As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Discover ... how it feels to be immersed in soccer when you experience soccer abroad. The world is made up of individuals united by a shared passion and love for the game of soccer. All travel has its advantages … All Travel makes the mind work, but soccer travel makes the heart soar.
For a youth soccer player seeking to develop to his or her highest potential on the field, as well as off the field, the experience of traveling internationally is invaluable. Playing against teams from different countries provides special opportunities for player development. Watching and participating in youth soccer abroad where soccer is (almost) a religion provides a real learning experience on the world's most popular game. Whether you travel purely for the soccer training or can take advantage of turning it into a family holiday, playing youth soccer in Europe creates a lasting impression that develops a player’s awareness of his or her place as a global citizen.
Are American youth players able to compete abroad? Are we good enough? This is the silent question floating in the air. The answer is yes.
American youth soccer players have become more respected internationally and now top coaches like well known coach Tony Carr, Director of the West Ham United Academy, say they have been “surprised by the quality seen on the fields in America.”
SoccerNation spoke with Loek van Zijl, a lifelong traveler, former soccer player and founder of Premier International Tours, about the benefits of international travel. A leading expert in this field, van Zijl has helped nearly 80,000 soccer players play soccer abroad.
Premier International Tours founder Loek van Zijl
Diane Scavuzzo: Why should youth soccer players travel abroad?
Loek van Zijl: You should travel to become a better person and maybe a better soccer player.
It is important to see how people from the other side of the world look at the world’s most popular sport. Soccer players learn to appreciate the game of soccer from a totally different perspective after an international trip.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you were a youth player, you traveled with your soccer team. What are some of your best memories and why was it so special to travel?
Loek van Zijl: As a teenage soccer player from the Netherlands, our club organized an international exchange with a German club each year. These exchanges made a tremendous impression on me. I still remember the friends we made, the first time I ate food I had never heard about and the different social environment and sights I was visiting. Bonding and socializing, and sharing our passion for the game of soccer with my teammates and German players left great memories.
One of my fondest of memories happened several decades ago when I was working at one of our international tournaments. During the event, a French player met an American player and on the day of departure they wanted to exchange addresses. They had a pen but no paper. One player grabbed a piece of fruit from their lunch packet and wrote down their address on this. After this they both left to go home with big smiles on their faces. I realized then that I am working each day to help kids create happy, lifelong memories and friends.
Dallas Texans celebrate winning the San Marino Cup
Diane Scavuzzo: What inspired you to move to the USA and launch your business?
Loek van Zijl: I have been organizing international soccer tours since 1980. Back then, I was living in the Netherlands and working for Euro-Sportring.
In 1994 I was offered the opportunity to move to the USA to be closer to our market and serve our customers better. Together with my wife and two children, we moved to the USA and have, since then, been living the American Dream.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you specialize in travel for soccer players?
Loek van Zijl: Yes, and I have been doing that since day one ... I started this travel business on September 1, 1980. Our organization is a soccer travel organization, and we are sanctioned by US Soccer and NSCAA. While we do work with lacrosse, rugby and basketball players, we specialize in international trips for soccer teams and players. The soccer program is the backbone of our company.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the specific benefits of traveling to Europe for a soccer match
Loek van Zijl: Sitting in a soccer stadium with 50,000-80,000 people is an out of this world experience. The community singing together, cheering, etc. is an unbelievable experience.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why should teams or families use your company?
Loek van Zijl: I feel that we offer more than anybody else. We offer more tours and more destinations, and we are the official International Team Travel Partner of U.S. Soccer. Because of our volume, we offer more competitive prices most of the times. We have more experience than any other organization in the USA. Our sole mission is to provide soccer players and teams with a soccer experience of a lifetime that exceeds their expectations.
Diane Scavuzzo: It seems that there more soccer tournament opportunities for Boys than Girls. Is that true, and if so, why?
