2014 FIFA World Cup

It’s over and as the world renowned English soccer player and commentator, Gary Lineker, has famously stated, “Soccer is a game played between 22 players, it lasts 90 minutes with a potential of extra time with penalties, and the Germans always win!”  How true indeed.

This was a glorious four weeks and a sort of coming of age in America.  It was a great reintroduction of a game that has captivated the rest of the world and at long last has officially captivated the USA.  More Americans travelled to Brazil than the citizens of any other country to watch the games.  No easy feat as we need a visa to get into Brazil.  Twenty-three million people watched the USA vs. Belgium game which was more than the finals of the NBA or the World Series.  Over twenty-six million people from the USA watched the World Cup Final.

In a country with four distinct seasons of sports and very little move to maneuver in between, 23 million kids play soccer and there are three million registered playing at soccer club level.  Americans have adopted European teams.  Every game of the Premiership is shown live here along with the Spanish and Italian leagues.  Young fans wear t-shirts with Messi and Ronaldo written on the back and casual conversations in bars are now informed conversations about soccer from people who are passionate and truly love the game.

To see this change in the USA is remarkable and it is only going to get better.  The Copa America will be hosted in the USA in 2016.  The MLS is expanding its franchises and is now playing to full stadiums.  In a country this big with a diverse population with roots in this game, there is no doubt that we will find our Messi’s and Ronaldo’s within the next few years.

How exciting was the World Cup?!  It was unbelievable.

It was the first time that we ever had water breaks, first time we ever saw our referees with a can of shaving cream to mark the 10-yard spot for free kicks, first time a player who bit another player claimed that the other player had fallen on his teeth, first time that so many teams were bounced during the preliminary games (notably Spain, England, and Portugal), and it was the first time a host nation had ever been thrashed so badly in a semifinal by the eventual winners.  The beautiful game was being played by the Germans and Dutch and not the Brazilians.

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One of our Group Leaders, Jamie Dewaele, was lucky enough to go to the World Cup Final in Rio last Sunday.  Jamie is a social studies teacher in California.  I had bumped into him in Versailles this past spring.  He is an avid soccer fan and a Chelsea supporter and he is helping us with our plans to expand our GoPlay program.  He shared his experiences and the excitement of being there with us and will be posting a blog on the GoPlaywebsite shortly.

It all seemed to fly by.  The crowds, the fun, the heartache, and the incredible coverage on TV.  Thank you ESPNfor great commentary, great analysis, and extraordinary camera work.  You truly brought the beautiful game alive.  If hockey gained its growing-up status due to high-definition and the fact that we could actually spot the puck, then soccer gained its mass market in America through the 70 cameras that filmed every moment and replayed in slow motion the dramatic goals, fouls, and interactions that make this game so fascinating to watch.  I will miss it but never mind…the season starts again in three weeks!

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Running Away From Home: Exercising On Your Overseas Trip

For many people, travel plans provide the perfect excuse to abandon their fitness regime, and take a well-earned break from sweating it out at the gym. For others—particularly if working towards a particular race or event—the training can’t take a vacation.

If you fall into the latter camp, here are a few ideas about how you can incorporate exercise, particularly running, when you travel. Rather than it being a chore, it can be a great way to experience a new location, and make that post-rungelato taste even sweeter.

Get out there!

If you are a keen traveler and a keen runner, it’s a great idea to combine the two to make the most of your time in your destination. Finding interesting running routes in a new location gives you a unique perspective on the place you are visiting. Whether you’re running along the South Bank of the Thames in London, around the Tuileries in Paris, or in the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome, running is such a great way of exploring. And the simple fact is that it you can cover much more ground that way!

Planning a route is probably the most difficult part. If you are staying at a hotel, the front desk may have information about running routes in the vicinity. There are also an increasing number of tour companies, particularly in major tourist destinations, that offer sightseeing running tours. If your hotel isn’t aware of any, check with the local tourist office or your old friend Google. Speaking of which…

The internet is your friend

If you want to run while you are away on your trip, a bit of research and planning before you leave makes things so much easier. There are so many websites that can help you find running routes in unfamiliar cities. One of the most popular sites for runners is MapMyRun. This site can help you keep track of your own activity, and—most helpfully for the traveling runner—you can search other people’s running routes in locations all over the world. They boast of having 70 million routes to choose from worldwide, so wherever you’re going, you should be able to find a route that suits you. Other sites that feature running routes overseas include Runners World,Run Keeper and some of the destination forums on Trip Advisor have discussions about the best places to go running (if not for your destination, you could start a discussion yourself). You could also try searching for running blogs written by someone who lives in the place you’re traveling to. There’s nothing like tapping into local expertise!

Head to a running store

If your internet research and enquiries at your hotel front desk have drawn a blank, try heading to a local running store. Most major cities will have at least one or two stores specializing in running gear and they often form a hub for the local running community. The staff working there will definitely be running enthusiasts and can help advise you on good running routes, local running clubs you can get involved with and any hints or tips you should know.

Hit the gym

If you’re nervous about running in an unfamiliar city, try hitting the gym instead. If you happen to be staying in a hotel with a gym, great. Most hotel gyms will at least have a treadmill and exercise bike so you can get some workout time in pretty easily. If not, check out local gyms in the area as you may be able to purchase a guest pass. Check with your hotel’s concierge—they’ll be able to tell you if the hotel has an arrangement with a local gym for discounted guest passes. Failing that, how about other sports facilities? Local universities and colleges may have a running track that’s open for public use. Again, a bit of pre-trip research will make all the difference.

Schedule your run carefully

Not unlike when you’re at home, if you schedule your exercise for first thing in the morning, your chances of success are much greater. After a day of walking around sightseeing, sampling local cuisine and taking part in cultural activities, the temptation to skip your workout will be great. An early morning run can also help you avoid the heat of the day, which is particularly important if you’re heading to a hotter climate than you’re used to at home.

Take part in a local event

There are so many races organized throughout the year, particularly in large cities, that you might be able to take part in a 5K, 10K or even a half marathon while you are on your trip. An officially organized race is a great way to run a safe, well planned route, which often will take you through a particularly scenic part of your destination. You’ll get to feel part of the local community too. ParkRun, which currently operates in nine countries including the UK, Ireland, Denmark and South Africa, organizes a 5K run every Saturday morning. It’s free to take part and easy to get involved with—just sign up online and show up on the day.

Running is not the only way

If you want to incorporate fitness into your trip, running is a great way, but it’s not the only way. There are plenty of opportunities to combine exercise and sightseeing—bike tours, hiking, kayaking—you really don’t have to limit yourself to sneaker power. If yours is a city destination, bike tours are an especially great way of seeing as much of the city as possible. If the thought of an organized bike tour leaves you cold, more and more towns and cities (over 500 and counting—Wikipedia has a complete list) have bike sharing schemes where you can rent out bikes at low cost, and can return them to anywhere else in the city where there’s a bike docking station.

Finally, be safe out there

Just like running at home, you should take precautions to make sure you’re safe when heading out for a run. Bring a phone and some money in case you get lost or injured when out running and need to get a taxi back. Needless to say, make sure any valuables you do take with you are secure and out of sight in a zipped pocket, or a secure money belt or fanny pack. Grab a business card from the front desk of your hotel so you have the address in case you do lose your way. If running in a city, pay close attention to traffic and the rules of the road, which may be very different from home. Make sure you tell someone that you are heading out for a run—not only is this a good idea from a safety point of view, but once you’ve told someone you plan to go running, it’s good motivation to actually do it!

Do you have any top tips for running while on a trip overseas? Let us know in the comments below.