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!