In Episode 34 I first revealed our partnership with Global Image Sports and the Stoke City Potter. I interviewed Andy Foxall from the Stoke City Academy after we spent a few days together running the Maryland ID Camp together. Then in Episode 40, I talked about taking my kids to Atlanta for the National Soccer Camp. In this episode, number 76, we complete our journey through the system with an international youth soccer tour in the UK. This is the last episode in the series. In it, I will reveal the last piece of the puzzle after having gone through the entire system with both of my kids. I will take you inside both the Boy's international youth soccer tour experience and the Girl's international youth soccer tour experience.
If you ever wondered what happens after you come through one of our ID camps, this episode will be revealing.
Come with me as we go on an international soccer youth tour from takeoff to landing back in DC.
A Recap of the International Youth Soccer Tour Experience
Because you may be just joining the show in this episode, I'll give you the real quick highlights so you know the background. In 2017, I started talks with Global Image Sports. These guys are like brokers between US clubs and International Clubs. Their mission is to identify kids in the US who would like an opportunity to compete nationally, and/or ultimately train with world-class academy coaches overseas. They have partnerships with many top teams in Europe. They partner with Clubs like mine, and with our help, start the process of identifying talented players who would like to experience soccer around the world.
I don't know exactly why I received the first call I did, but our Club has been around for 31+ years. At some point in our history, I'm told we had relationships with DC United and with Washington Spirit & ended up on somebodies list. Apparently, it's a good list to be on because it lead to our becoming the only partner club in the state of Maryland.
In December of that year, I flew down to Atlanta, met with Stoke City executives - where I first met Gareth Jennings (their Academy Director at the time) and Paul Lakin (the Stoke City COO). We closed our deal and we were off to the races. Gareth hosted some in-person coach's training with Club leaders/coaches from Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey, and Texas while we were there so we got to experience first-hand what our kids would be getting from Stoke coaches.
In June and July of 2018, we ran an ID camp (see Episode 34) and a development camp. Stoke City Community Trust coach, Daniel Johnson even marched with us in our annual parade. It was a positive year all around, though for Club administrators, I have to admit that we lost money in year one putting this together. Our marketing was still young and we were not well known in the international youth soccer camp business.
The ID camp cost well under $200. For that money, we gave players either 3 or 4 days of training with world-class coaches we flew over from the UK and a t-shirt. The coaching was superb and if players had nothing more than this experience, I think it was money well spent.
The top 20% of the players at ID camp were invited to compete in the GIS National training camp at the Darlington School in Rome, GA. These camps lasted for a few days each, cost $635 per player, and came with two high-quality training kits, a ball, room and board, and several days of world-class coaching. Entire teams of Academy coaches flew over for this event and for the first time, we started seeing the confluence of the many training Academies like Stoke City, West Ham, and the Wolverhampton Wolves.
In my case, both my son and daughter qualified - along with one other player from my High School aged team, a handful of other kids from other clubs who came to our Maryland camp for the experience. Check out the video recap I posted in the show notes from Atlanta.
Everyone had a great time. As a coach, I was invited to a coach's training symposium while I was there and got some more excellent in-person coaching instruction from Gareth Jennings for the second time.
The top 20% of the girls and the top 20% of the boys from National Camp were then invited to participate in what they call the Boys Elite Trip or the Girls Elite Trip. Both of my kids once again qualified and that is where our journey in this episode begins.
The Boys and Girls Elite Trips
Notifications come soon after National Camp. It was right about this time when I realized that our journey had placed us in a pool that all of our European partner clubs can draw from - not just Stoke City. Our partnership was still primarily with Stoke in the state of Maryland, but once our kids were in the network, they can end up training with any of the Academies.
My son was invited, for example to a combined Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wolves Academy training experience. My Daughter was invited to an all-girls trip that took place on the same dates, but in different locations and with many different camps.
He would train in Compton Park, Stoke City Academy Dome, Stoke City Academy in Clayton Wood, play futsal in the Birmingham Futsal Arena, and play small sided games against local teams, in this case from Ossett United at Dimple Wells Sports Complex in Ossett.
She would train at the Stoke City Academy Dome, a Chesterton High School (under Stoke City ladies Academy coaches), play games against Nottingham Forrest Ladies at Basford United Football Club, train at Wolves Academy Training Ground, at Watford FC training ground, at the Arsenal FC Training Ground, at the West Ham United Training Ground in Beckton, then back to Watford Training Ground, AGP Meriden.
