International youth sport tours are travel programs that provide youth teams with the opportunity to travel to and compete against sport teams from other countries. In addition to competing, the team members and their families and/or friends are able to tour the countries, cities and areas where the competitions are held. These team sport competitions, therefore, afford experiences and benefits that are difficult to duplicate without international travel taking place. This paper will look at the benefits derived by team members who participated in European sport tours organized by this writer. The information for this paper has been obtained from written evaluations completed by past sport travel participants (team members, families and friends who completed the tour).
Adventure is one obvious result of international travel. Many youth sport team members have never flown before; most have never been to a foreign country where English is not the primary language; and almost all express a fear or concern about the possible problems that could and sometimes do develop. Before, during and after the trip, the sense of adventure and accomplishment exists. For some, this may be the greatest adventure of their lifetime, and an experience that will be remembered and talked about forever.
The learning that takes place during the international travel experience is another very apparent positive effect of international sport competitions. Hearing a new language, being immersed in another culture, shopping with foreign money in a store where English is not the primary language, seeing and visiting attractions that are the highlights of courses taken; visiting museums and castles; going to local festivals and concerts and living as though a resident of a foreign country provides experiences that cannot be duplicated by reading or in the classroom. International youth sport competitions afford learning experiences in geography, foreign language, sociology, math (money exchanging, metric conversions, etc.), history, art and music.
Friendships, sometimes lifelong, develop during these travel programs. Meeting with opponents and their families during and after the competitions (socials with opponents and their families are offered) allow participants to start interactions that often result in written correspondence and exchange visits. Competition often results in the reducing of psychological, sociological, cultural and language barriers that impede interaction with others. If you can play against someone on the court, you can almost always socialize with him/her off the court.
Improved eating habits also sometimes result from foreign travel. With breakfasts, lunches and dinners containing foods not commonly eaten in the United States, the boys and girls on these sport excursions often find themselves trying and enjoying soups, salads, cheeses, pastas, meats, vegetables, breads and desserts they have never previously tasted. Although, a visit to a McDonald's during the tours is always a welcome break, follow-up evaluations indicate that a number of past participants will not so readily turn away from meal offerings that would not have been considered prior to the trip.
Communication and listening skills are often enhanced during foreign travel. How does one communicate without knowing the language? Most participants quickly gather this knowledge. Learning key words and/or some basic sign language becomes a necessity. Listening and trying to understand a new friend who has a difficult time speaking English takes patience and attention. Boys and girls who are often considered shy may become more extroverted as a result of this foreign travel experience.
Increased self-reliance and self-confidence often result as by-products of these international sport competition experiences. After lengthy instructions, Team members are given the opportunity to tour with friends, but without parents, the old sections of such cities as Venice, Innsbruck, Vienna, Florence, Budapest, Interlaken and Verona. Getting along on your own in a foreign land, even for just a few hours, provides a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment. They are now world travelers.
Playing against different styles of play in different facilities can enhance the individual skill levels of the competition tour members. Youth hockey competitions in Italy provide an excellent example. Unlike U.S. hockey, Italian youth hockey rules frown on player contact, thus stressing the importance of skating and stick handling skills. In addition, youth hockey games are played on the larger Olympic size ice surface. Competing with Italian teams is a great way to improve skating and stick handling skills.
Another and the final benefit to be mentioned in this paper is the prestige of having competed in Europe that results on the participant's return to the United States. Families, friends and competitors pay notice of this accomplishment, and the fact that the participant is now considered special, because of having participated in international sports play, and having traveled abroad. The participant, of course, will have trophies and mementos of this experience, that when displayed will result in a long-term recognition.
As indicated, the benefits to boys and girls from the United States who compete in sports competitions in foreign countries are numerous. Participating in an adventurous experience, learning in a variety of disciplines, friendship development, improved eating habits, enhanced communication and listening skills, increased self-reliance, skill improvement, and enhanced prestige are included among the benefits. Although, the cost for participating on these international travel programs may be viewed high by some, the lifetime benefits that are gained could result in these youth competitions being considered as bargains.
Dr. Joe Manjone has been conducting international travel programs since 1978. He is Director of Continuing Education and also Director of Sport Travel and Tourism at the United States Sports Academ.. Dr. Manjone and the United States Sports Academy in cooperation with the Italian Sports Federation are offering youth sports competitions (for teams, families and friends) in Italy. For information on these youth sport competitions, please e-mail Dr. Manjone at JoeMan@ussa-sport.ussa.edu