Tour Director Spotlight – Sandra Garcia

Sandra Garcia is a Tour Director based in Spain. Well-traveled and versed in guiding and tourism, she shares a bit of her background and philosophy for traveling abroad. 

As a Tour Director, you’re used to moving around in the world much more often than current conditions allow and that’s probably led to some daydreaming about where you’d like to go first once we’re on the other side of Covid. So, where would you go and why?
I really miss working as a Tour Director, and most definitely, my first trip would be with a team going to whatever destination they have chosen, whether it is Spain or around Europe. I love the programs which mix culture and sport, as I am a former athlete myself, so when I daydream, I think how great it would be to visit the Prado Museum and the new Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.

What do you like most about where you live? What are three or four aspects of your home city that you’d like visitors to know?
I live in Girona, which is a city north of Barcelona, only 20 minutes to the Mediterranean Sea and one hour to the Pyrenes Mountains. It’s an art/movie and foodie paradise. We have art and cinema museums, and it’s been a set for Game of Thrones and the film Perfume. We also have the best restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca. Lately, many international professional cycling teams and training camps have set base in the city, giving it a very cosmopolitan and healthy feel. Also, our football club team, Girona, keeps us in our toes as we keep going from First to Second Division!!!

Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to your role as Tour Director.
As a young kid, I traveled a lot with my family, and eventually I was visiting family and friends abroad by myself. This probably led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in International Tourism in Lincoln, England, and a Master’s degree in Tourism Management at Southern Cross University in NSW, Australia. Since I graduated, 20 years ago, I have worked in all areas of the industry, including hotels, agencies, entertainment, sales, marketing, and product design, and all while traveling to all corners of the world. But I’ve been happiest as a freelance Tour Director.

What do you like most about being a Tour Director?
I believe the role of a Tour Director is like a bridge between the traveler and the destination. What I most enjoy is seeing how much athletes learn during their time abroad, how it enriches their lives, and the impact it makes on them to experience new cultures, food, football tactics and so on.

From your point of view, what are some of the qualities that a Tour Director, any Tour Director, needs to have in order to be successful?
The most important qualities are to have empathy, to listen, to understand, and to be patient.

For a lot of our student-athletes, their experience with WorldStrides Sports is their first time abroad. What do you think is most important about this experience for them?
A student-athlete who travels for the first time abroad must come with a very open mind, be ready to embrace differences, and be tolerant and understanding that life is different everywhere you go. There might be many first firsts, and some of them can be challenging, but all of them are rewarding. For example: talking to athletes from other countries, savoring new flavors, adapting to new rules, understanding different cultures, learning new languages, new tricks, new ways of understanding sport. All of this, without a doubt, makes each student-athlete a better person and a better player.

What kinds of pro travel tips can you share that would benefit young travelers?
I recommend reading about your destination before you go, in order to peak your interest and know a bit about things you want to see for yourself. I also recommend getting acquainted with some basics, like language, currency, and local football teams and their history. Finally, pack light! And consider leaving your screens at home.

What countries will win the next men’s and women’s World Cup?
Very interesting question! The US Women are my favorite, but if Rapinoe, Press, or Morgan don’t play, I don’t think they will be able to win the World Cup again. That said, I would love to see them win because they are very outspoken. Equal Pay! If they don’t win, it will be Spain

On the men’s side, my bet is on Germany.

Partner Spotlight – PASS

Catching up with Neil Hull, Director of Coaching at PASS.

How has your season been so far this year? Any highlights you’d like to share?
We are a Technical Training Academy. Through Covid and into the far side, we have been strong, retained our players well, and been able to build new trusted relationships through the strength of our culture. We have struggled, as has the rest of the world, but we’ve had the courage to show up, even when we could not control the outcomes.

As vaccine rollout continues to increase and optimism for a “return to normal” becomes closer, can you share with us what you and your club are looking forward to most?
We’re all looking forward to playing again with more ease and comfort, without fear or judgement. Seeing the players being able to hug and congratulate each other after a success without it feeling scary or unsafe – I think that’s something all close groups are looking forward to, especially ours.

Tell us a little bit about your history with WorldStrides Sports. How’d did we connect originally?
We originally connected through playing with your VP (Eric McAleer)! We’ve been on three trips so far: England, Spain, and Germany, and we’ve absolutely enjoyed the joy of soccer, thrill of travel, educational opportunities and team building/sportsmanship.

