips with us? Do you have a favorite destination? All the locations are magical when you get to see players and their parents’ faces seeing history on a deeper level. I fell in love with Catalan region and the city of Barcelona while traveling there when I was young. My enjoyment for watching Barca was fostered when Bobby Robson (RIP) was the manager – it’s easy now with Messi and TV to see and watch their style, which is much different than when I was younger.

I have been lucky to witness our players fall in love with this region, just as I did. And now that I’m a coach, it’s really special to me to see their faces when they walk into a European soccer stadium, watch a professional match game, and take in everything that is soccer on a global scale. I’m also thankful that I’ve been able to take my own children on the trip and see their amazement when we have visited the big Barca sites: the Roman ruins, Picasso Museum, Camp Nou, Gaudi’s garden, Sagrada Familia, the Nike store, Olympic stadium, Las Ramblas, Barri Gotic, and, of course, watch Messi play!

Any travel advice you can share with other clubs who might be reading this?
DETAILS & STAFF! The details are many! Inform WorldStrides want you want, from location to level of play you require, and let them deal with details so you and your staff can focus on the players and the games.

Why would you recommend international travel for other clubs and programs?
Traveling allows great teachable moments for life, not just soccer. It’s great for players, staff, and parents to see how soccer is woven in to the cultural and the day to day life of the country they are visiting. The value of the history and culture cannot be replicated, nor can it be forgotten!

The Observer Effect

Eric McAleer reflects the role of the fan and shares five of his most memorable stadium experiences.

Last week, I read an essay that really hit home with me: Trust Me, Sports Without Fans Is Not Sports.

The title had me nodding my head in agreement as I kept reading.

“For five glorious days at the 2021 Australian Open, I got to experience that noise again, because government officials allowed up to 30,000 fans, about 50 percent capacity, to attend the tournament each day. It was both a joy and a revelation to rediscover the power of what quantum physicists call the “observer effect” — the fact that any observation, however passive, alters an outcome — even in a half-capacity crowd of tennis fans. Sports felt like Sports once more.”

Of course, the half capacity approach at the Australian Open didn’t last long (outbreak, then shutdown, an all-too-familiar event these days) and I joined the author in his misery as he watched a prime seat in overdue and treasured fandom evaporate immediately.

The “observer effect” is very, very real, and I’m a proud and constant participant when I’m in the stands. I might not be thinking in the moment that my vocal enthusiasm (or cheers or yelling or singing) is making an impact on a player or the game, but then again, how couldn’t it? Stadiums get loud, and you can hear a lot from the field, especially when tens of thousands of people are so in sync with their reactions and feedback.

Three words: home field advantage. The crowd, the fans – always ready to change the course of the action. There’s good reason behind the idea that a home team’s crowd is like having an extra player. Advantage.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I miss watching live sports with tons of strangers in a packed venue. I miss singing songs in unison. I miss feeding the collective fan energy that inspires players to get back up and dust themselves off. I miss celebrating goals. I miss physically recoiling at a shot mere centimeters off target. I miss the ordeal of getting to a stadium and I miss the joy or dejection that I bring back home with me after the final whistle and hurried exodus.

So I got to thinking about a few of my most memorable fan experiences, ones that immediately came to mind when I think about the “observer effect.”

2020 – AC Milan v Inter Milan
San Siro. A derby. At any level, derbies have a special magic. They’re always about a single game, yes, and also always about every other clash two teams have ever had, because of course they are! This one goes back to 1909. What a history, and because I was there for one, I’m a part of it, too.

Ibrahimovic is a special player. Lukaku is a force. The stadium was sold out and totally rocked. And the comeback – what.a.comeback! Fueled by fans, for sure.

2018 – Barcelona v Real Sociedad
Iniesta’s final game. Not a dry eye a certified football cathedral packed with 100,000 people. This was so much more than a final game, it was the end of an era. What a player, Iniesta. Top class in every way, and humble as he may be, he is a master of sincerity. I have video of this match, of the crowd not just singing but belting their hearts out to a player so deservedly beloved in Spain. How lucky was I to see him off at Camp Nou one final time. And he stayed on the pitch himself until 1:00AM! Surely he was savoring his memories from the field, but I know he was also thinking about all of the eyes that watched them.

