How has my sports history impacted my professional story?

We asked members of the WorldStrides Sports team to share their thoughts on how their background in sports has influenced their careers.

“There’s so much to say about this for me. You know, growing up in Scotland, playing for teams, moving my way up through the ranks, the locker room made a big impact on me. It became a microcosm of life itself. Playing soccer, and the rollercoaster it can be – the ups, the downs, the wins, the losses, the injuries, cuts, tryouts, great coaches, bad coaches, managers, captains, lessons learned everywhere you turn. I represented the youth schoolboy national team, traveled all over Europe from 14-15 years old, learning incredible life lessons along the way, everywhere I went. And the memories I have – priceless. I remember playing in the U16 European youth championship. We beat Holland in the quarterfinals, beat France, the host country in the semis, lost 0-1 to Russia in the finals. So many great players gathered there that went on to do such great things in the sport. My youth club in Scotland was the same club as David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson, Walter Smith, Andy Gray, John Wark and Archie Gemmill. That means a lot to me. That’s the kind of club I’m proud to belong to, and it drives me to represent it for the rest of my life.”
Eric McAleer, SVP

“In sports, I learned how to communicate, be a teammate, apply my naturally competitive nature, be aggressive/ambitious, fight hard, play my position but adjust should the need arise, be adaptable, learn from losing, beat competition, and hydrate.”
Nikiah Dulac, Account Executive

“Participating in sports growing up provided me the opportunity to develop many key skills that I could carry over to my professional career. The best examples of these are the leadership skills, teamwork, and a strong work ethic I gained from playing sports. These attributes are what I believe have allowed me to grow my career to the place it is today.”
Carlie Smythe, Account Manager

“I came to the United States as a young 18 year old to play college soccer in Missouri at Truman State University, located in a rural town called Kirksville. It was a town with a typical midwestern square, with the courthouse in the middle, and stores all around it. There was one main road through the outside of town, usually filled with massive trucks and lined with fast food establishments from start to finish. I didn’t know anyone and we started pre-season in 110 degree weather. Over the next few years of playing and coaching in the college space, I was fortunate to travel around the country to places like Florida, Texas, Colorado, as well as visit too many small towns in the Midwest for games. When I started in my professional career with WorldStrides, I always thought back to the rush I got from coming here to play then being able to travel to various different states to play and coach. There’s some exhilarating about traveling for a game and experiencing new stadiums and environments. Of course, that feeling was taken to a new height when you won! However, I always appreciated being able to visit new places and experience a new culture. Now, I get the same buzz from being able to provide that opportunity to student-athletes, coaches, and families. Being able to travel on-tour with these groups and to see them take in a Premier League stadium, the Eiffel Tower, or Buckingham Palace doesn’t give you the same feeling of winning a game on the road but it always reminds me how fortunate we all are to be able to do what we do. Having experienced a lot of travel as I grew up, it is extremely rewarding to be able to help people experience the same thing and get them to want to do it as soon as they return! With COVID-19 changing our world, I feel even more fortunate to have this opportunity and I know we will all provide our players and teams with an even better experience as we come out of these strange times.”
Jonny Brown, Business Development Specialist

“When I was in 6th grade I had the opportunity to travel abroad to Liverpool and London, England with my soccer team. For many of us it was our first time traveling internationally, myself included. Being able to spend a week abroad with your best friends in a foreign country was an amazing experience and is a memory that I will forever cherish. Traveling abroad not only shaped me into a different soccer player but it also opened up my eyes to a completely different culture. It truly changed my life. When my old teammates and I get together it’s something that we always talk about to this day. We created so many lifelong memories together! My 6th grade England trip has come full circle as I now have the opportunity to help others create a once in a lifetime experience when they travel with us.”
Morgan O’Donnell, Senior Account Manager

“I had the privilege of playing lacrosse in college and I was lucky to be submerged into a culture driven by passion for the game and fighting to reach a common goal before I even stepped on campus. I instantly had 30 new best friends. When I graduated, I longed to find a similar atmosphere in a workplace. WorldStrides Sports is a team full of winners, all striving to be the best in our space. We get to go to work every day and compete. Organizing international trips that are life changing to young athletes is so rewarding. When you love what you do, it makes a world of difference.”
Ashley Herbst, Manager of Account Management

Why does it matter that we’re an accredited organization?

