Here’s what I knew about Argentina before going:
1. They speak the beautiful Spanish language
2. Lionel Messi
3. Soccer isn’t just a sport…it’s a language and a religion
I was more than thrilled with the opportunity of getting to travel to Argentina and assist with a Coaches Training Clinic. My family and I originally met Mariano Zegarelli in 2011 at the Families of SMA conference in Florida. I never would have guessed that a few years later I’d get the chance to help him grow the sport in his country. I was able to see the Argentina athletes play in the COPA tournament in 2014, where although they did not win, it was obvious they were picking up the game fast.
Now that it was two years later, they had better equipment, more practice and were overall quite improved. After Dominic and Tom did a session of classroom training with all the coaches and players, we took to the field. I was quite impressed at the level of play and the chair control everyone had. Not only that, but they picked up everything we threw at them with little struggle. Even when we integrated US players with Argentine players for practice games, they continued to adapt, learn and accomplish. We did a lot of learning from them as well. For every soccer drill we taught, they taught us a few Spanish words in return!
When it came to our final afternoon, we played a friendly USA-ARG match. I was honestly surprised and excited by how many spectators showed up to support their powerchair football team. That kind of support is what will help propel the sport in their country. They cheered and clapped for every good pass and every great play…no matter what team.
Although our time was short visiting the beautiful country, everyone was so gracious and generous in making it a great experience for us. We had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy where we learned a bit of history, but also got to share our sport with the Ambassador and kick the ball around in one of his ballrooms! On top of that, we were able to experience the world famous River Plate stadium from the ground level. It was great getting to experience their capital city and their culture, but I will definitely need to make a trip back!
Everyone was so kind and truly excited about the sport, which is an incredible energy to be surrounded with. Their passion is obvious and passion is a powerful thing. Argentina could very well lead the next generation of power chair football in the future. I was certainly right about one thing, soccer (football) is definitely a language we all speak fluently.