2017 – River Plate v Boca Juniors
The game in Argentina is hard to top. Step into the country and already you feel connected to Maradona and Messi. Sit in the stands for a Boca Juniors game and it’s transcendent. Most of my time in stadiums has been spent in Europe, so it was all the more special for me to join the scene in South America. Absolutely incredible. It’s a match, it’s a party, it’s a reunion, it’s so many things happening at once. I’ll never forget it.

1996 – England v Scotland
AT WEMBLEY. Should I go on?

I wore a kilt. Maybe that impacted the result.

Paul Gascoigne’s goal was amazing. David Seaman saved McAllister’s penalty and my heart sank, along with 9,999 other Scotland supporters. I was there with a great group of friends, David Moyes among them.

Cheering on your country in the opponent’s stadium is not for the faint of heart. Sure, you’re seated amongst your compatriots, but still, you can’t help but feel the eyes on you and the duty you assume to be that much more of a factor in the game. 10,000 Scots is a good size, but we had to represent millions more.

1992 – Glasgow Rangers v Leeds United
Scoring on a diving header is one of the goals every player (and I mean EVERY PLAYER) dreams about, and McCoist did just that. I remember everything about it, and that means I remember where I sat, what I wore, how I felt. Of course, these memories had to come back to me over time – it was all a blur in real time. The “Battle of Britain” indeed, and even more than that, as the article rightly points out. What a game. What an environment to be in.

I’m fortunate enough to have to narrow down my fan experiences to these five, and that’s not lost on me. Now more than ever, I know that being a fan at the game is not a certainty, it is a privilege, and one I take seriously. After all, my being there impacts the game.



Behind the scenes Katherine Pavling, Manager of Tour Operations

Travel programs don’t create themselves – it takes savvy logistics pros who care deeply about delivering the best of the best. Meet Katherine Pavling, Manager of Tour Operations.  

Tell us about your role at WorldStrides. 
I’m Katherine Pavling, Manager of Tour Operations, and I am based in the UK. My role is to look after everything that happens on tour. I’m involved from the planning stages right through to everyone arriving back home after their trip. My team and I put everything in place for your tour.

What’s the best thing about your job with WorldStrides?
For me, it’s that every day is different. We book all the hotels, buses, tickets, matches for each tour, and strive to find the right fit for each and every group. Our starting point is to look in detail at the requirements for the sporting activities for each tour. We want to find the right mix of teams to play against, a great guest coach for a coaching clinic, and the right pitches for training sessions. These elements are all really individual and customized for each and every team that travels with us. With those pieces in place first, we can then build out the other bookings and make sure that the schedule for each day flows; it kinda feels like building a jigsaw puzzle with only a description of what the picture looks like!

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
The biggest challenge comes with lots of groups being on tour at the same time and something unexpected happening. That could be in the form of a weather event, such as heavy snowfall or a heatwave that disrupts the groups schedules, or something more mundane such as a boiler breaking at a hotel. We provide support to all our groups while they are traveling and work closely with each Tour Director to find solutions and get things back on track as quickly as possible. It’s definitely challenging when something big happens, but enormously rewarding when you find the solution to the problem that has arisen.

What’s your favorite travel destination?
I love traveling to Ireland. It holds a lot of personal history for me, as I have been going there since I was young, and I have some really vivid memories of my time there. As I’ve got older, I find that I am drawn to it’s charming people, beautiful countryside and delicious food, time and time again. The only downside is the weather can be pretty wet, but as a Brit I am used to that, just make sure you take a good rain jacket!

Do you have any travel tips?
My travel tip would be to think about what you want to see and do on your trip as early as possible. That’s true of any trip, whether it’s a self drive holiday or a round-the-world tour, the more attention and thought you put in early on, the more likely it is to get everything that you want to out of your trip.

When planning a tour with us, it’s worth spending time talking to our team members as they have a wealth of knowledge of the different destinations we travel to, including the individual quirks or specialities that make them unique. In the planning of a tour, we want to understand your reason for travel and if you have any special interests. For example, if you are a massive fan of a particular soccer club or player, then we want to know about it! We always like to make some suggestions that make your tour a truly custom, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What does international travel do for our youth players’ future?

WorldStrides Sports’ Nikiah Dulac lays out the everlasting and inspiring impact that comes with perspectives upgraded by time abroad.

When does a travel experience begin? The day you decide to go? The day you actually leave?

And when does it end? When you return home? When you finally unpack your suitcase?