Can you share with us what an international travel experience does for your players, teams, and families?
Camaraderie in sport. Building a culture between players, which can’t be easily explained, written, or duplicated. The build-up, anticipation, and creating expectations is all part of the journey itself. This has been really tough over the last 18 months with all of the unknowns everywhere, and we’ve missed being able to go about the world.

We generally travel in the summer, obviously a great time of freedom for our players and an annual chance for them to unwind and create new memories for themselves and the team. The amount of players who write journals, make videos to share with everyone back home, the social media posts that happen during the trip – it’s all so amazing and tells you everything you need to know about how much fun and excitement the players are having.

One memory I’ll never forget – the teams we played in Germany who would not let us leave their complex! The stowed away on our bus! It was so funny and endearing. We had to do security walk throughs to clear the bus!! Their coach walked through the bus last, crying, saying goodbye personally to every player and parent. It was really touching.

What have been some of the highlights from your trips with us? Do you have a favorite destination?
We took a trip to the beach when we were in Spain. It was great – I mean, the beach, you know – but we were able to combine the players, the adults, the game, and socializing into a single event.

Any travel advice you can share with other clubs who might be reading this?Believe in the process, this will be the most fun you can have with a soccer ball!

Why would you recommend international travel for other clubs and programs?
It’s a great chance to see the another side of your players and parents.

What we do when we can’t go 

With more and more of us continuing to receive vaccines and emerge from international quarantines and lockdowns, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter. By no means are we out of the woods yet, or as close as I wish we could be today, but the fact remains: there are signs of hope and progress, and for a naturally optimistic person like me, it’s a well-received signal that we’re headed toward a future on the other side of Covid.

Like households, schools, and communities across the country, businesses, especially in the travel and education sectors, have had to ask: what can we do when we can’t do what we normally do?

As I reflect on these past 13 months, I’m proud to say that we’ve used this time wisely, taking advantage of our time off the road and anticipating the opportunities that await us tomorrow.

Speaker Series
To me, this felt like catching up with friends, and I’m really proud of the discussion we captured. Along with the insights and perspectives that you get from discussing the game with people of this caliber, every session is a reminder that sport is so intertwined with relationships and basic human camaraderie that it’s impossible to unweave them. You can see them all here.

Global Pitch
I’ve always been pining for a newsletter, and we started ours, The Global Pitch, back in early fall. This is a great way to celebrate our partner clubs, highlight the great people we work with around the world, update you on our events and activities, plus share articles that catch our eye and are worth sharing broadly. If you aren’t already receiving it, contact us at and we’ll add you to the list.

Dundee United and NoVa United
I’m constantly reminded that it’s a small world. I love it when my identities as a Scot and a footballer help others in unique ways, and this was one of them. By introducing representatives from both clubs to each other, both found reasons to explore and build a relationship, and that’ll soon come to fruition with a new series of summer camps for NoVa United players with Dundee United staff at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Expansion in Australia and Canada
No reason why our programs should be limited to student-athletes in America, right? As WorldStrides continues to expand, so do our program offerings, and this one is especially exciting for me. Creating something and watching it literally travel to new places around the world is beyond exhilarating. Read more about it here and here.  

2023 Women’s World Cup
Our program to the 2019 WWC in France was a huge success and exceeded our expectations in every way. Building on that, along with utilizing our Australian office’s expertise, local knowledge, and know-how, we’re headed down under in 2023 to watch, play, and grow as players, coaches, and travelers who have a passion for big trips. 

2022 Euros
More than a few coaches have asked us about putting a program for the Euros in 2022, and our answer was “Of course!” Not only is this tournament massively popular and world-class in every way, it serves as a fantastic example of our relationship with our clubs and coaches – if there’s somewhere you want to go, if there’s a program itinerary you want to create together, we’re listening. And we have the network to take your idea and make it real.

WS Back to Travel Task Force
At the center of our plans for the future is our ability to operate them. That’s why our Back to Travel Task Force, created very early in the Covid era, is an absolutely essential group for our organization. Traveler safety is, and will always be, the undisputed number one priority for us. This task force monitors travel safety guidelines and protocols, assess risks all over the world, synthesizes and organizes information for us and you, and builds out scenarios to practice assessment and response. This is the group that leads the effort to get back to travel, and every travel provider simply must have an outstanding group like this. Read more about it here.

