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Last week on a short trip to Playa Samara, Costa Rica, I had the pleasure of working with Matt Bond, the director of the San Francisco Bay Area based SixFifty Lacrosse club. I was very grateful that Matt carved time out of his schedule to talk with me. He was traveling with his wife, Katie, and his son, Greyson, as well as a group of high school lacrosse players. Their bus that would take them to the capital, San Jose, for their flight home was arriving shortly, and Matt put the hectic packing process on hold for a short 30 minutes to sit with me and reflect on what the last week had meant for him and his group.
We sat down at the Tico Adventure Lodge where he and his group were staying. Large palm fronds and colorful hibiscus flowers provided a tropical ambiance to the open-air interview space, and exotic birds chirped in the background. Seated at the concrete mosaic table, we dove right into the Matt’s personal history. A man who turned his interest into a passion and from a passion into a profession, Matt works as the director, CEO, and one-man-show behind the Bay area based SixFifty Lacrosse club. Prior to taking the dive into lacrosse as a full time job, Matt worked as a youth pastor where he was first introduced to Costa Rica. His introduction came in 2003 in the form of a Church Mission trip to Nosara, a beach town about one hour north of Playa Samara. It wasn’t long before Matt realized that he could combine his passions for lacrosse and service to form a community-oriented lacrosse program that improved player’s leadership abilities on and off the field. Soon after the advent of SixFifty lacrosse in 2012, Matt brought his first group of lacrosse players from the United States to Costa Rica in order to grow and expand the game of lacrosse that they were so passionate about. Matt explained that linking lacrosse with service trips was a natural step for him considering his background in ministry.
“We’re always trying to find creative ways to get kids out of their element… help them see the world, help them experience other cultures.” he said.
The lacrosse trips are not faith-based, but Matt says that the driving intention at the core of the trip is the same regardless of the label you put on it. Matt says that he uses “lacrosse as a vehicle for introducing kids to the experience of travel.”
As our conversation continued, Matt highlighted the novelty of using sports as a means to make the world a better place. He spoke about how the young athlete can oftentimes get caught up in selfish training pursuits, working hard to achieve personal goals which correlate to better performance on the field. His intention with these lacrosse service trips is to bring selflessness to the world of sports, and to show these players that the same passion and excitement they bring into their training for their sport can be used to help make a difference in the world.
Matt’s passion for lacrosse and community service are apparent even without his words. He brings so much energy into both of those realms that you don’t have to hear him speak about it in order to understand how much he loves what he does. In addition to that, he is aware of the arrogance that can be conveyed when a group of Americans fly to a foreign country with the intention of helping the underprivileged.
“It’s really important that we not have the sense of being some kind of American saviors coming down, I think that’s really arrogant… we come down here with the idea that we are probably going to get more out of it than the children we are serving.” he said.
Matt and his players perform all kinds of service activities during their trip. In San Jose, they worked with Roblealto, a center for children whose parents were either incarcerated, out of the picture, or absent. The group helped to build a garden where the children could learn about plant biology as well as how to nurture and promote growth in a situation where those ideas may be unfamiliar.
Matt applies the same philosophy to travel that he does to service, regarding finding a need and serving the population where they are. He claims that it is important to provide an authentic experience for his players when they are on the ground in Costa Rica.
“When many Americans travel, they wind up recreating their American experience wherever they happen to be on the planet. Whether that’s the kinds of hotels they choose to stay in, the kinds of foods they eat, or the people they interact with…. Not very many people will choose, what I think is the more authentic route of interacting with local people on their terms,” he said.
He elaborates on this idea and mentions how an important aspect of these trips is pushing his players out of their comfort zones. Taking these teenage American athletes who might think they are cooler and tougher than they actually are and forcing them to try new things and experience the Costa Rican culture in a way that might be less familiar or comfortable.
The trip, which states its intention is to serve local communities, is also providing a service to its player participants. The more immersive and authentic travel experience can be difficult for for some teens and embraced by others. By encouraging his players to step outside of their comfort zones, Matt and SixFifty are creating an opportunity to cultivate empathy, which he says is ultimately one of the main objectives of the trip.
“From 50,000 feet, I think what we’re talking about ultimately is empathy. And when you travel and interact with people on their terms, you’re provided an opportunity to build empathy and to see the world from someone else’s point of view… If you can build a healthy sense or dose of empathy then you’re set up for a lot of things that you’re gonna face in life.” he said.