Education is at the heart of every WorldStrides program. Our company started in 1967, with one teacher leading one class to one city, Washington, D.C., in order to see our nation’s capital for themselves and experience real learning through authentic experience.

Since then, we’ve grown to include a wide variety of experiential travel programs for students of all ages and passions – sports, science, theatre, performing arts, study abroad, career exploration, and more. And this growth has been fueled by educational integrity.

Our accreditation status – stamps of approval from Cognia (formerly AdvancED) WASC, and MSA-CESS, the same organizations that accredit K-12 schools across the country – is a testament to our own standards and evidence that they align with the same requirements for nearly every school in America.

We regularly renew our accreditation credentials. That means we never lose sight of the profound educational impact we offer our participants and those who lead them. That means we prioritize evaluating and evolving all of our programs to meet the needs of today’s classrooms and today’s students.

There is a student in every student-athlete. There is an educator in every coach and athletic director. Our programs aim to excite these student-athletes and coaches with new experiences on their chosen field of play, to present new challenges that take their game further – and our educational philosophy endeavors to take that growth further.

We call that philosophy Learning through Exploring and Actively Participating, or LEAP.

LEAP is designed to ensure that all students interact with their surroundings and are engaged with hands on activities, challenged to think critically from multiple points of view, and to grow personally and intellectually. In the Sports division, we encourage our student-athletes to pay close attention to how sports can grow their global perspective through their engagement with the new cultures and competition. This comes in many forms: sitting in a stadium of 50,000 signing soccer fans, playing a lacrosse game against a team in Ireland, or being trained by a coach of a professional academy program.  There is enlightenment in experience.

Traveling from city to city, competing in games, training with coaches, visiting museums, participating in a service learning project – these are examples of student-athletes learn without direct instruction, without being “taught.” They develop confidence and skills not necessarily associated with the classroom, creating their own understanding of the world, its cultures and perspectives within. Read more about our LEAP philosophy here.

Using LEAP as a springboard, student-athletes can choose to reflect upon their learning and experiences and earn academic credit. By taking advantage of this opportunity, student-athletes not only can enhance their school careers, but also start a successful path to higher education.

Student-athletes in grades 6-12 at the time of travel can earn free high school credits.
Student-athletes in grades 9-12 at the time of travel are eligible to earn free College Preparatory Credits through UCSD-Extension.
Students-athletes can register for coursework before, during, or after the travel portion of the program. Upon successful completion, a transcript with a letter grade is mailed directly the student.

Student-athletes who enroll in our “Leadership & Character” course earn credit from a combination of a self-reflection of their trip experience and online coursework completed after their return, and we don’t just dole it out. That would run counter to our educational integrity and philosophy. On average, students can expect to complete the required course hours in two ways of instruction in two ways: in the field by trained, certified and licensed tour directors (the trip itself); and  in an accompanying online course that includes multiple assessments of student learning, direct individualized teacher feedback, and engaging opportunities to demonstrate higher order thinking and applications of knowledge. Coursework is graded by our credentialed team of educators who support our student-athletes until they meet the requirements to earn their transcript.

The benefits of international travel are tremendous. And numerous. Simply put, it broadens minds and influences perspectives, especially for young people. Our company-wide focus on educational quality, supported by our accredited status and the opportunity it brings to earn academic credit, is not only unique in our world, it gives us all tremendous pride.

Visit the WorldStrides website to learn more about academic credit and our educators and educational mission.

