Liam White is a student at Northwestern University and works for Woza Soccer as a Trip Leader and Recruitment Ambassador. He co-led the Woza Zululand, South Africa, trip this past summer.
Looking to make some new friends on an upcoming trip abroad? If you consider yourself a soccer player, you’re in luck. You already share a common interest with hundreds of millions worldwide.
At Woza Soccer, we know a thing or two about how the game can create connections across cultures. In fact, we think soccer can unlock levels of personal growth that other travelers may never discover. We’ve compiled our best travel tips for soccer players. Tell us what you think!
Eight Tips For Traveling As A Soccer Player
1. Always Have A Soccer Ball With You
You can't play soccer if you don't have a ball. Stick a mini-ball in your backpack or stash a size-5 in the trunk of your car (or boot for any Brits or South Africans). I recommend not leaving for the beach without a picnic in one hand and a ball in the other. Doing so is a simple way to show initiative and you'll be the most popular person in the vicinity.
Pro Tip: pack a pump. You’ll conserve space in your luggage, and ensure your ball stays as inflated on departure day as when you first arrived. You often need to deflate your ball when bringing it with you on a flight.
2. Look For Soccer Fields In Unexpected Places
Many of the best soccer games are not played at Wembley or the Camp Nou. On any given day, a town green, city plaza, quiet street, or dusty schoolyard could play host to a back-and-forth, high drama affair befitting of a World Cup Final.
The pitches you find abroad might not look like the ones you see at home. Get creative about where you lay down those makeshift goal posts (be ready for disputes about the true height of your phantom crossbar) Start up that juggling circle where others wouldn’t think to start one. Soccer players are hiding at every turn.
Check out this video to see how people are converting all types of spaces into soccer “fields”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cf3Cjpn9qHY
3. When In Doubt, Just Kick It To A Stranger
In all likelihood, that starry-eyed kid ogling the ball as you’re juggling is desperate to get in on the action. Don’t let shyness prevent him or her from joining you. An easy ball to feet may very well make someone’s day.
The reality is that in most other countries, EVERYBODY grew up playing soccer. You won’t know whether your flight attendant has a gifted left foot or whether your safari guide is hiding a deft first touch unless you play the pass.
4. Pack Your Soccer Jerseys
Whether you support a behemoth like Barcelona or a lowly club toiling in the second division like Fulham (Come On You Whites), the badge over your heart can be an instant visual connection anywhere you go. The simple act wearing a jersey says to the world that you are a soccer fan. Don’t say we didn’t warn you; sporting the kit of a big club like Manchester United could lead to more than a few new friendships (the common bond of watching Wayne Rooney’s hairline slowly recede is a powerful one).
Nowadays, the globalization of the beautiful game has meant that geography is not a barrier to entry for fandom, so let your clothing be a conversation starter. Even an old high school jersey could be all that’s needed for someone to strike up a wonderful conversation with you!
5. You are more multi-lingual than you think
With soccer in your arsenal (pun intended), you are better equipped than most to build relationships around the globe and engage with other cultures on a deeper level. In essence, you already speak the language of soccer, the most spoken language in the world.
Beyond this reality, two of the game’s most iconic words: goal and football, translate pretty closely across nearly every continent, as this article illustrates: http://newsroom.fb.com/news/2014/07/how-do-you-say-soccer/.
Don’t forgo language class completely, but realize that your decision to love soccer instantly makes you a better communicator. Traveling with purpose requires connecting with people across cultures in order to seek to understand what excites them most. Breaking out that soccer ball is a great first step.
6. Everyone Loves A Challenge
Embrace the spirit of Rube Goldberg and become an inventor. In the era of GIFs and Vine, few things are more impressive than a perfectly executed trick shot. Play around with techniques and experiment with levels of difficulty. Who knows which casual observers will feel compelled to come over and give it a go?
A classic Woza tradition is “Chip Challenge,” a daily trick shot competition that can spring into action at any moment. Chip Challenges have been known to occur on top of Table Mountain, in JFK Airport, and in the heart of downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. To date, no challenge has been able to top the maddening, hour-long marathon along the Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town that featured a shopping cart and several flights of stairs. After attempts from local baristas and a touring English Rugby Team, Woza Founder Chris Kaimmer put it to rest with immaculate precision.
For more highlights, watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGuMxNhRfAM
7. Bring Some Extra Gear To Give Away
That ball that’s been sitting in your garage untouched for far too long? Those lightly used cleats you outgrew after sophomore year that you still have sitting in the closet? If you know you’ll cross paths with some soccer players while you’re away, see if you can make room for them in your luggage.
Check in with friends and family to see what they might be able to contribute too. Even one pair of cleats can go along way for a player with no means of purchasing a pair of their own. Girls, who tend to get usurped in the pecking order, will be especially grateful for new equipment.
One of our key partners, Sheldon Hughes, has implemented his own cleat lending library at his Mtuba Football Academy in Mtubatuba, South Africa. His players check out cleats with him before training each day, allowing every player equal access to the latest and flashiest pairs.
8. Learn Some Soccer Lingo
As we mentioned in tip #5, you’re already coming in with a decent level of language proficiency. But every footie-crazy nation has some local slang that can separate the locals from the travelers.
Learn the nicknames of the national side. South Africans cheer on Bafana Bafana, which means “Go Boys!” in Zulu. Costa Ricans fell in love with “Los Ticos” on their run to the World Cup Quarterfinals in 2014. The Brazilians live and die with their “Seleção,” and the Argentines with “La Albiceleste.” Voyage to Australia and you might find yourself becoming a fan of the Socceroos.
No game in the world is so intrinsically linked to national pride for so many countries. Travel with an open mind and an affinity for the beautiful game. See new people not as strangers, but as teammates. Whether you’re the best player on the pitch or the weakest, the act of stepping onto the pitch with a ball at your feet makes you an ally to so many.