The European trip is considerably more expensive than the previous two. Parents get in on the cost. We spent $2,200 per player and about $2,000 per parent. That cost did not include flights which cost us another $769.53 per person round trip. The European trip benefits included several nice training kits for the kids, transportation throughout the week, room and board in relatively nice accommodations, stadium tours to several stadiums, twice per day training, some sightseeing, and at least one professional English Premier League match. All said and done, I found the cost was pretty reasonable.
Our family showed up two hours early, passports in hand, for our flights out of DC to Philly at 6:46 PM on Saturday, March 30th. British Airways (owned by American Airlines) took off from Philly at 9:05 PM for an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, and arrived in Manchester at 9:09 AM the next morning. If you do this flight yourself, get some sleep on the plane, because there is no rest once you land.
The boys and the girls were separated right away to start our adventures. The boys were transported via a double-decker bus to Madeley Court Hotel in Telford. The girls were whisked away to Best Western Moat House hotel in Stoke. The girls were miffed they didn't get a double-decker bus, but the rest of their trip more than made up for it!
Once at the hotels, everyone checked in, the girls got their training kits: nice multiple shirts, shorts, and sweats - while the boy's kits were misplaced somewhere in transit. They would catch up with us in a few days. Everyone got some lunch, got dressed in training gear, and went immediately to their first training sessions. Girls went off to Stoke City Academy Dome and the boys went off to Wolves Academy in Compton Park.
Training sessions happened twice per day for 90 minutes to two-hour sessions each. There is not a single player who won't be well bruised and leg beaten by the end of the trip. Be prepared to train hard and to look forward to getting legs iced or at least elevated after dinner each night.
Day one, March 31st closed with returning to the hotel at 5:45 PM, dinner at 7 PM, orientation at 8 PM, and lights out at 9 PM. Everyone was beyond tired and we were happy for whatever bed was available.
Day 2 kicked off for the boys at 7 AM for breakfast. We boarded our double-decker for Stoke City Academy Dome at 8 AM, and the boys trained from 9 AM to 10:30 AM. We boarded our bus again - this time for the Bet 365 Stadium and we enjoyed a Stadium tour from 10:45 - 11:45 AM. We ate a packed lunch at noon while on the bus back to Stoke City Academy Dome for training session #3 from 12:30 - 2 PM. Stoke ran a workshop for the boys from 2:10 - 2:45. We returned to the hotel at 3 PM, ate dinner at 6 PM and lights out at 10 PM.
The girls had breakfast at 8 AM, transferred to Stoke City Academy Dome for training from 10:30 AM until noon, ate a packed lunch to bet365 Stadium for their stadium tour. Then they got to visit the Club shop for 15-20 minutes before jumping back on the bus to return to their hotel at 2 PM. They got a brief rest, then boarded their bus for Chesterton High School, where they trained from 6 PM to 8 PM, returned to the hotel, ate dinner at 8:30 PM and were lights out at 10:30PM
Each day followed a similar routine. Breakfast, bus, training, a stadium tour or other feature, packed lunch, more training, hotel, and lights out.
The boys visited bet 365, Manchester United, Birmingham Futsal Arena, Molineux (mol-en-new), Compton Park, Warwick Castle, took in a game Huddersfield Town F.C. vs Leicester (Lester) City, transferred to the Mercure Sandback Hotel and flew out of Manchester Airport for the US on Sunday morning.
The girls visited bet 365, Chesterton High School, Emirates Stadium for a stadium tour of Arsenal FC, toured West Ham United, ate at Frankie and Benny's, took in Manchester City vs Brighton at Wembley Stadium, and flew out of London Heathrow on Sunday morning.
Getting everyone back together again in Maryland was an opportunity for storytelling, sharing photos, comparing leg bruises, and generally enjoying being back in time to rest. Our International youth soccer tour was done, the kid's confidence was at an all-time high, and we were all tired.
Adults spent a lot of time on buses and sitting or standing around watching kids and chatting. Two families came over on the tour sick and at least one of them shared a powerful bug with me. It didn't really hit me until the day before we flew out, but it was so bad that it took out my voice completely - which, in case you were wondering, is why there was no show two weeks ago. I was physically incapable of recording anything but squeaks. Thank you for your patience as I recovered.