This empathy, Matt hopes, will continue to benefit his players on and off the field for the rest of their lives. For years now SixFifty lacrosse has been building a new generation of lacrosse players with different perspectives and world views. Their players are able to bring these experiences back to their home teams and larger communities. Thanks to clubs like SixFifty, young athletes are able to contribute in making positive change both at home and abroad.
You can listen to the full length audio interview here: https://youtu.be/AYN2E1Wm9XU
Video by Nicky Mullen, Words by Matt Bond
It’s difficult to sum up in a few words all that we experienced on our trip. The first few days after a trip like this can be magical as the memories and moments float through our minds. We instantly recall the larger moments – playing lacrosse, painting a wall, creating art with children. But over the next few days, the smaller details and minor recollections – conversations over meals, playing in the waves, meeting new friends – will begin to cement themselves in our hearts and add to the tapestry of an unforgettable experience.
When we stepped off the plane, many of us still had lingering sand from Playa Samara on our sandals and shoes, dirt under our fingernails, or stubborn paint that refused to wash off. As we move away from our trip, these tangible mementos will eventually wash off and we’ll be left with images and experiences that are now part of our life stories. As I told our players at our final team meeting, my hope for them is that they would return home changed, different in some way however large or small. When we serve as part of a team, we’re able to experience the best version of ourselves, the kind of people we want to be and we get a glimpse of the person we hope to become – kind, patient, flexible, open, empathetic, compassionate.
I would encourage every player to talk openly with their families and friends about the trip. Share photos and stories, however small or trivial. Memories will emerge and cement themselves as you talk about them. Ultimately, as stories and memories sift through our minds and coalesce, we will find meaning behind them. From meaning, we can discover direction and purpose. Life purpose comes at the intersection of our deep passion and the world’s deep hunger. Our players now have experience in using one of their passions (lacrosse) to help make a difference in the world. This skill is transferable to other arenas. I told our players that pursuing your interests and passions doesn’t have to be a selfish, myopic pursuit. As they move forward in high school and into college, they’ve experienced that “success” in pursuing a passion and serving others are not mutually exclusive. We can find a way to leverage our unique gifts and talents in sports, academics, friendships, jobs, etc to make the world and the people around us better. IMHO, this is a key to a deep, rich, joyful, and meaningful life.
My hope is that maybe in some small way this trip has contributed to some kind of transformation or revelation in the hearts of our players and that the experience would leave them with a clearer idea of how to use their unique talents and gifts to influence the people around them in positive ways wherever they find themselves in the future.
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By Matthew Howley, 12th Grader, St Francis High School
Today was our last day in Costa Rica. Many of us (myself included) could not believe that this trip was nearing its end. Even though we were sad about leaving, we still had work we needed to complete. After everyone finished their breakfast, we all gathered an assortment of arts and crafts ranging from construction paper to face painting kits that we brought to Samara Elementary.
When we presented our arts and crafts to the students, they were immediately overcome with glee. For the next hour, everyone was enjoying themselves doing various activities like making paper airplanes and drawing on scratch pads. When we finally had to say goodbye to the students we were sad, but at the same time saw how much joy we had brought to them.
After a quick and tasty bite to eat, we all continued painting the wall that surrounds the school. With high temperatures and humidity, painting the wall was not as easy as we had anticipated. However, we were able to get help, as the girls lacrosse team agreed to help us complete the task at hand. When the wall was finally adorned with a fresh coat of paint everyone was tired and hungry, however we were all satisfied with the work we had accomplished.
After cleaning up from painting we all went to the beach for one final dip in the ocean. Once we said our final goodbyes to the beach, we devoured some pizza and soda. As the day, and trip, began to wind down everyone met in the pool house to reflect on the work and experiences we had all shared.
By Brendan Murphy, 10th Grader, Menlo School
Day 5 started with an amazing breakfast at 7:30 am. Next we went to the Carrillo field to play lacrosse with the Costa Rican national team for the second time this trip. First we practiced with them and showed them some new drills and skills to practice. After the practice we scrimmaged them so they could work on the new skills they had learned from our practice earlier in the day. And it payed off. They applied what they had learned and worked together as a team and ultimately scored a goal.
Once this game was over, the girls played a game and it was Los Gatos High vs Archbishop Mitty. But the Mitty team fell a bit short on players so the girls coaches stepped in to help them play.
Finally, we played a third game of everyone, girls and boys, Costa Ricans and Americans, mixed together. Since the girls do not have any pads, we all played girls lacrosse rules which was a new experience for the boys and the Costa Rican national team. After this game was played we all went to lunch together.
