The quest for a rigorous and satisfying sports experience in Spain has led my son, Carson, down an unexpected path. Because of the circumstances outlined below, he is now a proud member of the only American Football team in Valencia: the mighty Fire Bats!
Sports for boys in Spain focuses primarily around one thing: futball - or soccer in the US. For kids in Spain, they have been playing since they were toddlers in their yards, on the beach, in the streets, and in the schoolyard. Walking around Puzol, you can usually see boys of all ages playing or carrying a soccer ball, as well as sporting their favorite La Liga jerseys. To say the least, it can be intimidating to any American hoping to play some soccer in Spain.
Carson, who is in 10th grade and has played American football and baseball as his sports in Durango, was worried about being able to keep up in soccer, which he abandoned in Durango in grade 6. However, he was determined to give it a try. After all, how many people get the chance to play soccer in Spain? He practiced a lot this summer and has run up and down the mountain near our house, thinking that what he lacked in skill he could make up in endurance. Being used to schools in America that have big sports teams, he came to his first day of practice prepared to be overwhelmed by the number of players. However, it turned out to be a big shock and disappointment. He was one of three 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders that showed up. It turns out we had a big learning curve when it comes to school sports in Spain.
The director of the American School of Valencia started the school sports program three years ago and it is struggling to increase participant numbers. Mostly they play other private schools in similar situations. To play on a school sports team means you don't play in the Valencian league, which is what all soccer players aspire to. The Valencian league starts early and is very competitive. Boys strive to get on the higher teams, which ultimately lead to the Valencian La Liga team. Carson started understanding the seriousness of this when most of the Spanish boys at school introduced themselves with their rank in the Valencian league attached. For instance, "Hello, I'm Javiar Fernando, Captain of Valencia U16 C." There is real social status attached to league rank.
Despite not meeting expectations, Carson decided to stick it out with the American School soccer team for three reasons. One, they hired an excellent coach from the Velencian league, which basically amounts to two semi-private lessons a week. Two, their team gets to travel to Lisbon and Brussels for tournaments. And, three, Carson is guaranteed a starting spot, but the coach is bringing in 12 of the Valencian league players at the school to play with them for games. Carson is hoping that one day he can say that not only did he get to play with the next Messi, but he beat him out for the starting spot. Not likely, but funny to think about. At least we can go to the Valencian games and cheer for people we may know.
Knowing that he played American football in Colorado, one of his teachers told him that an American football league in Valencia called the Fire Bats was recruiting players and that the orientation day was coming up. So, on Saturday, we took the train into Valencia and found the field in the middle of the beautiful Jardin del Turiah, 9 kilometers of green space in the former riverbed of the Turvia River. The coaches had a table set up at the entrance with team paraphernalia, plus advertisements for American professional teams. They were blaring American rap music to set the mood. They separated the boys into boys under 19, boys over 19, and girls. It turns out there were about 15 college-age girls that showed up to check out what football was all about. The coaches put shoulder pads on each person as they walked up, and then took them off again. This was just to impress everyone with what they would be wearing.
What followed was, in my opinion, hilarious. They had four stations of different drills to show people how Americans played football. Carson was one of the the few people there who had ever played football before and it showed. Most of the boys had a hard time using their hands, since they never do in soccer. You could tell they were really athletic, but had no idea how to play the sport. They dropped the ball, didn't know what to do with the tackling dummies, and were confused with the exercise drills. Carson, who mostly plays second string in Durango, came across as an NFL player. Everyone that was trying out loves American football and several approached Carson to get tips and find out about how it is played. Boys were asking Carson what position he thought they should play and the coaches kept making sure he was coming back. Obviously, he is hooked.
He is also excited because only two of the boys and none of the coaches speak English, so it will be a way to get better at Spanish. He figures if he can run drills without knowing what they're saying, he's got to be good. So, Carson gets to see what it feels like to be the main starter for a year, as well as ride the metro on his own to Valencia three times a week. When he misses a pass on the soccer field, he can casually mention the Valencian football team he plays for outside of school
Go Fire Bats!!!
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.