It’s a big piece of the culture and a way of life for many of the young boys and girls who dream of playing for their country at some point.
It’s a game that is revered by people in that country like hockey is put on a pedestal in Canada from coast to coast.
A group of 19 players — nine male and 10 female — who suit up for the Western Wolves in the provincial 15U soccer leagues recently returned from a trip to Madrid to get a better sense of how the game is played at a higher level and what soccer-mad countries like Spain do to prepare its athletes to play the game at the elite level.
“It was amazing. It was like the best trip I’ve ever been on,” Sarah McNeil-Lamswood, one of the female players to make the trip, said Monday morning.
McNeil-Lamswood, a Stephenville native, appreciated a chance to share the soccer field with top coaches from Madrid in a number of training sessions at both the Real Madrid training facility and Spanish national team, and play a couple of friendly matches against some local girls. Two other highlights for her was being among the 89,000 people who watched the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup with Real Madrid taking on Barcelona FC and checking out UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Segovia and Toledo when they weren’t kicking the soccer ball around.
She had no idea how big soccer was in that country until she experienced it for herself and she’s thankful for a chance to find out first-hand and get to learn some new techniques and skills from some really good coaches.
“I learned about how soccer is a culture in Spain. Soccer is their everything and to see the difference between Canada’s soccer and Spain is crazy,” she said.
Two years ago Doug Piercey was one of the coaches/parents who brought up the idea of bringing some of the elite players over to Europe to expose them to some of the best coaching and training methods used by countries that live and breathe the game.
Through the city’s minor soccer association uniform sponsor Adidas, Piercey and company were able to organize a trip through Generation Adidas International, who organize soccer tours for youth teams to major soccer giants sponsored by Adidas such as Real Madrid and Manchester United.
“We wanted them to experience football in a different environment where it’s like a religion,” Piercey said.
Mark Randell of Corner Brook was only too glad to participate in a chance to see the game from a different vantage point and he appreciated all the work done by Piercey and his group to make it happen.
Randell said it was pretty cool to see how people in Madrid practice and play so much harder than players at home in Canada.
He has one clear image that came to mind when he was asked if he got a feel for how much soccer is loved in that part of the world.
“Everywhere you went there was little kids dribbling the ball up the street. I guess it’s just part of their lifestyle,” Randell said.
He learned a lot of new things and had a lot of fun on and off the field, but more importantly he has a better idea of what it takes to be committed to the game
“You can tell they put a lot into and they obviously get a lot back,” he said.