A presentation to delegates at the PE College Conference
Twickenham Stadium, Nov 2015
The last time I was here at this famous stadium I was looking after Clermont Auvergne Rugby Club as their liaison for the Champions Cup final against RC Toulon back in May. It was a fabulous occasion and an awesome experience to be involved with.
As specialist sports tour operators, we have in fact acted as handling agents for Clermont for all their European fixtures for the last 15 years. This includes booking their hotels, arranging for their transfers, organising the itinerary and providing local representation during their trips. This even means making sure they have Nespresso machines and Volvic water in their meeting rooms. It’s often the little things that count!
Over the years we have also organised camps and European fixture reservations for Biarritz, Perpignan, Bayonne, Bourgoin, Agen and many other French teams as well as Northampton Saints and Newcastle Falcons here in the UK. We continue to make the arrangements for Sale Sharks both at home and abroad including their pre-season camp to Lisbon. With the new European season now under way, we have Sale Sharks playing in Castres next month and Clermont Auvergne playing down at Exeter Chiefs.
We also handle all the match-day arrangements, overnights and pre-match meals for a number of professional football clubs as well. Interesting? Yes of course! But it’s more than that. Working with those at the very highest level is always fascinating and clearly it’s rewarding and inspiring to speak to the likes of Danny Cipriani, Vern Cotter, Frank Azema, Morgan Parra, Wesley Fofana, Aurelien Rougerie, Nick Abendenon and Steve Diamond in a team hotel before a big match as I have done.
Fortunately, there are opportunities these days for school groups to engage with professional clubs, to benefit from high level coaching, to meet players and to train at the very best facilities. In France alone, we have fabulous tour options to travel to Clermont, Toulon, Biarritz, Perpignan and Metro 92 in Paris. School football teams can also enjoy professional coaching at Paris St. Germain, Ajax of Amsterdam, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Benfica among others.
My personal favourite is the opportunity to for teams to stay on site at the first team training ground of Sporting Lisbon in Portugal where Ronaldo trained and developed as a young player. Here you can play, eat and sleep as a professional under the watchful guidance of Academy coaches. Important – well I think so. So much of sport is aspirational and all young players have dreams. Using elite players as role models is not always beneficial – it clearly depends on who you are looking up to and on what basis on or off the field – but all players can aspire to achievement, reaching goals and the professional environment is a fabulous experience for pupils and coaches alike. Whether as a target or indeed as a reward, tours abroad to new destinations are a positive motivational strategy for engaging pupils, developing teams, personalities and characters. The cultural and off-field benefits can often even surpass any performance-oriented objectives.
Fact – pupils develop as individuals through sports experiences, ski trips and tours – and there are benefits for coaches and teachers as well. International tournaments such as the Gothia Cup, Dana Cup and Valencia Cup offer outstanding opportunities to experience the highest levels of competition with teams from around the World. The Opening Ceremonies and Finals are played in stadium environments in front of huge crowds as well.
Our own multi-sport festivals in Spain, Holland and Italy have similarly been extremely popular in recent years and include professional coaching – we take over a team of coaches from the West Ham United Academy to some and use AC Milan coaches in Italy – while we use AENA Regional Development netball coaches and local professional hockey coaches and qualified dance teachers too. These tours also combine tournament match action, friendly matches against local opposition and evening entertainments to create a fully rounded package of fun, competition and learning. Coaches love learning from other coaches, taking on new ideas, drills and concepts – and then discussing everything afterwards in the bar.
Part of our goal with the American teams we welcome to Europe each year is to ensure they engage with their opposition after friendly matches – the exchange of contact details and social networking is very much part of the overall tour experience for them. A Canadian soccer team we were looking after last month enjoyed their post-match fish and chips in an English pub with their opponents after an entertaining 3-3 draw, while we managed to get them on the pitch at half time at Craven Cottage to do the cross-bar challenge during the Fulham v Leeds United match – they were still talking about it on the flight back home across the Atlantic apparently and probably will be for many years to come – although none of them hit the crossbar!
The interaction between different cultures on tour is one of the highlights for me. For British teams this might mean a pizza party after a game in Italy or a sing along in a local Dutch clubhouse in Holland. Facilities, infrastructure and coaching methods differ just as much as language and the weather but players at every level tend to leave any rivalries on the field. At Absolute Sports Travel, we’re mindful that not all schools have the same budgets or aspirations. But whether you are looking for the ultimate sporting experience such as playing cricket at the Kensington Oval in Barbados or training with Barcelona, there are more affordable possibilities much closer to home. Indeed you can enjoy a match-day coaching and ticket package with Harlequins across the road from here at the Stoop and at many other Premier League rugby and football clubs these days.
Some of our groups were lucky enough to parade around Wembley stadium before the Saracens match in March and one of our schools still rave about their coaching session and Guard of Honour on the field at the Recreation Ground in Bath last season. Both created a buzz around their respective schools and have been featured in parents’ evenings and publications. Indeed as a prospective parent myself at a high school Open Evening last year, I was delighted to hear a sixth form pupil recount tales of achievement during his time at the school – the highlights of which he said were the school ski trip and the sports tours that he’d undertaken. Unforgettable life experiences he’d said.
At Absolute Sports Travel we organise sports tours, match-day packages, school sports festivals and ski trips which will inspire and engage your pupils beyond the duration of the trip itself. These are memories that will endure. Unique experiences will motivate your pupils to achieve their goals, to work harder and to strive for excellence. One of my favourite moments from my school days was lobbing a Dutch goalkeeper after beating the offside trap in an enthralling football match under floodlights in Holland on a wet autumn evening and celebrating – Micky Channon style – in front of the locals. We ultimately lost 4-2 but my story will only get better with time.
Jez George, the CEO of Cambridge United Football Club recalls how his first call as a newly appointed Academy Manager nearly 20 years ago was to a tour company. It was I who picked up the phone to him that day and we’ve taken his teams on tour for training camps and tournaments ever since to venues all over Europe including the first team overnighter in the FA Cup replay with Manchester United last season. Some of the players that night had been on tours with us since they were boys and remember these amongst the highlights of their development. We deliver this by offering you a personal service from a small, experienced and friendly team that are here to help and love what we do.