How to High-Five Your Way Around the World in Pickup Games
Pickup soccer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Courtesy of Pelada)
With well over two billion people watching 32 nations compete for the World Cup, and with the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs boasting eight different nationalities on their roster, sport is now, more than ever, a universal language. Speaking the language of sport while travelling—by joining a pickup game in a foreign country—is one of the best ways to meet people and make friends around the world. Whether it’s in a back-alley baseball game in Cuba, on a soccer pitch in the slums of Kenya, or shooting a basketball at a hoop on a coconut tree in the Philippines, a high five is a high five, and a “goooooooal” is a goal. Here are a few tips on how you can become a global pickup artist, without needing to be a pro.
Be a team player: Gwen Oxenham spent three years traveling with her now-husband through 25 countries playing pickup games of soccer, making a documentary movie (Pelada) and a book (Finding the Game) about the experience. She told Yahoo Travel that no matter how foreign the country, she found that once you join a game, “you stop being a tourist, and you’re one of them. People are at their happiest and most relaxed when playing sports. They’re far more likely to join you for a drink or invite you into their home if they were your teammate during the day. But be a good teammate and don’t forget to pass the ball!”
The writer’s pickup volleyball game in Myanmar. (Photo: Bill Fink)
I learned the lesson of teamwork the hard way playing volleyball in a small village in Myanmar. As a former college player, I showed enough talent to be asked to join a competitive local game on a dirt court. Since I was about a foot taller than anyone, I blasted spike after spike over my opponents. The whole town was watching, but nobody was cheering—on either side. Surly men with piles of grimy kyat bills in their hands were gambling a lot of money on the game, and I had upset the competitive balance. The mood was turning sour—until I realized I should be setting instead of spiking. Assisting my teammates to victory proved to be the secret of success. In my supporting role, there were smiles all around, and I used my share of the winnings to buy both teams a round of Myanmar Lager.