Loek van Zijl: Yes, it is, simply because of the fact that there are more boys’ teams than girls’ teams in Europe. However, girls’ soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in many countries right now. There are also specific regions in Europe like Northern Europe and Scandinavia which have a strong girls’ soccer culture and good teams, so finding good girls’ competition in Europe is easier than it was.
Dallas Texans take time out from San Marino Cup competition to play beach soccer by the Adriatic Sea.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is there a best age for travel? For example, are U12 players too young?
Loek van Zijl: Not really. Every age has its pros and cons. One of the beautiful things of traveling with a U12 team is that parents and siblings can join and therefore are able to make it a family soccer vacation.
Diane Scavuzzo: When your company presents a trip, is there flexibility?
Loek van Zijl: Absolutely! With Premier International Tours, there is no such a thing as a standard soccer tour – a "take it or leave it" situation. A soccer tour is too special for teams, so we tailor each team’s tour around the specific wishes and goals of the team to create the best trip for that team. Next to this, we have an in house travel agency and can accommodate most deviation requests from our participants.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are some of the least expensive places to visit?
Loek van Zijl: Travel expenses are always related to the season or travel period. For example, prices in the spring are more competitive than the summer. Southern European countries like Spain are a little bit more competitive with prices than Northern European countries.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do most people try to go to England because there is no language barrier?
Loek van Zijl: Yes. And of course because of the EPL, the world’s best-known soccer league.
Real So Cal celebrate winning the Gothia Cup in Sweden
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you have any tips for traveling to a country where you do not know the language?
Loek van Zijl: Most people nowadays speak at least some English, but we do also encourage teams to travel to countries where English is not the primary language. That way the kids can step outside of their comfort zone and learn more and use problem solving skills more to help them grow as a person. In addition to this, most of our tours are staffed with representatives who always speak three languages: their native language, English and soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can clubs or teams try to request specific cities, pro clubs or tournaments they wish to visit or participate in?
Loek van Zijl: Absolutely! We offer tours to most European countries as well as Brazil, Argentina and China.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many players has your company helped tour Europe?
Loek van Zijl: It is an estimate, but I would say we have had between 60,000 and 80,000 soccer players and families travel with our organization.
Diane Scavuzzo: Traveling can be expensive. What are some of the best ideas for fundraising?
Loek van Zijl: We offer some great fundraisers at no charge to help players raise money. People can visit the Fundraising Guide on our website for detailed information. If people work hard they can raise at least half of the tour costs using our fundraisers.
Loek van Zijl at Mt. Rushmore, which he considers the most iconic monument in America
Diane Scavuzzo: How much spending money should players bring when they travel internationally?
Loek van Zijl: The more you give your kids, the more they need, just like it is at home. We feel that $150.00 to $200.00 per week should be more than enough.
Diane Scavuzzo: Does sightseeing add a lot of additional expenses to the trip?
Loek van Zijl: Many attractions are already included. Players should be able to cover additional expenses from the $150.00 – $200.00 pocket money we recommend.
Diane Scavuzzo: You are an expert on traveling with a soccer team, what is a good tip for our readers?
Loek van Zijl: Sometimes players like to have down time to just hang out and have an opportunity to talk to each other and talk to other players from all over the world. Don’t “over plan” your trip. Relax and enjoy the time.
Diane Scavuzzo: You are also a tournament director? What else do you do in the world of youth soccer?
Loek van Zijl: Yes, we organize international soccer tournaments such as the Manchester United (NIKE) Premier Cup and the Dallas International Girls Cup.
In addition to this we organize International College Tours, FAN tours and Coaches Education tours. If readers want more information, please go to our Premier International Tours website. If you mention that you heard about Premier International Tours through SoccerNationNews, your group will get a $200 travel credit per group if you have not traveled with Premier International Tours before.
As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign." Today, united by the shared passion for soccer, there are just the soccer players waiting for the game on the foreign pitch.
By: Nutmegs4fun on 10/23/12
Loek helped send me to Europe were I ended up spending 4 and a half years playing soccer. I highly recommend Loek and Premier International Tours if planning a team trip to Europe.