Ohio to Nicaragua to Houston in 10 days
This year Premier Volleyball Academy (Maumee, OH) was able to bring its 18-Onitsuka and 18-Antare teams on an overseas trip to Nicaragua. Here is a memoir of what was one of the most influential volleyball trips for everyone involved in making the trip, told by Club Director Jodi Schramm.
Our trip was planned to also coincide with our travels to Houston where our teams would compete in the JVA World Challenge. View an interview with the VBN during the JVA World Challenge below. In Nicaragua, players and coaches were able to spend six days, in Central America taking in new experiences both on and off the court. It was a trip filled with competitive volleyball, exciting off the court activities, beautiful site seeing, delicious culinary experiences and charitable activities. This was a trip that will not soon be forgotten because of all that it taught our athletes, parents and coaches.
Premier has not embarked on an international trip since 2010, when we took a trip to Paris,so the club was excited about its trip abroad. This trip has been in the works for the better of the past two years and as the days went by, the excitement level continued to increase. While a few of our players have had the opportunity to travel, for many of our trip members it was their first foray out of the country. Players and coaches worked diligently to secure new passports, book travel and pack everything they would need into their suitcases. The excitement for the trip started to build with each snowfall. Winter was not kind to the Midwest this year, and the players and coaches were excited to hop on a plane to a new country, culture, and warm weather.
After traversing 5 plus hours and 2,654 miles by plane from Detroit, MI to Managua, Nicaragua, the traveling party was instantly struck with a wave of hot air, beach views, and vast ocean scenery. The players hopped on a bus and ventured to their hotels. The players traversed throughout the trip on envoys and buses and were treated to island views throughout their trip. Once situated, the coaches and players were introduced to some of the locals where everybody started working together to play a series of icebreaker games.
As Coach Schramm noted, "The communication between the girls was priceless!" Watching the players attempt to communicate using Spanish that any Spanish teacher would frown upon and incomprehensible sign language made for quick laughs and a great time all around. The girls played a variety of games including "link" (a version of tag), human knot, and steal the bacon. When the day was coming to its end, the locals challenged the Americans to a good old game of kickball on their home field. The Nicaraguans were kind enough to divide the teams up because these 11-15 year olds showed us how kickball should be played.
As the games ended, the teams proceeded to prepare to themselves to compete against the Nicaraguan Junior National Team. While it may be easy to lose sight of volleyball when partaking in an overseas trip, one of the highlights of the trip was being able to compete against high caliber players in an environment that is outside of our comfort zone. The players were greeted with the international ball, a different playing surface, different pregame rituals and a bevy of other nuances. After the players were able to soak in the environment however, the volleyball was fast, intense and competitive. While there are cultural differences, communication gaps, and good natured miscommunications off the court, once the players were inside the lines, volleyball is volleyball.
Both players and coaches were impressed by the Nicaraguan team's ability to make two contacts on the ball on defense and their relentless pursuit no matter the circumstance. This is something that we will try to impart on our athletes and a major takeaway from playing the Nicaraguans. Their commitment to coverage, defensive movement, and high energy was a sight to behold and something we can clearly learn from. After two competitive matches, we were off on our way to experience what else Nicaragua had to offer.
After lunch we drove about 2 hours to a volcanic crater where the girls spent the afternoon swimming, kayaking and inner tubing in Crater Lake. The water temperature was just perfect because it is a lake that surrounds an actual active volcano!
After the an absolutely amazing day on the lake, we then drove about an hour more onto San Juan Del Sur where the girls got a history lesson and more importantly got to try the gelato! Needless to say the girls were pretty excited about the gelato especially when it served as the dessert to dinner that night and what many a player exclaimed to be, "the best salmon in the world. " It did not hurt that they were able to enjoy their meal overlooking the ocean.
The site seeing and activities continued on the next day when the players got to zip line through the trees of Nicaragua, attempt to surf the Atlantic Ocean, and hiked through the mountains of Nicaragua. The sunscreen was liberally applied, sunglasses, swimsuits, and flip flops were the uniform and the girls got to experience the best of Nicaragua. Ear to ear smiles plastered the faces of coaches and athletes alike. To cap it all off, the girls made it back to their favorite gelato shop and had a scoop or two or three to satisfy their cravings.
While it may be easy to get lost in the beautiful sunsets, and sandy beaches, the players also got to experience a great lesson in empathy, charity and compassion.
The coaches and players ventured into town and spent time volunteering at local schools teaching students how to speak English and to drop off donations.
The fundraising that the players and coaches did prior to arriving in Nicaragua came to a culmination as supplies, books, and athletic supplies were donated to the locals to great appreciation. The joy that the players received while teaching the school aged children how to spell different colors, play "duck, duck, goose," and say various English phrases was worth the trip alone.
"I really learned to respect and be thankful for what I have. It was super heartwarming teaching the little kids English and some things about volleyball. If I had the chance I would go back right now." -Senior Madison Kielty of 18-Onitsuka
One of the biggest takeaways from the trip as a whole were the lessons that spending time in a third world country affords you. In a country that is mired in poverty, economically struggling and where over half the population is unemployed it is easy to see the negative. What the players and coaches were able to take away however, was the sincere appreciation that everybody in the country has over things that many of us too often take for granted.
The inconveniences that we find in our everyday lives are just that, inconveniences.
"I was able to appreciate the things I have in life. Getting to meet the children and see how they make the best of everything they have was eye opening." -Junior Kayla Buford, 18-Onitsuka
Seeing how truly appreciative the school children were about the time being spent with them and in response to the donations we made was truly inspiring. Unfortunately sometimes you truly do not know what you have and how well you actually have things until you see what others do not have. "If I could sum up my advice to others on Nicaragua in two words, it would be 'Go there.' Club Director, Jodi Schramm adds. This trip will stuff your eyes with both wonder and modesty as you are forced to see the world in a different way. The people you will meet in Nicaragua will either melt your heart or make it ache; either way you will definitely grow as a person." Many players expressed how lucky they were and how thankful they were of the opportunities afforded to them.
To bookend the trip, the players and coaches headed to Granada, a historical city mired in history, to partake in a boat tour prior to competing against the Junior National Team one more time. The players soaked in their last chance to view Nicaragua and were thrilled to see monkeys. Seeing that Granada is the hometown of the Nicaraguan team's best player, the playing venue and atmosphere was a treat. There were a good amount of fans in the stand cheering her on which made for a great atmosphere for volleyball and offered a great ending to a spectacular trip.
"Nicaragua was such an eye-opening, rewarding experience. It teaches you to be more appreciative for the things you have and opportunities given to you every day." -Sasha Cucuz, 18-Onitsuka.To put the entire trip into perspective, on the evening of the last match when players and coaches were loading up the bus to leave, a little girl walked up to the group and tried to grab their attention. Not knowing what to expect, the translator brought clarity to the situation. We discovered that this was a girl that attended one of the schools we volunteered at. She had walked almost an hour to attend the match with her family and was so excited to see the girls play volleyball. She mentioned that her school did not have a ball to play with and that that she wanted to see if she could bring a ball back to her school for her classmates.
Needless to say, we left Nicaragua a few volleyballs short, but with memories for a lifetime, life lessons to carry with us and an experience that we can say was truly transformational.
If ever given the chance to take a team overseas; pursue it.
The amount of learning, memories and experiences one takes away from trips like these are priceless and something that we will take with us going forward in our volleyball season and in our lives.