Jamie Kent is an Account Executive at WorldStrides Sports. Jamie joined the WorldStrides Excel team in January 2018. He brings a wealth of soccer knowledge and experience on the West Coast from his 15 years working in the youth soccer camps and training market, where he developed fantastic relationships and respect from professionals in the soccer industry. Passionate about the game he loves most, Jamie is excited to be able to help clubs, colleges and high schools provide international travel for their players to help broaden their horizons.

 

 

What is a friendly?

Chances are good that you know what a friendly is, but what words would you use to define it?

A quick roundup of terms and interpretations yields a variety of words and language that paints broad strokes, and that’s ok. It’s an “exhibition.” A “demonstration.” A “preseason game” or “warm-up match.” If you said that a friendly is “a game where nothing is really on the line and your standing won’t be impacted whether you win or lose,” you wouldn’t be wrong.

But would you be right?

By definition, yes, but what about by interpretation?

This is what makes a friendly such an interesting topic, especially for us at WorldStrides Sports. There’s so much more to it than winning or losing, than counting or not counting. Indeed, friendlies are exhibitions and demonstrations, but they’re certainly more than an exhibition or a demonstration of the sport itself, right?

Friendlies carry a weight and standing outside of the table and beyond qualification requirements. Friendlies present a new opportunity for all involved – the club, the manager, the players, the supporters. It’s a chance to mix things up, a laboratory to experiment. Playing in a game designated as friendly might take some pressure off from earning a winning result, but that doesn’t remove the competitive feeling. Friendly or not, at almost every level, you want your side or the side your rooting for to win, even if it doesn’t “matter.”

What does matter then? Friendlies give teams a wonderful lens that enhances the spirit of the meeting. We see this all the time on our programs. There’s a certain buzz about playing outside of a usual league or schedule, away from the competition usually encountered. This special energy that teams bring to a friendly is…different. There’s something about a friendly that turns some of the focus directed at an opponent and shifts it to a more internal place, and we’d argue that this shift puts a unique spotlight on a team’s chemistry and camaraderie.

You could say that there’s less pressure to conquer an opponent and more freedom to test yourselves. You could say that there’s less pressure to stick to what works and more liberty to see what happens. You could give that defender a chance to play striker or give your keeper the chance to play on the field.

We certainly see this when our players travel abroad, and then some. Taking a friendly to the international level tests and enlightens our players in profound ways that stay with them forever.

Friendlies teach us what it means to be a host and a guest.
Friendlies challenge our assumptions to reveal deeper truths.
Friendlies build new bridges that connect people through experience.
Friendlies show us what is universal about a sport and what is unique about the players who play it.
Friendlies tell us that we grow outside of our comfort zones.

It turns out that friendlies count for a lot.

This holiday season – the one that’s happening this time, during this year – could use a “friendlies” interpretation. When we look back on this year, through the lens of our sports and our roles in them, it’s easy see where things were disrupted, where things weren’t normal, where things were different. Does that mean they didn’t count? That they didn’t matter?

We were tested and challenged. We lived with being uncomfortable. We submitted to rules we didn’t write. We found joy where we could with what made us happy, and for many of us, that required a deep look within. We had to try new ways, we had to mix things up. We had to work together in a new environment, and determine what matters most.

As a result, and much like a friendly experience, we grew because of it – and that will last longer and feel deeper than any game that “counts” or “matters.”

Tour Director Spotlight: Alethea Brown

Meet Alethea Brown, Tour Director for WorldStrides Sports!

How long have you been a Tour Director with WorldStrides Sports?
I have had the pleasure of working with WorldStrides on two occasions for American groups visiting France.

What do you like most about your job?
I thoroughly enjoyed the daily challenge of meeting my groups’ expectations by replying to their requests and wishes before they could even ask. I like surprising the group with wishes they thought would have been impossible due to logistic matters or availability. I take note of the fine detail with regard to the nature of the group. I do research before they come, to find out where they come from, what is specific about where they are from, the club and its history, ranking and achievements. I memorize groups’ names as soon as possible.

