I wasn’t in Buenos Aires 24 hours before I was being stared in the face by a massive plate of french fries covered in melted cheddar and bacon. In the back of my head, I heard the faint beeping of the YoYo Intermittent Recovery Test (a common fitness test used to test athletes on their sprinting and endurance).
Being a student athlete abroad can be stressful when it comes to making sure you stay in top condition for your sport! I know the feeling of pre-fitness test anxiety all too well now that I’ve finished my third year playing soccer at a Division III College. Thus, I knew spending my whole offseason, along with a good chunk of my summer, in Argentina would cut into a lot of my usual training time. At first, I was hesitant to fully indulge in all the delicious looking food and sweets around me. The city of Buenos Aires has more hamburger joints per capita than any U.S. city as well as a thriving café culture that offers the day-to-day pedestrian anywhere from a simple coffee shop to a full bakery with lounge furniture and cheap French or Italian inspired pastries on nearly every corner. However, I quickly learned that the city is also packed with opportunities to stay healthy. While you may find it worthwhile to sign up for a gym, or a popular fitness kickboxing class, I found that the easiest (and cheapest!) way to stay gameday ready is to play sports with the local porteños!
Finding a Game to Join
Porteños, a colloquial name for the citizens of Buenos Aires, are noticeably active people. You can see all types of people walking, rollerblading, running, and biking in the built in bike lanes all over the city. One of the first things I noticed on my walk home from orientation that first afternoon was the sizable number of people who were playing sports in the public parks. Here, soccer, or fútbol, is the lifeblood of any athletic porteño but they also have well-worn basketball courts, ping pong tables, and tennis courts all over town.
I found some like-minded students in the IFSA program and on that first Sunday afternoon, I went with two other boys from my program in search of a pick-up soccer game in one of the parks near our homes. The first park we came across had 10 fields…for 9v9 games on synthetic grass. Expecting a large game of 11v11 on a larger grass field, the most common version of soccer found in the United States, we had all brought long grass cleats. Turns out, these smaller fast-paced games are the most common form of fútbol you will find in this bustling port-side city and a pair of turf cleats or sneakers with good traction is highly recommended if you want to be able to keep up with the locals without wiping out (I received a particularly unfortunate turf burn that afternoon).
Language & Cultural Benefits
Although the porteños were somewhat aloof when we initially asked to play with them, they warmed to us quickly as the game grew more competitive. They seemed to enjoy the fresh talent and were mildly amused as we fumbled to learn the Spanish slang for basic soccer phrases. It turns out, playing sports with locals is a great way to practice the local dialect and learn colloquialisms.
Don’t be Nervous About Skill Level
You don’t have to be a college athlete to keep up with the game! While Argentina is a country that places fútbol on a pedestal above most other sports, I found that the skill level varied substantially! As a girl, it was admittedly a bit more difficult to gain the respect of my teammates for the afternoon, but I found I was just as good, if not better, than the majority of the players. At the end of the day, while it is pretty competitive game play, most of them are there to have an active and fun afternoon just like you!
A Quick Note
As a note, I recommend asking around for the best places to find pickup games for your sport of interest! To really find out the go-to parks and what times are most popular, I asked my host mom and host sister, cafe baristas, kiosko (small corner stores found on nearly every block) cashiers, and even my taxi drivers if they knew any good places to find a good pick-up game of fútbol. Now, I have a short list of parks to check out, and I can’t wait to check out the competition around town!
Alex Kenoian is an International Relations & Computer Science double major at Mount Holyoke College and studies abroad with IFSA at the Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires in Spring 2018. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.