At the end of March, a group of nine students from the School of Health and Kinesiology (H&K) traveled far beyond the classroom—and the country—for a soccer and sports medicine-focused service learning experience.
The exercise science and athletic training students, accompanied by Drs. Adam Rosen and Jason Coleman, spent a week immersed in the local culture of Managua, Nicaragua while holding clinics for soccer coaches and youth athletes.
Although baseball is the national sport of Nicaragua, soccer has gained in popularity over the last few years. At Universidad Americana (UAM), the H&K students held a hands-on injury prevention seminar and clinic for soccer coaches. They also worked with teen soccer players from 17 local high school teams, incorporating injury prevention techniques into the athletes’ regular training.
The H&K students and faculty presented information about topics related to sports medicine including concussions and head injuries; heat illness and hydration; sports performance and nutrition; and basic first-aid for sports injuries. A primary focus was the FIFA 11+ injury prevention protocol, a relatively new warmup program consisting of 15 running, balance, plyometric, and strength exercises.
Athletic Training Program Director Dr. Rosen explains the benefit of global service projects, “Global engagement allows students the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures in an immersive setting. Particularly, for our students, who aspire to be future healthcare providers in sports medicine, this was a tremendous experience to allow them to utilize the skills they have learned in the classroom and implement them in a unique setting on the soccer pitch [field] in Nicaragua.”
Exercise science student Monica Barajas, an aspiring pediatric physical therapist, describes the confidence she gained during her experience, “This trip to Nicaragua allowed me to learn more about myself and my capabilities as a student and as a person.
“This experience allowed me to work hands-on with young athletes and their coaches to teach them proper warm-up and stretching mechanics to better avoid injuries during sports. When coaches came to us, students, with questions about proper technique or asked our opinion, is when I realized the importance of exercise science and athletic training not only in the United States, but in other countries. I was a witness that knowledge has no barriers. Sharing culture and knowledge with the people of Nicaragua was amazing.”
Barajas took on an extra responsibility during the trip—she translated Dr. Rosen's lectures to the coaches. “Although I am a Spanish speaker, being the translator was challenging. I had an important job, to make sure everything was translated correctly and clear for everyone to understand. The coaches seemed to be engaged in every session and they were not afraid to come to me with questions for Dr. Rosen. It was a great experience to be the communication link between my classmates and professors and the people of Nicaragua.”
Beyond the clinics and field work, the H&K students visited the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve, Masaya Volcano National Park, Old Cathedral of Managua, and Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve. They watched the Nicaragua vs. Cuba International Friendly soccer match at the Estadio Nacional de Fútbol and caught a Nicaraguan Major League baseball game at Dennis Martínez National Stadium.
The students also visited the U.S. Embassy to discuss diplomacy and relations with the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua, Laura Dogu.
Athletic training master’s student Christine Center, whose dream is to work with a professional soccer team, reflects on the trip, “I was reminded that sports, and especially soccer, are a universal language. I was able to connect with many coaches and athletes that we worked with, although I did not speak the same language with them, we shared and connected in our expression of love and play of soccer. I am blessed to be pursuing a degree that can touch people in more ways than I originally imagined.
“This was my first study abroad experience and I have nothing but good to say. I was blown away! I encourage all students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities.”
Global engagement is a key priority for the University of Nebraska system. The NU 2018 global engagement report outlines the many benefits of providing students with meaningful global study experiences.
Photos courtesy of Christine Center, Boyoung Park, and Dr. Adam Rosen