ECNL Commissioner Sarah Kate Noftsinger on International Travel
In December 2010 the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) signed Sarah Kate Noftsinger as the league’s first commissioner, handling a multitude of operations for the then-year-old organization. Noftsinger brought an impressive background to the ENCL, including experience as a coach for four years at Stanford University and Developmental Assistant Coach with the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team. As a player, Noftsinger was on the field with some of today’s greatest players including Abby Wambach, Rachel Buehler, Lori Lindsey and Ali Krieger, as well as women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm.
In her two years with the organization she has become an outspoken advocate for girls’ soccer and the continued need for clubs to provide strong developmental programs for their female members.
One area that she is a strong proponent of is travel for both elite and recreational teams, especially international travel. “Anytime you can travel, it is great,” says Noftsinger. “It is always an eye-opening experience and one that you take with you forever.”
Noftsinger is quite an expert in international travel, as a player, a coach and an advisor. Her first experience abroad was at age 15 with her regional team. The group traveled to Germany to play, staying on a military base. Her most memorable time as an athlete was when she had the opportunity to play at Real Madrid Stadium. “This was when Real Madrid was loaded with talent,” she recalls. “It was a great experience.”
Perhaps Noftsinger’s most unique overseas experience came in 2008 when she traveled with United States-based Triad Trust to the Nkomazi Region of Mpumlanga, South Africa. There she worked to help identify and train local leaders interested in creating a youth soccer league. The Nkomazi Youth Sports League became the first locally-directed and professionally managed youth soccer league in the region.
As part of her work with the organization, Noftsinger has led ECNL trips to Europe through Premier International Tours, a U.S. Soccer– and NSCAA-sanctioned travel company. In the first trip she guided 17 top ECNL players to London to play against several English clubs, including Chelsea. The girls also attended an EPL match with Fulham with U.S. Men’s National Team member Clint Dempsey.
More recently, Noftsinger and a group of ECNL players flew to Manchester, England, and caught some of the 2012 London Olympic games. A highlight of the trip was getting to meet and talk with Wambach and other members of the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“Not every trip can you meet an Olympian,” Noftsinger points out, “but every trip is special.”
There are a number of benefits for players and coaches alike when it comes to traveling abroad, as well as important responsibilities. “Whether you are with a recreational team or an elite team of players, kids should always remember that you are representing your country and your people,” Noftsinger advises.
“It is important to experience the different cultures,” she says. “The off-field component is very important.”
“Learning how to deal with a new situation that you have no control over helps players learn how to deal with mental pressure,” Noftsinger explains. “Even learning how deal with your body when traveling, from hydration to lack of sleep, and how to adapt to different situations. These lessons extend far beyond the soccer field.”
Coaches can benefit as much as players through the journey. “Reacting well to change is critical, and traveling affords you great opportunities to challenge yourself and grow,” says Noftsinger. “You learn how to change your game plan and adapt on the fly. Learning how to prepare your team and make sure everything is in line organizationally so that your team is ready to play their best is an important benefit. Coaches never stop learning, and when watching other coaches abroad there is always an opportunity to learn.”
As her own experiences have shown, travelling can give you a new perspective on your own home and country and on the game of soccer as well. “Traveling helps you appreciate the resources you have and inspires you to give back to the game,” Noftsinger says.
“Any time you can play in an international match it is an unbelievable experience,” says Noftsinger. “There are so many new experiences and so many factors to an international game. Any time players can go, they should jump at the chance.”
“At ECNL we have been very fortunate and have enjoyed two terrific trips,” Noftsinger explains. “While strategic planning is crucial for a successful trip, there is only so much you can control. You have to be flexible and take advantage of opportunities that arise and avoid the disappointments that can occur.”