CSL Daily

August 15, 2017

ENVEST (Day #7) – Bidding Farewell to Astana

Astana, Kazakhstan – Settle in for a reflective post today, as it’s our last day in Kazakhstan! In fact, this is being written from the airport as we wait to fly to Almaty, then Amsterdam, then New York, and finally D.C., followed by a rush-hour drive back to Richmond. This day may be a long one, but the travel time will have been more than worth it for the experiences we’ve gained over the past week.

We bid adieu to our friends from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last night, as they departed early this morning. We expected to spend the day the way we started the trip – just the 14 of us from the United States – touring this beautiful city. But things sometimes end up working out better than you plan, and today was definitely an example of that. Because of the many relationships, we’d build over the past week, nearly 20 of our local friends from Astana met up with us so that THEY could show us their city. Seeing how proud they are of where they come from was enriching and refreshing.

We began the day at an 8-story mall, complete with a dinosaur roller coaster and water park inside! We resisted the urge to stay and ‘play’ and instead ventured outside and strolled several miles up a road that I can only describe as a cross between the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It’s a beautiful walk way adorned with small market shops and various sculptures and artwork commissioned for the Expo. It’s a colorful, vibrant area that connects the important monuments of the city, including ‘the lollipop’ and the President’s Palace. As we walked along slowly, stopping to take pictures and appreciate the beauty of this young city, our Kazak friends shared stories about their lives here, their hopes for the future, and their changed impressions of Americans resulting from our week together.


One of the pieces of artwork on the avenue was a chalkboard wall that read “Before I die, I want to…” Passers-by can fill in the blank space, which was so full you had to write over others’ responses. However, some stuck out more clearly than others, including a very fitting one, which read “Before I die, I want to CHANGE THE SOCIETY.” Given the focus of our week, it was somewhat poetic to see that others before have visited this city spreading the message that we can all change society for the better.

Leaving our new friends was difficult, but our memories will last, and we know we will see some of them again in the Spring when we invite a delegation to the U.S. for the second phase of ENVEST. Reflecting on all that we’ve seen and done in such a short time makes my head spin, but I think it’s appropriate to say that none of us are leaving here the same as we came. We built relationships, embraced differences, and grew personally, all while playing the game that we love. At the end of the day, there’s not much more you could ask for. Until next time Astana!


August 14, 2017

ENVEST (Day #6) – Talking Change

Tajikistan delegates with US Ambassador Krol

Astana, Kazakhstan – Today was the last day of our summit programming. It also marked the opportunity for our youth groups to present their social change projects. In addition to time on the field and in the classroom, our groups (6-9 participants) had time each day to tackle a social problem in their community. They had to come up with a plan to use sport to combat or solve the problem. The problems ranged from working with orphanages, a religious expectation to marry, teenage alcohol/drug abuse, and children with disabilities. Solutions ranged from direct interaction, field days, tournaments, and social media campaigns. The project plans were amazing and truly inspiring. The future is bright. We couldn’t be more proud of the entire group.

Project: Social media for bad habits

Project: Sport for orphanages

Project: Female Equality

Problem: Lack of mentorship for youth

It was also time for soccer.

Coach Will can cook up more than horse bacon in the morning. He cooked up a sweet 6-team tournament.

Here are some of the teams…

Unfortunately, it was also time to say goodbye. Our summit wrapped up today, but it was only Phase One of Two, so it is only goodbye for now. Next summer, 25 participants and coaches from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan will visit us in Washington D.C. and Richmond. And as for ENVEST, that would only complete Stage One of Four. So… we have some work to do and we couldn’t be more excited.

We take off tomorrow night, but we have the entire day to explore the fantastic city of Astana (AH-stin-AH). Here are some more photos from the day:

Pizza Day!

Dr. LeCrom handing out pins to our friends from Kyrgysztan

The twin towers (Mike and Mitch)

No caption needed.

August 13, 2017

ENVEST (Day #5)- Resilience and Grit

Astana, Kazakhstan- We definitely had “Baby Bear” weather today in Astana for the third day of the leadership summit. It was too hot on day one, too cold on day two, but today, with a high of 74 degrees, the temperature was just right!