Like many of you, I’m anticipating life post-Covid with a desire I’ve never quite had before. It’s exciting to think about , and I’ve missed seeing our groups in new countries, experiencing new cultures, making friends and witnessing, first hand and for themselves, life lived in a different place. When we have the green light to move more freely internationally, I’ll be ready to go.

Since 1998, Eric has been the Managing Director of Excel International Sports, and he continues to oversee WorldStrides international sports tours since the company’s acquisition by WorldStrides in January 2015. His decades-old skill and passion for sports makes him an apt overseer of Excel’s international soccer and sports travel for players and students of all skill levels. He also actively maintains and grows the group’s inside connections at all levels of play, empowering WorldStrides to put together the highest quality and most exciting travel programs available today. In January 2021, Eric became the Head of Sports Program Development, where he expands the sports travel market position by scouting emerging trends to develop innovative new program offerings that build upon and expand customer relationships. Follow him on LinkedIn

The Latest from WAGS

Kerry Diederich, Executive Director, Women and Girls in Soccer, updates us on their current projects, outreach efforts, and scholarship opportunities.   

How are things at WAGS and what are you excited to be working on right now?
We are doing well and excited for the progress being made on controlling the pandemic so we can evolve back into more in-person interactions. Like everyone, we had programming affected by the pandemic and the nationwide closures, including coaching and referee course cancelations and reduced attendance at our only fundraiser, WAGS Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament, held annually in October. We also encountered difficulties with counties in VA and D.C. having COVID orders not allowing tournament play, forcing us to regroup and find alternate locations to host our tournament. In the end, we were able to host a safe tournament for over 300 female teams and were thrilled to offer a sense of normalcy to so many coaches, players and their families, and allow players to have recruitment options in-person and through our provided video services.

Presently we are working on a three year grant we were awarded pre-pandemic in partnership with VYSA (Virginia Youth Soccer Association) through U.S. Soccer. The Innovate to Grow program will work to increase the participation of women in coaching within Virginia and D.C.

Our program, Accelerating the Participation of Women in Coaching, will offer free 7v7, 9v9, 11v11, and D-licenses to qualified female candidates across Virginia and D.C. All of the courses will be taught by female instructors and will offer childcare services/stipends for qualified candidates.

U.S. Soccer’s Innovate to Grow program was established in 2017 to help U.S. Soccer member organizations like VYSA launch new and innovative programs designed to grow participation of players, coaches, or referees in their markets. Courses are being coordinated now. The next one on the schedule begins July 15th for virtual instruction and July 17th with field instruction at Loudoun Soccer Park for the 11v11 and 9v9 Grassroots Courses. Contact Kristen ( for information on registration. Courses will be being held at LMVSC in Alexandria in August and will be opened for registration soon.

In addition to the grant, WAGS will also continue to be a leader in hosting all female referee and coach education courses to empower women and girls to reach their goals through soccer. Courses are being planned now and will be advertised as soon as they are finalized.

USWNT player Ali Krieger, a Team VW brand ambassador, chose us as her charity to support. Volkswagen of America is the presenting partner of U.S. Soccer’s #GivingTuesday Campaign. U.S. Soccer’s sponsorship goes toward scholarships and non-profits that develop and nurture female soccer players and coaches across the nation. In a press release, Duncan Movassaghi, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, said “Volkswagen is committed to the growth of soccer in the U.S. and what better way to do this than by supporting organizations rooted in these efforts.”

Last month was International Women’s month. Can you tell us a bit about what WAGS did this year to celebrate and honor the occasion?
This year, and every year, in March we prepare to award four $10,000 Adele Dolansky Scholarships from the many applications we receive. The scholarships support exceptional female soccer athletes to play at the collegiate level. Applicants must excel in a broad variety of extracurricular activities, demonstrate active participation in community service, and must be rostered and playing on a team accepted to and playing in the WAGS Rael Vodicka Tournament held annually in October. WAGS looks for individuals who embrace the qualities and characteristics necessary to play on an elite soccer team and who apply these qualities to her daily life. Recipients will be notified of their selection May 2021.

