Some of my favorite memories as a child are of traveling alongside my family; I’m grateful to my parents for valuing the experiences that came with trips across America and to other countries.
My wife Susan and I recently returned from a trip to Italy with the Belmont’s Women’s Basketball Team as they traveled for a mix of basketball games and a taste of European culture. During our travels I was transported back to the last time I was in Italy – with my father 50 years ago, who has since passed away. I was struck with how powerful and poignant our memories tied to travel can be.
Similarly, I pray that this trip was as remarkable, transformational and memorable for our student athletes as it was for me.
We covered a lot of ground – from Rome to Orvieto, Florence to Venice, Milan to Lake Como and Bellagio, too. We visited the Vatican, stared in awe at Michelangelo’s Pieta and the Sistine Chapel and were taken back by the beauty of the Duomo in Florence. It’s amazing how much you can pack into ten days!
I’d sum up our time together by considering the ways we saw basketball build bridges across cultures in the most profound ways – seeing our team play their hearts out while learning more about one another and the world around them. Travel has the power to transform us, both individually and collectively.
It was especially powerful to see the juxtaposition of the sacred, the historic and the amazing, with our love of basketball. On the same day we visited the Sistine Chapel, our team played the Italian All Stars (and won!). Both teams showed incredible sportsmanship — with Belmont bringing t-shirts to our opponents and inviting them to share a meal with us afterward. The sense of camaraderie was tangible, both on the court and afterward as the teams shared life together, despite a significant language barrier.
It was remarkable to watch how a short trip like this one impacted our student athletes. I recalled how, in prioritizing travel with my own children, Susan and I always noted that it seemed an international trip increased maturity and growth by a significant factor.
Our students had so much fun together learning about Italian culture, discussing what they were learning and creating eye-opening memories. There’s something to be said about how impactful it is to be taken out of your comfort zone, explore something different than you are used to and navigate a new language.
And the lessons learned became evident almost instantly. Our players consistently demonstrated the character and professionalism that our athletics programs are known for. I watched new relationships be born among those who were just getting to know each other and saw incredible efforts taken to deepen existing friendships. There was a powerful, collective understanding among them: they all belong at Belmont and with each other. This trip brought them closer together by emphasizing that point, which is the beauty of what’s at the heart of athletics: a team, a family, a community.
Susan and I loved bonding with our students: over meals, in the presence of the beauty and rich history of each cultural landmark, or casual conversation during our cooking class in Venice. I loved hearing each of their stories and learning more about their individual backgrounds.
A week after our return, I received an email from one of our player’s uncles. He told me he had the privilege of having breakfast with his niece after the trip. He was delighted to see the growth in his niece and hearing about all that she had experienced in Italy. It made me happy to know that the same growth and maturity I witnessed on the trip was spilling over into their lives back home.
As a dad I always asked our kids, “what from this trip would you want to repeat?” So, I asked several of the players, and they all had different answers. Different days and different stories – I think that’s a good sign. Each of us enjoyed the food, the gelato, the phenomenal sites full of rich history and timeless truths. But more importantly, we all walked away with a new chapter of our lives shared together, rich with colorful memories, light bulb moments and a sense of being part of a bigger story at play.
It was relationally deep, it was beauty, it was laughter. It was the trip of a lifetime!
A number of the players and coaches thanked Susan and me for spending that time with them, to which we replied – WE are the lucky ones. We felt so blessed to have had this experience together.