Tell us a bit about your professional background – what led you to your role as a Tour Director?
I started off studying hotel management in Germany and worked at the Munich Park Hilton Hotel. I learned all about customer relations, satisfying the simplest to the most difficult requests. It’s all about being up close and personal, yet keeping very discrete and knowing one’s place, anticipating situations and then reacting upon them. Never to let on that you are paddling for dear life down under, while the water is all still and calm where the client is. Unfortunately, circumstances had it that I was not able to follow the tourism field. I worked in an international logistics company in both Germany and France for 4 years and then in an international aeronautical company in France for over 12 years. My interaction with people from all walks of life in these industries taught me how to adapt to different work codes, cultures and traditions. I longed for a change and to broaden my horizons until I was asked to accompany sports teams. I left my office job and took on the job as a tour director and have had several incredible experiences since. Traveling and spending time with groups also allows me travel and to learn more about the country my group is from. I take along each lesson in experiences to each new group.

What do you see in American soccer players that strikes you as unique?
So far I have only traveled with female soccer players from the US and I remain impressed by the approach the staff has with regard to the sport and what it could bring to young girls and older female players. Commonly a sport for boys and men, it strikes me as there is much more to it than just a girl kicking a ball. The sport offers voice, personal growth, and empowerment to young girls and women. About soccer in the US, I find it unique that the young players can train in a school team, in a club team and also have a personal trainer. This is something I have not heard of anywhere else.

What do you think American soccer players realize about the sport once they’ve seen it in another country?
I have been told that most American players realize that the rest of the world is engulfed in soccer. That it is everywhere and everyone talks a soccer language and possibly sees a future in it.

If you could put together a dream international soccer tour, with an unlimited budget, for yourself and your friends/family, where would you go and what would you make sure to include?
I would like to be able to put together a team of 16 players from all over the world with one player from a chosen country such as the US, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Nigeria, and South Africa. (Players from NZ, CH and AUS are too far out.) I was fortunate to be a team liaison officer for the German National Team during the 2018 World Cup and it left me strong memories and I gathered so much experience from this one event.

I would have local substitute players in each country join the team. My international female soccer team of 16 players would travel to the countries they have been chosen from. They would attend training sessions and participate in workshops with local clubs. They would play one friendly match and would act as global ambassadors in each country. Each theme would be based on the country they would be visiting. This would shine light on female soccer, as they still remain in the shadow of male players. We will inform the local media and have the entire adventure covered on Instagram. In addition to bigger international sponsors, I would seek out one company in each country to follow the team giving them exposure. It would be a company which has suffered due to the 2020 COVID pandemic. I would love for young girls to know that they have their place on a soccer field. In many countries sport is often the only way for girls or women to express themselves.

Any additional anecdotes or stories that you’d like to share about your experience as a Tour Director?
I once had a tour group from South Africa. It was during a time when the farmers were striking all over France. We were not able to get to the game on time and it was canceled. I had to come up with a plan real fast to compensate for this mishap. I made a few calls and managed to drive the group to a very popular club at their facilities. The initial idea was to tour their facility and learn about their club. The professional players were about to leave for a training camp, but when they heard of my group visiting they came over and met with the young players. The jaws dropped and the boys could hardly believe their luck, meeting and shaking hands and exchanging with the professional players they have only seen on the television before. I was very happy that my quick reaction solved a problem in such a pleasant way. We left the club with many good memories.

Tour Director Spotlight: David Lewis

Meet David Lewis, WorldStrides Sports Tour Director!

How long have you been a Tour Director with WorldStrides Sports?
I have been a tour director for 22 years, of which four years have been with Worldstrides Sports.

What do you like most about your job?
I love being involved with the day to day running of itineraries, and making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible, plus joining in with the camaraderie of the group, whether it’s going in goal in practice matches or advising what to do when there’s free time.