What can you tell us about your Worldwide Outreach program? Are there any new projects or priorities that we can share and help get the word out? 

WAGS supports the University of Lynchburg Women’s Soccer Program and their WOW (Women of Worth) program which empowers women and girls in Africa through soccer. WAGS provided funding to open two resource centers in Uganda. The WAGS Gulu Educational Resource Center was opened in June of 2017 to help women and girls to not just thrive in their communities, but thrive in life. The contribution from WAGS provided critically needed computers, office software, supplies, and funding to hire a teacher. The Katwe WAGS Educational Resource Center was opened in 2018 and is coordinated and managed through the Robert Katende Initiative.

In 2019, the coaches and players returned to Africa to again empower the WOW girls they sponsor, and brought gift bags of needed items to include those sponsored by WAGS.

Currently, WAGS will continue to send yearly sponsorship maintenance payments to maintain the centers and the education and services they provide to the women and girls the centers support. In 2020, the support was critical as the pandemic had hit the area the centers are in quite hard; we were thrilled to be able to provide relief to the communities our centers serve. While we continue to support these centers, we will be looking to what may come next to expand our efforts in Africa.

Thank you, Kerry. To learn more about WAGS, contact them at or

Partner Spotlight: McLean Youth Soccer

Checking in with longtime international traveler and soccer icon Louise Waxler, Executive Director at McLean Youth Soccer.

How has your season been so far this year?
COVID has certainly affected our club operations, but due to the creativity of our staff and coaches, we have navigated through the year developing alternative programs in as safe an environment as possible.

Can you talk a little bit about what it means for your players to be playing this season, given Covid and how its disrupted everything, especially school schedules?
As the year progressed, particularly during the winter months, we experienced an increase in member registrations for participation in non-league programming across both recreation and travel. I believe that outdoor physical activity has been important for the well-being of the players – emotionally and physically.

As vaccine rollout continues to increase and optimism for a “return to normal” becomes closer, can you share with us what you and your club are looking forward to most?
We will continue to err on the side of caution and take the necessary precautions to ensure that everyone is in a safe environment following CDC and AAP guidelines. It will be a celebration of sorts when our parents can once again be on the sidelines showing their support for the kids without the fear of contracting COVID.

Tell us a little bit about your history with WorldStrides Sports. How did we connect originally?
I first met Eric McAleer in 1995 when he crossed the pond from Scotland to the U.S. and joined a soccer club in our community. Excel Sports was in its infancy stages back then, but we have remained friends throughout the years. As the company expanded, so did the interest of parents/players seeking the international soccer experience. McLean Youth Soccer agreed to a formal partnership in 2017 with WorldStrides believing that we could offer our players a soccer experience that would be memorable for years.

Can you share with us what an international travel experience does for your players, teams, and families?
Traveling internationally leaves behind the familiar and takes on a world of new things. Our players are learning about new cultures, international competition, meeting and making friends abroad, all creating a sense of excitement. We have focused our travel times to coincide at either the end or the beginning of the seasonal year so as not to interfere with their scheduled league play. There have been a few ‘a ha’ moments but one that resonates with me was attending the opening game of Celtic FC vs. Hearts having our players joining in to sing, You’ll Never Walk Alone! It was an extraordinary moment.

What have been some of the highlights from your trips with us?
In addition to the Celtic game, having our players train at Lennox Town; playing Roma youth teams in Italy and aside from visiting so many Italian landmarks, traveling to Coverciano, headquarters of the Italian Federation; and traveling with very special people while attending the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France .

Do you have a favorite destination?
Being of Italian heritage, my favorite destination, of course, was Italy. I loved the culture, history of the country and the food was superb reminding me of my grandmother’s cooking when I was a child.  I also had the opportunity to meet a few of my family members for the first time.

Any travel advice you can share with other clubs who might be reading this?
If your teams’ have never traveled previously, choose a destination where there is no language barrier, particularly if you travel with young players and where the food choices are universal! Most countries are bi-lingual with English as their secondary language however, this is not always true in every country.

Why would you recommend international travel for other clubs and programs?
Think about the personal growth of players when given the opportunity to experience another culture, another style of play or training methodology, and the opportunity to bond as a team. The international travel soccer experience has given me some of my greatest memories and I would most certainly recommend it for any club wishing to offer their players something beyond the playing field!