Spanish American Institute of International Education - SAIIE - Mishiah´s testimonial

I’ve always had a desire to play soccer abroad and immerse myself in a totally different soccer environment. It was always on my mind to play the beautiful game through a different perspective. I had my sights on Spain because I knew that soccer is the primary sport and that it is played everywhere throughout the different regions. I was lucky enough to find a program like SAIIE in Seville because they offered a study abroad program, but also gave me the opportunity to play soccer abroad. This was my chance to continue my soccer education and to further help me grow as a player and as a person.

Mishiah5Upon my arrival to my first practice with Triana Football Club, everything was going very fast. I was already thrown into my first practice and had to act like I knew what I was doing. My Spanish was very minimal and it was even harder because I didn’t know anyone, besides my two roommates. I don’t think I even got to meet or introduce myself to my new teammates or even the coach that first day because of the time constraints. I wasn’t bothered by it because I was more excited to play. We did two different drills that first practice and only one of them was unfamiliar to me and more difficult due to language barriers. After that, we’d had small-sided games with even teams.

We’d have two-three practices a week every night. I continue to listen and watch from my teammates as I tried to learn as much as possible. The game play is very fast because the style of play was mainly two to three touches. If you took more than a few touches or didn’t play fast enough, you would get left behind. It was very challenging playing this new style of play, but I did prefer it over the soccer back at home where there’s a lot more running and kick ball, meaning you try to kick it as far as possible and see if your teammates can catch up to it. Over in Spain, it’s more about possession and technical teamwork. The goalkeepers rarely ever boot it up from their end line, but mainly a simple pass to the nearby defenders to start the attack. It was very fascinating to see the ball do most of the work. It was never about individuals trying to beat or humiliate another player using his skills, but rather more about how every player on the pitch can contribute to the goal.

During each small-sided games, I’d play in my normal position, which was holding midfield and sometimes attacking midfield. For anyone reading this, I like to emulate my game like Xabi Alonso for holding midfield and Luka Modric for attacking, but am not near to their potential or skills, as I do wish everyday. As time progressed and throughout much challenges and struggles I had to face during those practice days, I learned that only if you keep fighting, you’d succeed. One of the challenges was not having played much soccer prior to coming to the team and being out of shape. Another challenge of course was the language barrier and not being on the same page with your teammates. It was difficult because you lose confidence and you don’t bring out your true potential. I knew that I could play with these guys and could fit in, but it wasn’t just clicking, as I’d hope it would. It took a much longer time because on the pitch you’d have to earn it. Whether it was running back on defense to help out the defenders or making those crucial tackles to stop an opposing attacker. It was those little things that make your teammates trust you more, and I was able to learn that through observation and practice.

Every practice felt like a game-type environment because it was a chance to improve yourself and fight for a chance to play. I looked around and I see that a lot of my Spanish teammates were all at different ages. Some were my age and some much older and much more mature having played at a professional level at some point in their lives. Soccer was taken very seriously and never for granted because it was an opportunity to grow as a player and fight for whatever goals you may have.

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My first friendly with the team came after a couple weeks of training. I was very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I only had questions running through my head. We had our first friendly match against Camas FC, which was where Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid started out playing during his youth days. Upon hearing that, it made me even more nervous about the opposition. We had a lot of traveling fans from our program that came out to watch, which also made me more nervous. I’m pretty sure I kept telling myself not to screw up and just play your game repeatedly. I head into the locker room and I see all the kit ready and provided for, so I knew this was official. Everything was in motion and it was going to be a great night of soccer. I started out playing in my usual holding midfield position next to Juanho, the veteran and captain of the team. He helped guide me on where to be and what to do all in Spanish, so I took a little of it in. The game started and everything was going very fast. Every player knew what they were doing and there was much yelling for the ball and screaming on the pitch. The first goal came in after the 20th minute or so from one of our defenders. We were now in a comfortable position to keep possession and maintain stability of the game. I felt like I performed on an average level and not as good as I liked. Overall it was a great night of soccer and I was glad a lot of the students from the program came out to watch.

My second friendly game with the team came at the end of the season. It was against a team called “Dream Team”. At this point, I was more than ready because I was fit and more comfortable with the team. I had no problem playing my normal position and I felt that I performed much better compared to my first game. It was also exciting to have assisted an own goal from a corner kick. Overall, it was a great match and the team performed very well to a convincing 5-1 win.

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In conclusion, I’d say my soccer experience in Spain was a great experience. I took it more as an opportunity to learn something new about the beautiful game. I really enjoyed seeing the passion and determination for the game throughout all of whom I’ve encountered. It was great to be surrounded by those who loved the game as much as I do. I learned a lot about why soccer is so popular throughout Spain. It was like another religion for the most part because it’s widely celebrated among the people. As for myself, I was able to grow as a person and player, figuring out what my weaknesses and strengths are and being more comfortable when playing the game. If you’re reading this, feel free to ask me more because I’d love to tell you more about my experience. It’s one of those experiences you’ll never forget and will always cherish because for me, I got to play soccer in a beautiful country with great people and witness great things happen.

Mishiah Toe, Bethel University (Spring 2015)