To begin the day, we asked the youth to reflect on their experience so far. Participants were asked to complete the following statements: I learned that…, I’m disappointed that…, I plan to… (among others). The US group shared that they were disappointed that their time in Kazakhstan is almost over.

Next, youth had time to work on their change projects. With topics like youth drug and alcohol abuse and gender equality, we are excited for presentations tomorrow and to see how the groups are planning to use the power of sport to address some of the pressing social issues in their community.

We wrapped up the morning on the pitch with Will Bates leading the group in outdoor soccer activities, including relay races and soccer tennis. Participants learned that speed, coordination, accuracy, control, communication and support were all essential to performing the activities. Meanwhile, Dr. Dwyer taught a group how to play American football in the gym.

After lunch Dr. Dwyer led the group in a discussion of core values. The youth got a chance to think about the traits that are important to them and how their actions reflect those values.

Dr. LeCrom then led a discussion on resilience and grit. To compliment the discussion, the ENVEST participants tried different activities like juggling, Rubik’s cube, Sudoku, and drawing self portraits. One participant was able to solve 3 Rubik’s cubes in 4 minutes! To conclude this discussion and the activities, the group debriefed by talking about having a growth mindset, working hard, being persistent, and trying new things.

The youth got to put resilience and grit into practice for the final activity of the day, led once again by Will Bates. The teams loved playing almost 2 hours of competitive soccer, but with a twist. Following each game, team captains were responsible for “cutting” two players, telling them why they were cut, and subsequently, offering suggestions for improvement. This activity taught participants that even when they face setbacks, it is important to keep trying.

After a long day of soccer and leadership talk, the US, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan delegations enjoyed a relaxing evening in, which included pizza and bit of American football. We’re hoping that the night of rest helps the group recharge for our final day of the summit tomorrow!

August 12, 2017

ENVEST (Day #4) – World Expo 2017

Astana, Kazakhstan – No programming, no soccer. Today was a culture day in Astana, and we spent our time at the World Expo 2017. The World Expo is hosted every few years in different locations around the world. Each expo has a theme, and Astana’s theme is Future Energy: Promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency, and responsible consumption.

Sixty-four countries have pavilions at the expo and they range from educational programming to interactive experiences. Our youth delegation enjoyed the information about the US’s plan for energy conservation, and Dr. LeCrom killed it on the energy bike at the Austrian pavilion.

Shell Oil Company also gave us a chance to be hamsters (see Coach Will below). Shell has made a HUGE investment in Kazakhstan and has helped the region become a world supplier of energy. By the way, I am apparently built like a hamster. Giddy up.

It was Connor Peed’s 19th birthday as well on Saturday. He was surprised when he received a makeshift birthday cake, which was rather disgusting actually. Connor has been great on and off the field this week; however, he has some serious work to do on hitting the candle when blowing out his birthday candles. Swing and a miss!


Below are a few more candids from our great day! Tomorrow we are back at QSI tackling Resilience and each other (soccer joke). By the way, who had to look up Navy as one of the three schools that are also a color? The answer was Auburn (easy), Brown (easier), and Navy (ridiculously hard).

August 11, 2017

ENVEST (Day #3) – Empowerment

Astana, Kazakhstan – Did you know Astana, Kazakhstan is the second coldest capital in the world next to Ulanbaatar, Mongolia? The temperature dropped roughly 25 degrees overnight. Yesterday was 90 degrees and sunny, while today brought some Central Asian brisk air. Needless to say, day two of our five-day leadership summit kicked off to a cool start. To begin the day, we reviewed notes from yesterday’s brainstorming session regarding the social action projects that each group will present on the final day. Listening ears were turned on early when feedback was exchanged amongst the various nationalities, kicking off the day’s topics of communication and empowerment.

Following the social action plan debrief, we braved the brisk temperatures for some fun and friendly sport competitions. Our Richmond Strikers’ representatives Will Bates and Todd Johnson led the warm-up activities based around our theme of communication. Games included tail tag, blindfolded partner walks, and Ethiopian Escape – a soccer version of the popular U.S. game, capture the flag. The physical activities stimulated the youth with high heart rates and activated their brains for another full day of productive collaboration.

The dynamic duo of Dr. LeCrom and Dr. Dwyer began the first lecture by introducing the topic of personal empowerment. Their discussions included topics such as: how is personal empowerment achieved, examples of empowered leaders and how they came to be, and what characteristics those leaders possess.