I like to see teams express themselves, and have fun learning new things. Showing them around the hidden gems or iconic places we visit. Helping and also learning from my guests.

I like to say that “we all have books inside of us, so let’s fill some pages together.”

Finally, I like to encourage everyone to become a traveler not a tourist. The way I see it, travelers embrace the country they visit, while tourists want their own country abroad.

Tell us a bit about your professional background – what led you to your role as a Tour Director?
I have always had a passion for travel. From an early age, my father took me backpacking around Europe, so after college I joined the Merchant Navy and traveled to exotic places for five years. I then joined the police service to help serve the public. I also played various sports including soccer, rugby, cricket, and golf.

I left the police service after 15 years to carry on my passion of looking after people, learning about new cultures and history, meeting people, and traveling, which I’ve now been doing for 22 years.

I have taken groups all over the world and have been lucky to visit over 100 countries plus 38 states of America. I have lead groups on sports tours in the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the West Indies.

What do you see in American soccer players that strikes you as unique?
It’s obvious from the first training session that I watch, it is the high fitness levels and the fast speed in which they play the game. They show passion that shines through, but it’s not always about speed – it’s knowing when to give that final ball as it only takes a second to score a goal.

What do you think American soccer players realize about the sport once they’ve seen it in another country?
I believe they see it’s more physical than they are used to but soon they realize they can compete at the highest level and win.

If you could put together a dream international soccer tour, with an unlimited budget, for yourself and your friends/family, where would you go and what would you make sure to include?
I am always asked which is my favorite country, and it’s hard as all countries are different and offer so much diversity. I have enjoyed every country I have ever visited.

My dream international soccer tour would have to be a World Cup of Soccer. I went to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, but as I love traveling around the USA so much, I would choose a World Cup of Soccer in the USA.

America is so vast and there is only so much we could do and take in.

We would need to have a three- or four-week tour, starting in New York.

Ground Zero, Union Station, UN Building, taking a ferry ride past Statue of Liberty onto Ellis Island to see the history of immigrants coming to America.

A visit to Strawberry fields in Central Park to pay respects to John Lennon. Visit the Empire State Building and Times Square. Shop on Fifth Avenue. Eat in Greenwich Village, watch soccer games in local restaurants in the lower east side of Manhattan and take and evening ride across to Hoboken for an amazing evening view of the iconic New York skyline. Ride the subway.

Next onto Washington, D.C. Visit the White House and the monuments, Capitol Hill, Smithsonian, and Georgetown. Watch a game in one of the stadiums.

I would then fly to Atlanta to visit Martin Luther King Junior’s church and graves. See CNN building and Olympic Park. A visit to the Cyclorama, one of only three left in the world depicting scenes of the American Civil War. See where Margaret Mitchell lived and wrote Gone with the Wind, then visit the beautiful Fox theatre and its art deco design. Eat in Buckhead, uptown or downtown Atlanta, then watch a game in city.

Then to Nashville to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry, Broadway Avenue honky tonks, Studio B of RCA records where the great Elvis, Dolly Parton, Don Gibson, Charlie Pride, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison, Everly Brothers and many more recorded, then watch a game at the Nissan Stadium.

Memphis is next to see Graceland, Rock and Soul music, Sun Records, Beale Street and see the Mississippi river. Of course, I’d eat BBQ along the way.

It’s now onto New Orleans to admire the beautiful Franch-inspired city and the wonderful garden district. Step foot on Bourbon Street to hear all kinds of music. Take a tour of the swamps or just amble around the French Quarter, marveling at all the different sights, smells, architecture, and the warmth of the local people. The food is outstanding and there are many amazing eateries.

From here I would fly to Orlando, Florida and visit a theme park or two, and watch some games. Visit Miami and South Beach and watch a game there, then have a slow meander down to Key West to visit Ernest Hemingway’s house and see the most southern tip of the USA.

