By Alex Stumpf, Point Park News Service:
With 15 of its 30 players born outside of the United States, Point Park University’s men’s soccer team fielded a roster in 2013 which was almost unheard of for a smaller school several years ago. Still, team captain Jonty Loukes says the team does not have any problems communicating with one another.
“There’s an old saying, ‘soccer is the international language,’’ according to the sophomore midfielder from Sheffield, England. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, we all speak the same language. We all speak soccer.”
The soccer team’s wide diversity exemplifies how athletics is playing a key role in attracting international students, according to David Frank, vice president of AthleticScholarships.net, a site that helps give advice to international student athletes being recruited in the United States.
Point Park director of athletics Dan Swalga said that there are about 25 international student-athletes currently at Point Park. Other universities, such as Duquesne University, Robert Morris University and the University of Pittsburgh, also tapped into the international market to fill their rosters.
Athletics are important in creating a university brand overseas because some countries do not allow schools to recruit citizens for non-athletic purposes, according to Point Park vice president for enrollment management Gary Bracken. But once the school is known through athletics, connections are made thanks to the foreign players.
“The athletes have contacts back in their countries that we can use to recruit traditional, non-athlete students,” Bracken said.
This is especially beneficial to smaller universities, and Bracken and Swalga agree that without athletics, schools like Point Park may not have as large of an international market.
“[Athletics] play a part. Coaches are recruiting all of over the place, not just locally,” Swalga said. “Because of the good efforts, we are able make some contact with international kids.”
The coaching staff of the men’s soccer team was also receptive to the idea of attracting international athletes, according to head coach Jeroen Walstra, from the Netherlands. He understands global recruitment is important in assembling the best team possible.
“The pool (of good soccer players) is bigger outside of the United States than inside the United States,” Walstra said. “I have to look beyond the borders to have a competitive team.”
But with multiple cultures being present on one team, chemistry problems can be an issue. Duquesne spokesman Ryan Gavatorta explained that around the turn of the millennium, Duquesne had problems because several players were brought on to diversify the team’s roster as opposed to bringing in the best players.
“The chemistry (in the past) wasn’t great, but I’m not exactly sure why. Now, the chemistry is incredible with everybody,” Gavatorta said. “It seemed like in the past, it was recruiting international [students] for recruiting international purposes. The talent level wasn’t there. It’s a lot different now.”
The student-athletes also are pleased with the opportunity to go to school in the states. Khaled Zena, a sophomore forward on the Point Park men’s soccer team from Gaza Strip, Palestine, said that learning about other cultures from his teammates will also be beneficial in his major — international business.
“The amount of attention they give international students … especially at the business school, it makes us very comfortable living here,” Zena said.
The relationships among international student-athletes, the teams on which they play and their universities appear to be mutually beneficial, Frank said, and it’s a trend that will continue to grow.
“I think the idea that recruiting internationally can expand a footprint of a university is certainly one of the reasons a school would like to recruit internationally,” Frank said. “The fact of the matter is international student athletes have a very limited understanding of what it means to be a college athlete. … So if a small university is able to recruit a couple of students of a certain area, it’s going to set up a pipeline for future athletes.”