When we were all done eating lunch we had some free time so we all decided to go to the beach and we met up with the girls there. Once the beach time was over we all went back to our hotels to get changed for a hike. The hike was amazing. The views were beautiful and we all got some good pictures. My favourite part of the hike was getting to see monkeys which I had not seen for the whole trip until the hike. When we finished the hike we went to dinner for Mexican food at Coco’s. It was delicious. Finally we went back to our hotel for some much needed rest after such a busy day.
By Andres Simbeck, 10th Grader, Menlo School
Day 4 started out with some delicious rice and beans and eggs for breakfast starting at 9 o’clock. We then proceeded to do a beach clean up where we found a lot of trash and even a puffer fish! Right after that amazing experience, we went straight into the warm water where we body surfed but also got smacked by the waves. We then came back to the hotel and had a break for a little bit.
Straight after that we took a bus to Carillo field where we met up with the Costa Rica National Lacrosse Team. It was very fun to be able to connect with these players from thousands of miles away and to see how eager they were to learn more about lacrosse. Our team played them first and then the girls team played a game. It was a great experience for them and for us.
We were supposed to have a beach BBQ with the Costa Rican team but it rained so we ended the day with a BBQ at the girls hotel. Finally we went back to our cozy beds and fell asleep (;.
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By Alex Strauch, 10th Grader, San Ramon Valley High School
The day began with an early morning with breakfast at 7am. Fueled up, we headed to Carrillo Elementary to lead a lacrosse clinic for the students of the school. We began with throwing, catching, and practicing ground balls. Then we split into teams and scrimmaged, and the kids showed tremendous progress. We said goodbye and headed to the beach for surfing lessons.
We practiced our surfing “skills” on land with the instructor and then headed out the ocean. Some of us had a rough start and trouble maintaining balance on the board, but by the end we were all able to ride waves to the shore. But it couldn’t have been a pure Costa Rican experience if it didn’t start raining on us while surfing in the 85 degree ocean.
After surfing we headed to lunch, right up the street. After lunch we walked back to the hotel to change for our community service project at Samara Elementary. We spent about two hours there painting and cleaning the wall in front of the school. Drenched again, this time in sweat, we made our way back to the hotel hanging flyers and passing them out advertising for our game against the Costa Rican national team tomorrow.
Freshened up, we headed to dinner where we ate authentic and delicious Costa Rican food. We got back in the bus and took a drive to the Buena Vista Turtle Sanctuary. There, we got to see the release of baby turtles into the ocean under the bright moonlight. We also saw a mother turtle lay her eggs in the sand and then head back to the ocean to find another mate. Tired yet very satisfied with the day, we drove back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.
By Chris DiSibio, 11th Grader, Menlo-Atherton High School
Waking up in the warm Costa Rican weather on our first full day feels incredible. Also, knowing we get to start our day zip lining through the beauty of Costa Rica got me out of bed right away. This being my first time zip lining, I feel lucky to be able to have experienced it here. My favorite part about the zip lining was the view of the ocean while up in the trees, as well as the friendly wild animal we met named Scar. I don’t know what species of animal this was, but he reminded me of dog because he enjoyed a nice snack with our group while we rested in a tall tree.
After zip lining, we ate a wholesome meal at Jardin Marino which hit the spot. After this we went to a elementary school and hosted a lacrosse clinic for the students. As fun as the zip lining was, nothing brings a better feeling to you then opening these kids up to lacrosse for the first time and seeing wide smiles on all their faces.
In the afternoon, in order to beat the heat, we went to the beach to swim for a couple hours in the refreshing ocean. Finally, we ended our day with lots of pizza, time to relax, and get a good night’s rest.
By Ryan Murphy, 11th Grader, Menlo School
Today we spent most of the day traveling. Having just got off the red eye and a 6 hour drive (with a stop for ice cream and team pic next to an unusual statue…), everyone was pretty exhausted and ready to rest. However, after consuming some quality arroz con pollo, everyone was feeling much better and happy to be on their feet.
Next, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for the beach. We met up with the girls team at the beach and had a good time in the ocean diving in and out of breaking waves and body surfing. After the beach, we came back to the hotel, showered and changed to get ready for dinner. We ate at another family restaurant where we all received some of the best smoothies I have ever had.
