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