CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte women’s soccer will embark on the first international trip in program history when the 49ers cross the Atlantic Ocean for a 10-day journey to the British Isles, August 4-14. The program will use the trip to serve as its preseason camp in preparations for the upcoming 2016 season.
All players on the roster, including the nine incoming freshmen, along with coaches and support staff personnel will make the trip that will take the group to England and on to Ireland to experience two different countries.
A full itinerary will not be released publicly for privacy concerns but Charlotte plans to play two friendlies while it is there training. The Niners are hoping to face an English side as well as an Irish team. Interjected between training sessions and competition, the group will have opportunities to visit and tour many historic sites and integrate itself in the cultures.
Charlotte49ers.com recently sat down with eighth-year head coach John Cullen to discuss the trip and get his thoughts on what he hopes to gain from the experience.
How did the ideas for a trip of this magnitude originate?
I’ve been very fortunate to do some of these previously when I was at Catawba. I always saw great benefit to the team, on and off the field, when they came back from those trips. The ability to adapt as players and be more excited about the world game. I always want to give our players the opportunity to travel and represent their University, athletic department, our program, our team and their families. To play international competition, I’m not only hoping we’ll have a wonderful experience but also gain a lot from it soccer-wise, culturally and the savviness. And the things that go on in the game and help us to prepare for our season when we get back to America and travel to different environments and settings. If we can cope internationally with the teams we’re playing over there, I think it will give us a great confidence boost and an opportunity to be a very cohesive group.
Why were the British Isles chosen as the destination?
Obviously, my background is in those two countries. I’m very familiar with the geographical portion of it and how to get around the countries. England is considered the home of soccer. I’m hoping our players really experience wonderful moments on and off the field. And getting to see live professional matches, I’m hoping it generates a whole another level of enthusiasm for the world game. I felt like the British-type of teams are very hard working, intense and giving everything they have. We need to see that and play against that. The more we play against it and experience it, the better we’ll be prepared for everyone here on our own shores.
Both you and assistant coach Michael Swan are from England. Will the group have a chance to visit your old stomping grounds?
It’s a very jam-packed itinerary and trying to get a lot in historically as we can. At the same time, we have to understand it’s preseason and we’re there to train and prepare for our own season. We’ll see some of the more prestigious world sites but I don’t think my neighborhood falls into that category. There’s an opportunity to go to my dad’s side of the family in rural Ireland in a place called Cashel. I’m excited to show the team where a lot of my family is from and I know my family will make a great effort to come out in numbers to support them and show them the warmth of Ireland. England has changed a lot since I grew up but I’m more excited about their exposure to world history and making them more well-rounded people because culturally, I want them to be better and as ambassadors, I want them to be better. The experience of traveling and representing America and Charlotte women’s soccer will be a wonderful learning curve in their lives.
Because of your previous experiences on trips of this nature, what takeaways do you hope this year’s group will have?
One thing whenever I get back together with former teammates that I played alongside with, we always recall our trip (49ers men’s soccer went to Germany in 1992). We had great, great times here and wonderful winning seasons but we always revert back to our time in Germany. That seems to be the recollection all the players had.
One of the things I want our current players experience is when they look back years and years from now, is to remember Charlotte and what a great experience they had here and the wonderful relationships they built. Hopefully, this trip and this season will be the start of something special for them for this group and the next group coming through.
When putting together a trip like this, what do you hope to accomplish?
We’re a much smaller squad this year so we want to come back with a better understanding of our team. We want more clarity to roles and positions but we want players to feel confident about what this trip has done for them in terms of their preparation for playing the likes of North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as our other opponents, who are waiting for us early in the season. I think their exposure to the international game, and being in that environment, hopefully will take their excitement level about soccer to a level they haven’t gone to before. I want them to appreciate the world game more, understand soccer more and followers of the game more. They do like and love the game but I want them to truly fall in love with the game. Any time you can expose players to world-class players and environments, hopefully it will rub off. And then when we get back, be generally very excited about their own season.
What fun activities are planned?
We’re going to keep that as a bit of a surprise. There’s going to be a few team-bonding opportunities. I feel like, when I talk with the players when we were putting this trip together, they were very excited about visiting the historical parts of England and Ireland. The parts they’ve read about or seen on TV. We’ll keep it very educational because I feel it’s important they learn more about the world. I think it’s important they appreciate the two countries they are visiting. But I think the excitement part and enjoyment part will come from watching them getting full appreciation of what they’re seeing. We’ll keep a fun side of the trip, too, but that will also include the time hanging out together, attending some of the games, playing in the games and building on the opportunity to become a closer team. We are there for preseason and the players understand that fully. The staff understands the No. 1 job is get everyone prepared for our own season when we return.
How do you stress the importance of training and preparing for the regular season during the trip?
We’ve been preparing for this trip for the better part of 12-18 months. Along the way, we’ve continually reminding and educating the players that when we get there, we’re not using it as an opportunity to get fit. That has to be done on the front end and they have to be fully, fully prepared to appreciate the trip more and get value for it. When they are fit, they’re going to enjoy it more. If they are trying to get fit while traveling, and moving from hotel to hotel, it will be very exhausting. We had a full team meeting, with this year’s players and the incoming group, in April. We reinforced the work has to be done on the front end, and when we go there, we just need to build on the work that’s already done over the course of the summer. All the players know we have to be fitter than we’ve ever been because this season is going to require a lot from us – traveling overseas, the short turnaround once we get back and the quality of competition waiting for us. The onus is on the players to be ready which is what you want as a staff. You want to see the players fully prepared and ready to peak.
Stay tuned to Charlotte49ers.com as well as the various 49ers social media channels for daily updates as well as a wrap-up of the entire trip upon return.