There is no question that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. World Atlas estimates that soccer has about four billion fans globally. That’s not even close to the second sport on the list – cricket with an estimated 2.5 billion fans.
Maybe it’s not surprising then that student travelers regularly talk about moments when they connected with locals by playing soccer. Since the sport is inexpensive and can be played almost everywhere, soccer matches happen in nearly every corner of the globe. And since it’s easy to play and involves lots of teamwork and action, people are more likely to connect with each other and less likely to be left out.
Alumna Annalise Bell found this when she traveled to Morocco and was helping paint a two-room schoolhouse in the Atlas Mountains.
“Each day when we got down there, there were always children playing. Soccer was the most popular thing for them to be playing. I have played soccer my whole life, so clearly this was exciting for me to see,” Bell said. “In the moments that we were all kicking the ball around it did not matter what language we spoke, all that mattered was that we all loved playing soccer.”
A Travel Program for Team Athletes Unfolds
These types of experiences led Rustic Pathways to create a unique program that combines sports and service. Soccer and Service in Costa Rica offers competitive matches for high school athletes, along with adventure activities and meaningful service.
Chaviva Nicholas, who did the program in 2019, found herself in the unusual position of being the only girl on her Rustic travel team. (which is unlikely to happen in 2022 since an almost even number of male and female athletes are already registered for the available program in July!). Regardless, in her essay Just One of the Boys, she shares how the program helped her grow.
“Throughout the trip, I noticed a shift in the way I held myself. I found myself not only developing my soccer skills, but I also found myself gaining more confidence both on and off the field,” Nicholas said.
This chance to find determination and tenacity comes from a variety of opportunities. Aside from soccer, students also enjoy adventure activities like white water rafting and ziplining, along with worthwhile service projects.
In the summer of 2019, students continued the construction of changing rooms at a new soccer field, along with maintenance around the field in the small, rural community of El Poró in Turrialba. These projects help the local community association generate income from rentals of the field for tournaments and the communal area for other activities. The money finances other important development projects in the village.
In addition, students worked on the construction of a drainage system to preserve a new road in La Paz and to protect the houses alongside it. They also worked on the construction of a wall in front of the Center for Civic Acts and Culture at the La Paz Public School.
Giacomo Ferroni from Rome, Italy enjoyed these types of activities when he journeyed to Costa Rica back in 2016 for both the Rustic soccer program and the Surf and Service program.
“I had an amazing experience. I came home so appreciative of my comforts and really happy to have seen another reality!” Ferroni said.
Morgan Nascone who experienced the soccer program in 2017 echoed similar thoughts.
“Traveling with Rustic on the Traveling Soccer and Service Team was the best two weeks of my entire life because of everything I got to do and everything I experienced,” Nascone said.
For athletes who have dealt with tryout and game pressure, the great thing is that none of that occurs on the road. There are no coach evaluations, chances for cuts or placement on a lower level team than desired – just the joy of playing a game that everybody loves in a beautiful location.
It’s also a chance to make memorable friends, as Zach Gross found in Peru when he befriended a young villager through the love of the game.
“A young boy who appeared to be about ten years old tugged on my arm and asked me in Spanish if I wanted to play soccer with him,” Gross said “Little did I know that this moment would be the beginning of a precious and life-changing bond.”
For more information about this unique program, please visit our Soccer and Service page.