Dr. Dwyer then took-over, transitioning from personal empowerment to how we can use our own power and influence to advocate for others. The common realization in the room was that bullying – in its many forms – happens in every culture, every day. Participants suggested solutions on how we as leaders can advocate for our peers and be the voice for those who may not be able to do so themselves.

VCU’s Jen Gellock wrapped up the empowerment discussion with an activity focusing on ways to foster personal empowerment. In this activity, participants wrote down answers to statements such as: “I am grateful for…”; “I am good at…”; “I am confident when I…”; amongst others. The youth participants then shared their responses in small groups and discussed vulnerability and ways to overcame those obstacles.

After lunch, the 8 youth members who traveled from the United States, performed a skit directed by Dr. Dwyer. With the pressure on, they comically broke down the barriers of communication – despite the language barrier that existed between the participants in attendance. I think we may have a nomination for the upcoming Oscars…

Eager to hit the field for the second time today, the group went back outside to play some more football – or as you may know it, soccer. The Strikers’ Will Bates and Todd Johnson took the lead again progressing from competitive small-sided games to 8v8 scrimmages. Soccer has proven to be a common love that has brought all cultures and countries together at the end of both days.

“Caption this”

As Day 2 of the summit neared the end, we got some awesome last minute news that we were given tickets to attend a ballet performance at the World Expo! The US Embassy in Astana hosted “The Human Energy Connection,” performed by the Island Moving Company who traveled from their home base in Newport, Rhode Island. As we left the Expo, the youth participants from the U.S., Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan chatted excitedly about the performance, thus providing yet another example of how sport and dance can bring people together.

Throughout the trip, every night ends with a brief discussion, with the entire delegation sharing their thoughts and experiences from that day. Our members were impressed by the confidence that other countries’ participants portrayed. Their optimistic outlook on life was certainly contagious – despite significant struggles they face in their own communities – and our members ended the day eager and excited for more collaboration.

You know how when you are so tired and you can’t stop laughing? That is how we ended day three on our drive back to our hotel. Trivia and some bad jokes capped a long day. The good news is we get to sleep in tomorrow! After some well-deserved rest, we are all looking forward to exploring what the World Expo 2017 has to offer here in Astana!

Can you answer the trivia question that stumped our youth delegation?

“What are the three NCAA Division I universities that have colors for their school names?” – Answers to follow on tomorrow’s blog post [no cheating!].


August 10, 2017

ENVEST (Day #2) – The Summit Begins

Astana, Kazakhstan – The party grew on Thursday, as the Tajikistan delegation arrived late Wednesday night, and we met our hosts from the Football Federation of Kazakhstan. In total, there were 65 youth players and coaches from four countries in attendance.

Thursday also marked the beginning of our five-day leadership summit. The theme for day one was Openness to Others/Relationship Building. We were first greeted by the US Embassy in Kazakstan’s Deputy Chief of Mission, John Mark Pommersheim (First image).

We then got right into the programming for the day beginning with a few energizers and ice-breakers. We played bingo, Kooshball, the electric current game, and much more.

Dr. LeCrom also introduced the programming, briefly discussed leadership, and explored the role of soccer as a vehicle for change.

The group also had homework. Surveys were collected on a number of topics from social self-efficacy to optimism. Participants also took a personality to test to learn more about how they interact with others in group settings.

 It was then time for soccer. In the afternoon, we spent the next 2.5 hours on the field communicating through soccer. Will Bates and Todd Johnson helped us through a number of activities including Paper, Rock, Scissors, handball, and elements of passing and receiving.

Following the on-field content, we headed back inside for a discussion on their social action projects. On the last day of the summit (Monday), each delegation will present a project that will solve a problem or fill a need in their community. Today’s discussion began with a session on how-to brainstorm. We then did a follow-up activity on brainstorming social issues in their communities and seeking potential solutions. The problems and potential solutions identified thus far have been critical and eye-opening.

Tomorrow’s theme is Empowerment, and we are back at it 9 am Astana time (that is 11 pm on the east coast). Below is a video recap by Will Bates and a few more images from the day’s activities.

US group introducing their social action plan

Electric charge game