Shifting a Paradigm on a Dime Pt 2
In this episode we find our hapless hero being guided into the bowels of the secret workings of part of the most magical place on Earth. Okay, it wasn’t so mysterious as that. But, I did get treated like a minor rock star for awhile. And I got to see some pretty amazing things. Also, let me start off by saying:
I am not a morning person.
My days usually don’t start until 9:30 AM. And that’s how I like it. I’m a night owl. (Point of fact, this is being typed up at 1:50 AM.) So, when they say to meet up to catch a bus at early-thirty…I was not without my misgivings. Man, I’m glad I did.
It started in the parking lot. They pulled in and brought us to the spot where coaches come in and drop off their teams’ equipment. It is whisked away on a golf cart and never to be worried about because it appears on the selected field at the proper time. This is not unlike my bags were when we pulled up to the resort! After not having to make several trips to haul our luggage through the parking lot and into an expansive building to our room, I’ve got a new found appreciation for ‘the experience’. We put our bags on the cart and didn’t see them again until the end of the day. Pretty nice not having to lug around a large bag all day.
This was a phrase I heard repeatedly throughout the event. And as our time wore on, I began looking with a more critical eye. It’s only magic when you don’t know why something works the way it does. And the Disney magic is in the details. (More to come on that later.) But first, we were rounded up in front of the complex and given a few ‘housekeeping’ items. First off, being a group of bloggers, we were told there were areas we were not allowed to take pictures. That’s fair. Oh, and secondly, because we were a bunch of bloggers, they were supplying us with a photographer and videographer to follow us around all day and snap pictures and shoot video so we wouldn’t have to. Like that stopped us…but it was nice to know I could let my guard down and just ‘be’ in the moment. That was just a little part of ‘the experience’.
Walking into the gates was impressive. It brought back a lot of old memories of me being much younger, and into every sport I could get my hands on. There’s a smell that only sports can create. It’s a combination of leather, sweat, disinfectant, paint, grass, and determination. That smell was wafting through the air. It was tangible, and it was infecting everyone there. Sports to me, was always about dingy locker rooms, hours long bus rides, and relative anonymity wherever we went. So, you can imagine my surprise when we walked in for breakfast and were announced like superstars!
I’m not opposed to hearing my name called out, by any means. But it was pretty special the way they did it. FROM BEHIND AN ACTUAL SPORTSCENTER DESK. Yeah, that’s right. They have one of the coolest set-ups in the grill. And it’s not just some dummy prop, either. This is the real deal. And for one bright shining moment, I was a star. Now, imagine you’re a teenager again. Imagine having someone call your name out as you eat with a roomful of your peers. This was just one more little item in the list of things they do in the name of ‘the experience’. Here’s a sample of what they had in store for us:
Also, here’s a picture of me shooting that video:
After introductions, we got to sit down and chow down on the buffet they had for us. As you can see, I’m a big believer in bacon. Actually, that’s not a lot of bacon…the camera just adds ten pounds. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. While we ate, we were treated to a couple of different speakers. There was the head of PR as well as the head of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. And what they were saying was totally in line with what I was already experiencing. See? There’s the word again.
After the presentations, Mickey Mouse came out for a photo op. And of course, I got in on some of that action. Then we walked across the way towards the Welcome Center. It is giant kiosk with a jumbo-tron on it. Nice. And after visiting the fine folks in there, I can’t imagine how someone could come in for a sporting event and NOT go there. They offer just about any kind of help you can imagine. They have most of the parks’ maps on hand, and even offer up some special deals for people attending the sporting events. I was surprised to find out that half of the athletes etc. who come to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to compete have never been to Disney World. The Welcome Center helps these folks navigate the Disney Parks side of things, so the Team Parents can focus on the game side of things. And taking stress off of someone’s shoulders like that? You guessed it; part of ‘the experience’.
Next we got introduced to their office center. It was the one quiet place in the whole complex. And that’s by design. This way, coach, planner, team mom, team dad…etc can come in and make phone calls, make copies, send out emails, make cheer posters, or just sit quietly on the couch while their phone charges in one of the many phone charging lockers they have in there. And I may or may not have got sucked into the spirit and made a cheer poster myself.