Boys Elite Trip
Girls Elite Trip
Lessons learned from Our International Youth Soccer Tour
1. Be Prepared. The weather was a lot colder than I think most parents were expecting. It may not be cold when you go, but be sure to check the weather and pack accordingly. My family and I came pretty well prepared for the weather we encountered, but I saw a lot of parents suffer. We had our power transformers, plenty of cash that could be converted into local currency, and good neck pillows for the transport.
2. Be Flexible. A lot has to be coordinated between the US and the host country to pull off a quality international youth soccer tour. Hotels are at a different standard than many Americans are used to. The food is different. The driving was different. And not all of the other parents on the trip were people we might voluntarily hang out with under other circumstances. I also met some really cool people I might like to call friends.
Once again, I noticed the higher the level of competition, the more competitive and critical parents can be. There were dads on the boys trip that made fun of this academy or that academy and put them down as if they were not good enough for their kids. Because Stoke City had been relegated last year, for example, they thought it funny to loudly proclaim that they were going to get training in how to be relegated. This kind of unsportsmanlike behavior is something I'm proud to say, both my son and I rolled our eyes at, but I had concern for the group of 10-year-old players e had on the bus with us. They clearly soaked up whatever dads were saying and started echoing their behavior among themselves.
The truth is, training academies have very little to do with First team performance. Many Academies, like Stoke, are top notch training academies, the train kids who get scooped up by other First team clubs down the road. Stoke doesn't have the deep pockets that a club like Manchester United has, so Stoke may train great players, but they go on to play elsewhere. This, I discovered, is a pretty common thing over in the UK. Check Academy standings when one Academy plays another and you'll find that Academies with less money are beating Academy's with more money and vice versa, but there is little correlation between Academy and the First team performance.
- Initial ID camp runs between $135 and $200.
- National Camp runs $635 + travel and lodging costs. Car pool if you can. Here is a handy gas estimator: https://www.dollartimes.com/road-trip/1000
- The European Elite tour runs $2,200 + a pane ticket and spending money.
All in, if your player qualifies at each level and completes the entire experience, you're looking at around $3,168 per player. Add $2,768 to that number if mom or dad goes on the European trip too.
Car pooling to Atlanta, players flying unaccompanied (we had plenty of players do this), and sharing hotel costs can reduce the cost of an experience like this by several hundred dollars. Players will need their own set of shin guards and cleats for outdoor, turf, and indoor courts, and enough luggage space to transport everything. Balls, water, and training clothes were all provided.
For my family of four with two qualifying athletes and two parents who wanted to enjoy the experience alongside our kids, we were all in for about $13,625 - not including new luggage we got for the trip or items we picked up at the gift shops in England.
This is what it's really all about, right? Our kids came back from these trips with an increased level of confidence and some pretty cool memories. They had to put in the work themselves to qualify through each stage so while they didn't contribute financially to this adventure, they did contribute sweat equity. The trip left them feeling like they had earned something of value at the end of the day.
I've met some really cool people along the way and am proud to count people like Andy Foxall, Gareth Jennings, and Daniel Johnson among my European friends. We saw a part of Europe on a safe and completely curated way. We got into the locker rooms of multiple English Premiere League top teams and learned a ton about the psychology of the Home vs Away lockers in each venue.
The travel was one thing, but the knowledge and insights we gained having been on the inside of some of the world's greatest football academies and game venues has bonded our family in some new ways.
We didn't walk this path so that our kids could play professional soccer for an English Premiere league team. We did run into and play with several players who were pursuing that path. Some were extremely talented by US standards. We had one player on tour with the boys group who was just cut in the second to last round of the MLS selection process. This kid wasn't done yet and was still pressing with everything he has to improve his game and make the cut. I have confidence that if he stays the path, he'll make it one day.
Today, my kids can't wait to take to the pitch again here in America. They learned skills and played against a calibre of player that will make their game here in the US orders of magnitude more fun. My son already played his first game since we've been back and his report after the game was that he felt strong from the number 6 position he usually plays all the way up to attack. For the first time, he was showing signs of real confidence up the field and was asking his coach to let him have more space on the pitch.
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