With each new year comes new challenges. Whether it be a small recruiting class or a change in the academic schedule on campus, a life changing event for one of our players or a new facility being built. Each year we, as coaches, have a million responsibilities in order to prepare our team for our season and our players for their life beyond the college game. So why on Earth would you want to add the strain of fundraising, planning, and preparing for a trip abroad with your team?
The idea of taking the Randolph-Macon College Women’s Lacrosse team abroad really came out of our school’s January Term travel abroad program. In my 6 years at R-MC I have had players miss the first week to two weeks of practice each year to participate in classes that travel to Brazil, Australia, England, and Italy (to name a few). These classes have helped fulfill major requirements, general education requirements, and really, temporarily cure the travel bug for our players. As a Division III, two sport athlete, myself, my staff and I fully support our players taking advantage of these amazing opportunities, but we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have the whole team the first day of practice? Maybe we should just take the whole team on a trip?
As we started very early planning stages of taking the team abroad, we worked with a company that had a mission we believed in and we were comfortable with. Global Players was beyond patient with us as we figured out what was the best path for us. My first e-mail exchange with Tara Michael was way back in February of 2015 and I had been texting with Jess Thorton for months before that!
The negatives were the things that held me back initially. How would we possibly raise the money for this huge cost? What are the million things that could go wrong with eighteen 19-22 year-olds in Europe? Would this take away from the special things we normally do during the year? How would our freshmen feel coming into a team that had just had this amazing bonding experience? What if one of our players can’t go (it happened!)?
Eventually, after three years of discussion and saving fundraising money, I felt I was ready to pitch the idea to my athletic director. With his support, I was able to bring it to our parents. I knew that if they were not on board, this whole thing fell apart! With their support, we moved forward and officially signed our contracts to spend 10 days in Ireland and Portugal in August 2019.
As we got closer and closer to the trip, people always ended their conversations with me about the trip with the question, “Will you go again in 3 years as per NCAA rules?” My answer was always the same, “Ask me when we get back with everyone intact.”
Now that we are back, people have held up their end of the bargain and asked if we would go again. And the answer is a resounding yes! I need only read the Instagram post of one of our sophomore midfielders following the Grow the Game Lacrosse Clinic we ran in Lisbon, Portugal to remind me why:
“The little kids had pure joy and curiosity. Nothing about the fact that we were from two different places and spoke two different languages put a bump in our communication or connection. I was incredibly touched by this little girl. Her English was little to none, however she was able to tell me she loved me and lacrosse. I am so incredibly honored to have had the ability to be a part of the experience she had today. I was about her age when I first picked up a stick and I may have forgotten the actual events of that day, but I have never forgotten the feeling that came along with playing the game. Even if she never plays again, I know that we have made an impact on her life and today will be something she remembers for a very long time.” – McKenzie Hynson ‘22
Did things go wrong on our trip? Absolutely! We barely made it on our flight due to some travel difficulties, our sticks never made it to Ireland, four of our players didn’t have their luggage for the first four days of the trip, and we almost missed surfing in Portugal due to some rough weather. Honestly, these little hiccups made the positives of the trip even more exciting and reminded us how resilient our whole team is!
This was the experience of a lifetime for our staff and team. For the players, being able to travel with their best friends, some of whom had never been out of the country before and being able to spread the game they love was something they will never forget. For our staff, it reinforced all of the foundations and practices we ask our team to embody every day. They made us incredibly proud each day that we were away.
For those who are contemplating a trip like this with your team, I would highly recommend it and am happy to talk with anyone about our experience. My three tips are:
1) Start fundraising before you even think about where to go and when!
2) Get the parents on board before you let the team know it is a possibility.
3) Don’t let the stress of planning and fundraising take away from the incredibly experience that both you and your team will have!