Then onto Fort Myers, where Ford and Edison have their museum before relaxing on a beach somewhere near Clearwater before flying home.

America is such a giant country, there is so much to see and do! I have to say that the American people that I have met have been some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet.

One last question –  any additional anecdotes or stories that you’d like to share about your experience as a Tour Director.
I have a couple. I remember going in goal and trying to show off my skills, but as I am a little older than the teams I look after, I didn’t realize how hard they hit the ball! I would still try and dive for every ball but it takes me a lot longer to get back off the floor.

One of my groups had to train indoors due to bad weather and at the end of it the team put on a dance record where they were doing a dance routine and I joined in at the end of the line. The final act was to dance and hop like a bunny rabbit and I am giving it my all. What I didn’t realize is that some members of the group were filming me and it went viral!

Or my first tour with Worldstrides Sports, I had a group and we visited the Manchester United, Liverpool FC, and Manchester City stadiums and their souvenir shops. The day we were due to see an actual live premier league game, they all came down in their different tops, scarfs, and hats to get on the bus, but unfortunately it was Burnley versus Everton and it’s a big no-no in this country for safety reasons to wear different colors of teams that you are not watching.

I had to ask nicely, explaining the reasons, and they all had to get changed again.

I now mention this in my welcome meeting.

Program Spotlight – Maryland State Youth Soccer Association

Catching up with Flo Egan, Executive Director of Maryland State Youth Soccer Association, and a WorldStrides Sports partner for 22 years. In the photo below, Flo and Eric McAleer, Senior Vice President at WorldStrides, are signing our latest three-year contract.

First, we hope you and your family are safe and healthy. Can you let us know how you and your staff at MSYSA have adapted to the pandemic?
The staff at MSYSA have worked hard learning to adjust to the ever changing world we have found ourselves in. We strive each day to create new and sometimes different ways to serve all the members of our association. We have found ways to be able to continue to work both remotely and within our new office space. We continue to keep ourselves and others safe by following safety protocols that are currently in place.

MSYSA ODP has traveled with WorldStrides Sports on an annual basis for 22 years now. What does the international program offer MSYSA ODP and what benefits has it provided to the MSYSA community?
Worldstrides Sports has become a trusted partner of MSYSA throughout the years, providing a first class experience for all our players and families. Worldstrides Sports has offered the ODP players/families of MSYSA the opportunity to experience the world’s game through the eyes of various cultures across the globe. Learning to embrace the customs, traditions and even cuisines of different countries has provided a unique experience for young players as they continue to pursue their dreams.

In your position, you have been able to travel around the world for soccer. What is your favorite destination and why?
It is so hard to decide which destination I would choose as my favorite. The team I once traveled with enjoyed a trip several years back that took us into 5 different countries within 1 day (England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany) that was incredibly fun!  Watching our players experience the atmosphere and community when attending professional games, meet and greets with players, and touring stadiums, created many lasting friendships and wonderful memories that has continued once back home.

We are very much looking forward to the world getting back to normal so that we can get back to doing the things we love doing more freely. What things, both professionally for MSYSA and personally, are you looking forward to?
Through our partnership with Worldstrides Sports, we are looking forward to offering the international experience of the beautiful game to our newest ODP players and returning players as well. Once the Worldstrides Sports team has deemed travel safe again, we look forward to that piece of “normalcy” for our families allowing all to create new memories.

We’re excited to announce that this past year MSYSA signed to renew their partnership with WorldStrides Sports to be your exclusive international travel provider. Can you talk about some of the reasons why you chose to partner with WorldStrides Sports?
MSYSA has chosen Worldstrides Sports as their partner for international travel for a multitude of reasons:

The professionalism of their staff is second to none.
The length the Worldstrides Sports team goes to making the experience the best it can.
Coordinating the details of each itinerary and willingness to work through any unexpected circumstances that could potentially arise.
Worldstrides places safety of their partners at the top of their list in all areas.
The variety of different destinations for teams allow our returning players to travel to  different countries from year to year.
The flexibility that Worldstrides has in working with MSYSA and being open to any changes or updates that we recommend allows the partnership to grow stronger throughout the years.