For me, it’s never over. What’s more, I already have dozens of trips lined up for myself in the future, even if they only exist in my mind today.

This is one way I see travel, and it’s a mindset I recommend to everyone, especially to the young student-athletes our programs include every year. In fact, I have a message just for you.

International travel will inspire you. You will make sure your passport never expires. Travel will teach you things about yourself and forever inspire the decisions you make about your future. Travel will test you, too. These tests will build your confidence and independence, and contribute to your sense of self.

A quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes has always stuck with me: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” I love the power of this message, that there is a correlation between an experience and improvement, that an identity grows from the perspectives it acquires. Throughout the course of your life, you will form perspectives on various things. Those perspectives evolve over time and through experiences, especially new ones, the way you would have once perceived something, will now change as a result of that new experience.

When we experience new cultures, new travel, new food, new climates, new landscapes, new languages, and new perspectives, we embrace “the new” and reflect on it. We truly, uniquely grow in “the new,” when we see ourselves outside of our comfort zones, and big travel, international travel, is an ideal scenario where this plays out.

I was 17 when I first traveled abroad, to play tennis competitively in Fiji and Australia. Among many transformational moments on this trip, Fiji was a particularly unique place that really changed my perspective on the life I lived back home. Something I witnessed with a mother and her two children in Fiji struck me. The mother was washing her laundry by hand in a creek with mucky water, stained brown from a mixture of dirt road and rain. While our large coach bus drove by, she stopped what she was doing, and happily waved her hands “hello.” For all she knew it could have been empty. I thought to myself, “She was so happy and yet, where she was washing her clothes, the water was so dirty. How can she be so happy?” I will never forget the joyful, gracious, and content smile she wore so happily across her face. An instant thought raced across my mind, “I am so very fortunate. I must be more grateful for who I am, where I live, the family that raises me, and the loads of laundry I put through a washing machine. Yet, she exuded so much genuine happiness, too. My definition of happiness must not be the only definition of happiness.” It left me processing throughout the remainder of the time I was abroad, and even when I returned back home. In fact, later that summer, as I began to work on applying to colleges, I ended up writing my college essay on that specific moment in Fiji. It was the first time I realized how much that experience truly impacted me and left me changed.

After college, I eventually worked my way toward a professional career that brought me back full circle with a passion I discovered as that young athlete who competed abroad. Through hard work, perseverance, and determination, my professional work has led me to supporting organizations who emphasize the importance of international experiences.  I am now working with an organization that builds these experiences into their culture for their athletes.

One of them is Seacoast United Sports Clubs. With over 10,000 youth players spanning five sports in the New England area, they emphasize today’s importance a players’ commitment to improving their athletic ability and skill, as well as the ongoing lesson of preparing for success beyond the game of sport.

Field Hockey Program Director, Sarah Michaud shares, “Seacoast United Field Hockey trips abroad are the experience of a lifetime for our girls. I feel so lucky that we are able to offer opportunities like this for our athletes to compete at such a high level, while also gaining life experience along the way. The memories and friendships made on our international trips are extremely special. The girls talk about their international experience years after they’ve gone abroad, and have even shared how proud they are to incorporate their experiences in their college essays, or talk about their travels with the college (or college coaches) as they are considering which institution to play for. These are incredible opportunities for our girls.”

Sarah’s colleague, Leah Simpson, Field Hockey Director of Operations, continues, “[these programs] provide young men and women exposure to different cultures, new experiences, and a chance to grow their independence on and off the field.”

It’s not just my experience or those of the student-athletes at Seacoast United to see this impact. Studies across the country support our anecdotes and personal stories.

A University of Maryland study revealed that “96% of surveyed students were more self-confident after an international experience.” A Business Insider study showed that more than “80% of employers think you’re better suited for a job if you’ve been traveling” and that ““traveling not only allows people the space and time to think about what they want to do with their lives and ignite their passions, but also provides them with invaluable skills including increased confidence that will help you to stand out from the crowd.”

Perspective contributes to the definition of self-image, which then influences character and builds individual confidence. Elevated confidence challenges us to seek new heights, like applying for that “reach” college or job.

Travel abroad, whether it’s for athletics or academics or to explore your own interests, impacts your todays and your tomorrows. Memories don’t expire. They grow roots, and with a strong hold on the ground, who knows how far you can grow?