After dinner, we changed into our lacrosse gear and drove about 5 minutes to an outdoor turf field. That practice we scrimmaged 5 vs 5 and played box-like lacrosse. It was roasting hot, and extremely humid. The practice went well and everyone was drenched in sweat from the high heat and humidity. We got back to the hotel after a great long day, cleaned up, and everyone pretty much went to their rooms and fell asleep quickly. Overall it was a good first day.
I am amazed by all of the different cultures here and interacting with all of the people we’ve met. I am extremely excited for the children’s lacrosse clinic tomorrow, and to get a chance to work with the young kids here.
By Cam Baker, 11th Grader, Menlo-Atherton High School
Coming from a community as fortunate as mine, I cannot help but feel as if my blessings as well as my tight-knit and supportive family have blinded my outlook on the rest of the world. It is for this reason that I reached out to Matt Bond, my high school lacrosse coach after hearing about his annual service trip to Costa Rica. Costa Rica in particular perked my interest due to the vast cultural differences compared to the United States. I hope to not only gain a deeper understanding of the lives of people outside the United States, but also do my best to improve their lives by dedicating my time and care, one person at a time. As I have matured, I’ve realized my interest in playing, entertaining, and teaching young kids. So, I would have to say that I am most excited for the games and competitions Chris diSibio and I have been planning. In all, I have no doubt in my mind that this trip will change me and hopefully clarify my point of view when it comes to life outside the United States.
After a 2-hour drive through small beach towns and pastures full of grazing cows, we arrived at the Tico Adventure Lodge, our home and locker room for the next 7 days. It would be an experience that would change me forever.
During that week, we touched the lives of many children, from the shy to the ambitious. We traveled to El Torito School and led an arts and crafts workshop with the kids. Although the sweltering heat and humidity got to us, we quickly realized the impact we were making. Kids giggled as we built popsicle stick towers, painted butterflies, and weaved on rainbow looms. And then there were the lacrosse clinics, where we taught basic skills such as scooping and passing, and played games like “hungry hippo” and “steal the bacon”. It was amazing to see the exhilaration in each kid, and to know that we were helping to put smiles on their faces.
Apart from the children, we painted an entire playground to give a sense of vibrance to the run-down structure. It was a time of comradery and team bonding, as well a chance to splash each other with fresh paint. It was a great opportunity to witness our immediate effect on the school and the kids. As soon as our van drove away, the kids swarmed the playground like bees to honey.
One of the highlights of our expedition was getting to meet and play against the Costa Rican National Team. They came from all over Costa Rica, with nothing but sticks and incredible drive. Ranging in ages 15-45, it was a joy to learn about their humble beginnings and to share our own love of the game. The scrimmages had a competitive feel, yet no one was out for blood. It was about making friendships and learning from one another. Whether on the field or having barbecues back at the Tico Lodge, the great people, vast culture, and love of lacrosse made for a fantastic experience.
In the what seemed like countless days with the people of Playa Samara, I retained two concepts that I will forever carry away in my mental briefcase. The two-hour bus ride, two flights back home and weather delays gave me ample time to reflect on my experience.
A Simple Fascination
Whether it was piecing together craft guns or chasing after lacrosse balls, I saw a constant gleam of elation within each and every child. It was an emotion that was full of life, intent on finding fun in the most simple places. The most surprising thing was the fact that in a place with poverty, crime, and little resources, there was an unbelievable amount of anticipation and happiness to see “what the Americans would bring us next.” I felt guilty when I thought about the times I had complained about my home, food or possessions. These kids had close to nothing and were forced to live under tin roofs. I have now begun to truly appreciate what I’ve been given over the years. These kids opened my eyes with their laughter and humility. That’s infectious to an American teen like myself.
Truly “Pura Vida”
Surrounded by the culture of a Costa Rican beach town, I now have experienced the true essence of living a “pure life” or “Pura Vida” as the natives say. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area, I was able to unplug and live life without a constant buzz on my phone or news story flashing on the television. I boogie-boarded in the crystal-blue waves of the Pacific, ziplined through jungles full of howler monkeys, and visited a sea-turtle hatching conservatory. It was an experience never to be forgotten. Drama from friends, family, school, and work didn’t dampen the Costa Rican vibe. It was a place free from noise. The kids screams of “pelota, pelota” were music to my ears. If only life in California could be that simple.
Overall, the Costa Rica “Lax and Serve” was an experience that I will always remember. Whether it was playing lacrosse on the beach or just hanging with the National Team, I will now have a new perspective on my own life and the people around me. I will be grateful for the things I have been given and strive to serve those who have less. For it’s a waste to not travel though life’s journey without a little “Pura Vida”.