So what in the world could possibly bring together four kids from Guatemala, New York, the Bahamas, and Arcata, CA? How could kids separated by these vast distances even make a connection with each other? No, the answer is not Facebook or MySpace, in fact, the answer does not have anything to do with technology at all. The answer is soccer.
Elliot Petzkowsky, Pablo Aguillar, Lauren Brown, and Xavier Salvador have all come from their diverse backgrounds to the IMG Academy soccer program, where they all share one thing they have in common: their love for soccer.
Despite early wake up calls, strenuous workouts in the hot sun, and being miles and miles away from home, these four kids have been working hard to sharpen and polish their skills because they want to take soccer to a level very few reach.
When asked how they like the weather down here, they all had very similar responses.
"I have had to adjust to the heat," says Elliot Petzkowsky, a junior at Arcata High School, "because where I'm from (Arcata, CA) a hot day is about 70 degrees." (FYI: Arcata is located about 100 miles south of Oregon, so we're not exactly in surfing territory anymore).
"I'm just trying to stay hydrated," adds Lauren Brown, who lives in the Bahamas.
"It can get pretty hot out there," replied Xavier Salvador, an eighth grader from Albany, New York.
And Pablo Aguillar, who comes from typically warm Guatemala, simply put it as, "It's hot."
Despite whatever the weather forecast may be, these kids want to play soccer. At the IMG Academy soccer program, these four are receiving first-class training from some of the top instructors in the world. Their day starts out with an early morning workout at the Athletic & Personal Development program, only to be followed by some rigorous soccer drills and games.
"I'm usually pretty tired at the end of the day. We've all been working really hard, and we start early, but it's fun and I am definitely getting better," says Petzkowsky.
Not only do these kids work out their bodies all day long, but they get to exercise their brains as well. Mental conditioning and nutrition education is also part of the Soccer Academy's philosophy.
"As part of the mental conditioning, I have been learning about and working on goal setting," Salvador says, "I have a goal to become better with my left foot, so by Friday I want to be able to juggle 35 times with just my left."
The different things they learn, they are able to put right to work during their daily schedule, "I learned what I should be eating before and after every game, and how to stay hydrated. I have already been eating more carbs and more protein to give me energy for the day," says an excited Brown who says she will continue to do so even when she leaves the Soccer Academy.
Despite the new knowledge and improved bodies they will get while here, still the main reason they came here is to play soccer.
"I'm having a lot of fun. We play three times a day compared to playing only once a day at home," says Aguillar, who got to come here as a gift from his father after doing well in school this past year. "Everyone here is more concentrated and strictly dedicated to soccer, which is good, because that's what I am."
Despite only being here for just a few days, Brown already see's a difference in how she plays,
"I can definitely notice a difference in my game. I am a much better dribbler and I am a lot more confident when I am controlling the ball."
With all this training going on, these kids must not have any time to socialize or do anything besides rest when they are not training, right? Wrong.
"I'm having so much fun," says Salvador, "I play soccer and hang out with the friends I have made, but usually we still play soccer outside of the dorms when we're done with practice."
Salvador, might I add, is at the top of his class at Albany Academy, is a starter on the New York State soccer team that is part of the Olympic Development Program, and was a junior Olympian this past year for ski racing. Not bad for a kid has not even touched the high school hallways yet.
All four of them have aspirations to play in a division 1 college program, with hopes of maybe even going pro. Those desires may not be too far of, as they all agree that training here has already allowed them to take a step in that direction.
"The coaching and training is way more advanced than anywhere else I have been," says Salvador, "and it has definitely made my game a lot better. I want to eventually play at a division 1 school, and maybe try to go pro."
If these four continue with the unrelenting hard work and dedication that they have already shown during this week alone, their dreams might just be a few kicks away.