How To Bust Out Of The Good Old Boys Club Soccer Team Tour to Italy – A "Player Experience"

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Soccer Team Tour to Italy – A "Player Experience"

When members of the Wilmington NC Cape Fear Beakers Boys ’94 Soccer Club traveled to Perugia, Italy, they didn’t know what to expect. However, they knew they would be training and participating in an international tournament that included players from several European countries, as well as the United States and Canada. Their coach Antonio Saviano tried to understand that many of their opponents will be bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled than the players they are used to. There would also be the issue of playing on a bigger pitch with eleven players a side, instead of the usual eight-on-eight they are used to.

When they arrived in Italy, their week was set. There would be two training sessions, morning and afternoon, for Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday would be a day for sightseeing and a chance to rest. From Thursday to Saturday, they would compete in an eleven-team tournament with at least two games a day. The championship final will be held on Saturday afternoon.

On Monday morning at 9:30 everyone boarded the bus full of excitement as they headed off to their first session. Although they were behind since arriving the previous day, their enthusiasm overcame the lack of sleep. The parents spent the late morning relaxing in town, sightseeing, shopping and sipping cappuccino. However, when the team bus returned for lunch, the lack of sleep and demanding training had clearly taken their toll. Those boys were exhausted and were told to eat lunch and go to their rooms to rest and recover before the afternoon meeting. Eleven-year-old Jack Sordellini was among more than a few players who wondered “what have I gotten myself into?” He did, however, gather for the next session, as did the two on Tuesday, but was always happy to return to the hotel to eat, swim with his teammates in the pool and just relax. Wednesday was a free day, and many team members visited Rome and other parts of this beautiful country.

On Thursday, the games finally started. Jack couldn’t wait and it didn’t take him long to get what he came for. Playing on the right wing, every ball in the first 10 minutes of the match seemed to be played into his half of the pitch and he was forced into several long runs. The size and speed of his opponents was as advertised, and the larger pitch coupled with the pace of the game tested his endurance. Once again he wondered if he was in over his head. The game finally settled into a less frenetic rhythm and the boys from Wilmington realized that they could match the stronger opponents. This first game ended scoreless in overtime, with Wilmington winning on penalty kicks. They played the schedule in a similar fashion, and although they did not make the finals of the tournament, they clearly earned respect. Their confidence grew with each game, both on and off the field.

Alex Gianoplus, 12, heard people in the crowd shouting his name, but who were they and how did they know his name? Were they rooting for him or against him? Invited to be the visiting goalkeeper for the Italian team, he didn’t understand the words his teammates were saying, but he got the general idea: keep the ball out of the net.

Although the weather was hot, over 90 degrees, Alex was dressed in a long-sleeved jersey and his socks were pulled up over his knees. The artificial grass, which was 10+ degrees warmer than the air temperature, gave both his knees and elbows a nice layer of rawhide. That was the price he paid as he spent the week during training and games throwing his body in all directions making acrobatic saves.

But now he was playing in the semi-final as visiting goalkeeper for Italy and could hear his name being called from the stands. As the opposition skillfully advanced towards him in attack, he was amazed by the accuracy of their passes. While following the play on the left side, he felt that the ball was going to be passed to the other side. In a fraction of a second, the ball was diverted to his right side and out of nowhere, one of the attackers rushed towards the goal at the right moment to head it into the net. Alex instinctively jumped to the right and held out both arms. The ball appeared to be already in the net when Alex outstretched his arms to the corner of the pitch, where one of his defenders cleared it downfield. As he lowered himself onto his gentle elbows, he heard a rhythmic chant from the crowd: ALEX! ALEX! ALEX! “Hmm. I guess they’re rooting for me,” he thought.

When the game ended, Alex came to the stands to watch the next game. He found out that his new fan club was a group of players who were interested in seeing Alex’s team win. Alex sat among his new friends getting to know each other, joking around, watching the game and trading sweaty jerseys for souvenirs. Although there was a language barrier, they clearly knew they had a common bond.

Later, after the top two teams played for the championship, all the teams and their parents took the field for the awards ceremony. The host of the tournament stood in front of the table with magnificent trophies for the winning teams. He thanked all the participants, and then presented the prizes. The first, he announced, was for ‘giocatore piu giovane’. Jack Sordellini didn’t know what he was talking about, but he understood his own name and went to receive his trophy for being the “youngest player” in the tournament.

The tournament director continued and then held up the next big trophy that read ‘miglior portiere’. Alex Gianoplus heard his name being called and learned that he had been named the tournament’s ‘best goalkeeper’.

The next day, Jack and Alex waited patiently at the airport to go home. They handed in all their luggage, except for a small carry-on and, of course, two huge trophies. As they waited for their flight, they sat and talked about their week that seemed to have started so long ago.

Somehow their memory of the week changed a little. Monday and Tuesday’s workouts didn’t seem so grueling in retrospect. In their minds, the opponents were not as big as they once seemed. The terrain had shrunk a bit, and the cramps from sprinting in the hot sun could not even be remembered. Lawn-burnt knees and elbows were little more than a faded memory…

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