Thank you, Flo! We wish you and MSYSA the best of health and happiness for all of your players, coaches, parents, referees, and volunteers.

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!

Partner Spotlight – North Carolina FC Youth

NCFC Youth, the largest club in North Carolina, has supported soccer and the soccer community of Raleigh and the Golden Triangle since 1974. WorldStrides Sports and NCFC Youth recently extended our partnership to deliver international travel programs to their players for another three years. 

We caught up with Paul Forster, Director of Soccer, to ask about how things are going and how WorldStrides Sports programs have made a difference at the club.

Can you let us know how you and your staff at North Carolina Football Club have adapted to the pandemic?
Like every staff in the country, we were not prepared to deal with COVID and all the challenges it provided.  With that said, I am very happy with where we are now, as a club, and it is a credit to the staff we have here at NCFC Youth. We have worked tirelessly to get back out onto the pitch to be able to train and play. It is clear our families want their children to have soccer as part of their daily routine, and we are happy to be able to provide soccer opportunities for players. There are still daily challenges we face and need to manage as we move forward.

Over the last few years, almost 20 NCFC teams have travelled internationally with WorldStrides. What does the international program offer NCFC and what benefits has it provided to the NCFC community?
There is nothing better than talking a team overseas and immersing the group (players and families) into a different culture. Our soccer families lead very busy lives, so it is great to get away and enjoy another culture while at the same time taking in some high level soccer matches. There is so much to appreciate when traveling overseas.

Your wife and daughter travelled to the Women’s World Cup in France last year, what were some of their main takeaways from that trip and do you think they will be first in line to go to Australia and New Zealand in 2023?
Funny enough, they are already talking about it. Unfortunately I haven’t been invited yet, but I have a few years to work on that! The trip to Women’s World Cup in France was an unbelievable experience for them both. To be able to combine an international trip with one of the biggest sporting events in the world is truly a great opportunity. International trips present a great opportunity to play international competition, experience a different culture, and most importantly get to see live soccer games. The whole trip was a great experience and one both my daughter and wife still talk about.

We are very much looking forward to the world getting back to normal so that we can get back to doing the things we love doing more freely. What things, both professionally for NCFC and personally are you looking forward to?
It is just great to be back on the pitch both training and playing. As a staff we work daily on trying to improve the environment for the players and families in every way can. While COVID19 has presented us with many challenges our families have worked with us to get players back on the pitch and been incredibly supportive along the way. On a personal level I look forward to the day we can watch live football matches either here with our North Carolina Football Club in the USL or the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL or perhaps traveling overseas to watch a game or two.

We’re excited to announce that North Carolina Football Club signed to renew their partnership with WorldStrides Sports to be their exclusive international travel provider. Can you talk to some of the reasons why you chose to partner with WorldStrides?
First and foremost it comes down to the people we deal with directly. Steven and Eric are always willing to get on the phone and talk with any member of our staff at any time. Our partnership is built around good relationships and we value the relationship we have the WS staff.

The professionalism of whole WorldStrides Sports staff eases our level of comfort when planning and organizing international trips. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure trips run smoothly. Our staff and families appreciate the work that the WS staff to ensure the travel experiences are positive.

The trips our families have participated in have been very, very well planned and, as staff, we know our families are safe and in good hands when they leave home. In addition to feeling safe, you guys do an incredible job of balancing the sightseeing/cultural experiences with training, playing, and watching matches. The trips are action packed and filled with great experiences for both the players and parents.

Want to get a real feel for what a NCFC Youth trip abroad is actually like? Check out the video they put together about their trip to Barcelona last year!