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  • Marina Canavoso

It’s tuna in water, not oil

We recently had the privilege of hosting Nicolás Mac Allister and Federico Devoto, from Club Deportivo Mac Allister, located in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina, who led a 7-day camp for a group of our Revolution kids. For some context, the Mac Allister family is a well-known Argentine “football family” whose lives have revolved around football for decades. Their club focuses on the development of players for professional football based on the Mac Allister Method, a comprehensive approach to player development.

But before I continue, let’s include a brief disclaimer here. Paraphrasing Federico, Nicolás said as their goodbye advice: “Do all with passion… if you stayed here with us, it is because you have a lot of passion for football, because it’s called football, not soccer, remember”. Therefore, out of respect for our recent guests, I will only use “football” in this short reflection.

It is no coincidence that the one and only blog I ever wrote (this being my second one) was to describe the passion that Argentines have for football, and now these incredible coaches from Argentina ended our camp with those words. Being around Nicolás and Federico (Nico and Fede now) was a great reminder that you cannot excel at anything that you have no passion for.

On their first day here, Nico and Fede asked me to go to the supermarket with them, so I could guide them a bit on our products and groceries. I patiently watched them read labels, count protein grams and sugar content, and make smart choices that align with a committed (and passionate) football lifestyle. (They of course went for the tuna in water as you can guess by the title of this blog.) They cooked their own healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner most days, and packed their own lunch for camp. They dutifully put in an exercise session each afternoon after leading camp in the Flagstaff heat and wind. The only afternoon off they allowed themselves was to see the Grand Canyon. They did travel 5,816 miles to get here after all… I think one afternoon off to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world was more than deserved!

As I write this, I am still trying to process the fact that this camp became a reality for our kids, that we were able to collaborate with a well-established club from Argentina, and basically that we were able to make this happen (the story behind that deserves a separate blog). I have lots of thoughts and feelings after this experience (overall positive ones, but also some question marks.) But the main idea I am trying to focus on here is that concept of “passion” that seems recurrent when talking about Argentine football. As exemplified by Federico and Nicolás, such passion is reflected in the form of commitment, knowledge, ability, attitude, hard-work, grit, determination, resilience, adaptability, perseverance, consistency, discipline, and overall respect and love for the game. It’s all one side as well as the other side of the same coin. No human will get good at football (or anything for that matter) with 2-3 practices a week, regardless of how naturally athletic they may be, that is just NOT “passion.” I heard our guests say several times how kids/teens need to play, play, play; play competitively, play with friends, play with parents, play at school, play at the park, play by themselves. They also made emphasis on the fact that there is a cutting age at around 12 years old when you need to specialize and leave other sports behind if you have true passion for football (a concept that is hard to accept in our multi-sport society.) Players need to work on their technical skills, on conditioning, on their mental game; they need a supportive environment with no paralyzing outside pressures; they need to be focused, engaged and active, when on the ball and off the ball, during drills and games (whether it’s a scrimmage or a tournament final.) But if there is no enjoyment while doing it, there cannot be passion either.

This was such a unique experience for us: our small club from a remote place in Arizona being able to create such an amazing partnership, that by itself is a win. Our Revolution players got a personalized camp where they didn’t get lost in the numbers. And they also got a true cultural experience in our own backyard: a few players earned their Argentine nickname (can we please keep calling Colin, “Tanque”?), some got to participate in an Argentine-style arenga (that short speech to create excitement before a game), others learned a few Spanish words or were able to practice their Spanish. And now they are all invited to go to Argentina for the Club Deportivo Mac Alister camps!

On a more personal note, my family got to share lots of mates with Fede and Nico (that herbal drink you saw them having at the field that inspires endless conversations), Santi and Dante learned some new football chants in Spanish, I passed a chimichurri quality test and Steven a choripaneada and asado one, and I got a renewed longing for my beloved country and culture.

But now back to that central recurrent idea of passion. As Nico said, many times the best players from Argentina come from the lowest income families, they have no other “disruptions” that take away from their focus on football (no Netflix, iPhones, or PlayStations, no fancy cleats or training gear either.) I hope this experience is an inspiration for our players to train harder, to play faster and with grit, to put in the time and commitment. I hope that them as players and us as parents remember that “it’s tuna in water, not oil,” every detail counts. It’s about training, nutrition, rest… priorities. And yes, some of our kids are still young, and yes as parents it’s very hard to see the line between support and pressure sometimes, but we can always try our best to guide them through their football passion, that is what parents do. There are many sacrifices on the way (winter scrimmages in Flagstaff can be tough), but as Mikel Arteta (Arsenal football coach) said: “If you love what you do, that is called passion.”

Thanks to everyone that made this a reality. Gracias Federico and Nicolás for having come this far to share your knowledge and expertise with us! Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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