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Sloan Hanson: Despite a Few Setbacks, Santa Barbara Team Kicks Off Soccer Camp in Costa Rica

[Noozhawk note: Sloan Hanson, 14, of Santa Barbara is visiting a poor, seaside village in Costa Rica and leading a soccer camp he helped create, called Clinica de Futbol Pura Vida. This is the first of five installments about his experience.]

Clinica de Futbol Pura Vida, Monday, July 7

On the first day of camp, a rooster woke me up at 6. I was tired and my mother was still in pain. It happened the day before.

We are staying in a small village called Esterillos Oeste located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Costa Rica, a tropical country of 4.8 million, recently fielded a Cinderella-story national soccer team that made it to the round of eight in the World Cup. This produced a good environment for soccer — perfect timing for the weeklong soccer camp for the children of Esterillos that my mother and I had organized through a local church.

After having to hand-pump 40 soccer balls to 9.5 pounds and organizing the rest of our equipment, we decided to go for a quick ocean swim before dinner. It turned out to be quicker than we had thought.

While wading into the water, my mother shrieked. She told me something bit her on her foot. As she hobbled back to our hotel, breathing heavily, I wondered what could have attacked her and if it was dangerous. We tried to get help from the locals, but it was hard to communicate. She was able to reach Dennis, the pastor of the church we were working with for the soccer camp.

soccer clinic
Soccer clinic participants work on ball movement. (Sloan Hanson photo)

As he was on his way, I looked up her symptoms on my iPod. I found that the most likely scenario was that she got stung by a stingray. Dennis arrived and confirmed it. He said the pain from a stingray sting is so intense that it is said to be second to the pain of childbirth. My mother was supposed to lead the younger kids at camp. This injury could hinder her teaching abilities. What was I going to do to replace her?

The weather was extremely hot and damp, even at 6 in the morning. Camp started at 8. My mother and I got to the soccer field at 7 to set up. My mother’s foot seemed to be holding up, so I guess I didn’t need a replacement for her. While I was putting out cones and rehearsing what I was going to say to the kids, I found a 4-inch praying mantis perched on a blade of grass, while red-headed parrots flew over my head. It was a reminder of the differences between my hometown of Santa Barbara and this village in Costa Rica. My Spanish was limited to the classroom. I hoped soccer would be our common ground.

Twenty-five kids arrived. Dennis, his wife, Kyle, his sister-in-law, Eden, and Sophia were also there to help us as translators and assistants. Most of the children came from poor families, so not all of them had shoes. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to have cloud cover until it burned away and the sun blazed down on us. Everyone was soaked in sweat in about five minutes.

In the beginning, Dennis translated for me and things went smoothly. When he switched to the younger kids, things started to fall apart. Some kids stayed focused but others started talking and goofing around and I couldn’t ask them to stop and listen. I couldn’t understand them, and they couldn’t understand me. Their words reminded me of salsa dancing; I wondered if mine sounded to them like dancing the robot. Then I started a shooting drill and the kids engaged immediately.

I learned something: The more fun the drill, the less problematic the language barrier became. I’d have to remember that for tomorrow.

— Sloan Hanson, 14, resides in Santa Barbara.

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