From there we were zipped through one of the buildings and were greeted with the sounds of sneakers squeaking on gym floors as a cacophony of ball dribbles, whistles, cheers, and buzzers filled the air. We walked past a basketball game going on and I was forced to pause. I looked down and to my surprise, there were a whole lot of basketball games going on! To put it in perspective, in this one room, there are six basketball games going on simultaneously. Each one with professional refs, time keepers etc. They have state of the art shot clocks and even those cool backboards that light up when the game clock hits :00. When I was a teenager, I was just happy to play on the wooden floor of our ‘big gym’.
From there we went down and talked to the head of concessions. This is something I’ve never really thought of before. I mean, you have games, you sell food and drink. I get that. And you have concession stands. I get that, too. What I didn’t think about is that these fields are huge. They are mind-numbingly huge. And they don’t want you to have to walk a quarter of a mile just to get your food. So, to get around that, they have food trucks. And they dispatch these trucks to the furthest reaches of the complex, so no one has to walk more than a hundred yards or so, to get something to eat or drink. I’m not even going to say it. It’s just part of…
Now, you saw the picture of the basketball tournament going on. At the same time, that International Youth Soccer Tournament was going on as well. You remember the one from my last post. Well this time we got to see some of the action first-hand while touring the fields. And there are a lot of fields. The greens were immaculate. There wasn’t a blade of grass out of place. It was as if Mickey, himself, came out in the early morning hours and loving hand manicured each field. I remember, as a kid, playing soccer and being told to ‘try not to fall down, because there’s grass burs everywhere’. So, yeah, this lush green expanse was amazing.
Here we found out that Disney has hosted over seventy different sports at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Also, they hold the Guiness World Record for largest volleyball tournament ever played. They had over 1,500 teams play in the tournament. That’s not players, folks…that’s TEAMS. The logistics must have been mind boggling. They took us back to the track and field portion of the complex. Seeing the people training on the track, brought back some amazing memories to me.
I smiled remembering how many times, I thought I was going to rupture a spleen doing wind sprints in the Texas heat. I could suddenly remember the sounds of my spikes as my shoes rolled across the shredded rubber of our high school track. I remember breathing so hard my lungs and nose burned, making my eyes water. I remember feeling more free and more powerful in those moments than any other time of my life.
Then I got pulled from the revelry as we were given a presentation by the folks at New Balance and their partnership with runDisney. As they were talking, I was struck by something strange. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but after awhile it hit me. The group of guys working out on that track were from EVERY possible level of fitness. There were middle school boys training with pros. (Yes, there were two pro football players doing the exact same training as the middle school boys were.) Where else can you get that kind of…experience?
From here, we went back to a conference room to hear about ‘Sports Travel’. Not being part of this world, I was largely lost with what they were talking about. I mean, I get the logistics behind it all, but not being a team parent, it’s like Greek to me at this point. There was a lot to learn in a very short amount of time. Suffice it to say, Disney is THE go-to place for any sports-related activity. Period. Sure, there’s other venues that can meet your needs. But from what I’ve seen, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex goes the extra mile and doesn’t just meet your needs…they meet needs you didn’t even know you had. They meet those needs by blowing them out of the water.
Have you ever been concerned with feeding your athletes because they won or lost a game and it changed up the brackets? I haven’t. But, it didn’t really surprise me when they wheeled out some of the box lunches they can provide your team. And that’s actually what we had for lunch. And I have to say, they were tasty. (And they also do special menus for food allergies, gluten-free, or even Kosher foods!)
Really, the entire day was boiled down in an off-handed conversation I had with one of the event planners.
Out of the tens of thousands of kids that come through here every year, maybe 1 or 2% will take their sport to the professional level. And maybe 1% of those people will become something big in their sport. But you know what’s amazing about what I do? I can guarantee you, 100% of the kids coming through here, will remember this for the rest of their lives. Sure, we’re elevating people’s games. But we’re making lifelong memories too. And we never forget that.
And that wasn’t lip-service. I watched over the course of several days as Disney went above and beyond to make some memories. One of them was made the next morning…at 6:30 AM. Stay tuned for Pt. 3, where our hero has an epiphany.