Ever wondered what sporting athletes go through when they’re constantly on the road. And no, I don’t mean travelling to the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva from Arima every day for training. I’m talking about the real deal whereas a single athlete or a member of a team, persons constantly have to be on flights in between countries either within one continent or from one to the other.
The senior men’s football team will journey to Aichi, Japan at the end of the month for an international friendly and then fly straight to Los Angeles, USA to continue its build-up for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. The contingent of thirty-five persons including players and staff will then journey for matches between Minnesota, Cleveland and Kansas within an eight-day span which means Dennis Lawrence’s men will be on the road for roughly one month and maybe more depending on how far the team progresses in the competition. There’s the West Indies cricket team preparing for the ICC World Cup which has its own challenges during the next few weeks. The Relay team just returned from a triumphant run in Yokohama, Japan.
Playing sports is a huge commitment, and athletes often miss out on other types of travel opportunities and life experiences because of their dedication to the game. Persons miss out on birthdays, family occasions, graduations, anniversaries, funerals and more. But there’s the other side to it as well. Travelling together has an immense impact on a group, both athletes and staff members. The bonds created are immense. The opportunity to spend time together allows space for teammates to bond while sharing unique and life-changing experiences.
There are cross-cultural connections where persons do not need to speak the same language to survive or communicate but they get to learn new things or forms of communicating. Playing sports in another country means new competition, new conditions and a chance to gain new skills. There’s a unique opportunity to share strategies from athletes around the world who’ve grown up playing the sport and learn moves that teams can eventually use in another environment or competition.
While one could encounter an accident or even a helicopter crash at home, travel also exposes us to the kind of dangers we wouldn't normally experience. Staying in that dodgy area of Caracas? Sure, why not? The footballers won’t have to worry about that later this month after the international friendly was cancelled.
Sometimes we are in a particular area where overnight shootings on the street outside "happen all the time" according to the liaison officer and are "nothing to worry about". Getting out of our comfort zone is the best way to learn about life, other cultures and often provides times we will remember forever.
What about the actual flight. Do you ever get fully accustomed or comfortable flying whether it be a two-hour or a 12-hour flight?
I remember being on a flight departing San Jose, Costa Rica after a World Cup qualifier in 2005. All the big names were on that flight, from Leo Beenhakker to Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, Dennis Lawrence and Stern John among the rest. And less than twenty minutes into the flight a fire started in the cabin, smoke visible and there had to be a sudden emergency landing at a military airport somewhere in what appeared to be a jungle.
The entire T&T team and other passengers were stranded there for just over six hours until another plane was sent to pick us up. One wonders if you really get over such an experience. There's also the issues of delayed flights, loss or late arrival of baggage, unsuitable accommodation and bad meals. Fortunately most times these things are ironed out.
But as sporting professionals, we know that there is a whole planet to explore and doing so will help us grow in every way, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Because, while we may not end up as prosperous as wealthy as Bill Gates or Richard Branson, we'll be rich in experience and we want to push the boundaries while travelling and leave our usual caution behind. We aren't so cultural when at home but when we are in Paris or even Havana, we never have enough time to finish strolling around the cultural highlights. But while travel might shape our perspectives on life, where we come from defines us. Our friends and family keep us grounded. Even if you're ready to flee the nest again the moment the fuzzy feeling of home wearing off, the contrast between being "away" and being "home" puts your travels in perspective.
They say tolerance is a virtue and a life skill. If you end up in an office or pretty much any workplace, the lessons of travel will equip you well to deal with difficult people and sports is an avenue to achieve this. You may even develop sympathy for your socially inept family member. Plus you will have stories and stories make the world go around.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He is also currently a CONCACAF Competitions Media Officer and has travelled extensively, experiencing and learning from different cultures and lifestyles because of sport and media over the past 20 years. He is also a certified media trainer for athletes and a member of the FIFA/CIES Sport Management cohort.