Dear 12-year-old Simon,
You won’t believe what I’m about to tell you mate.
When you get to the end of your hockey career, you’re going to be a two-time Olympian, a dual World champion, and a 200-game player for the Kookaburras.
When the time is right, acknowledge and appreciate them for the outstanding achievements they will be, but please remember that they won’t be your greatest achievements in life, maybe not even in the top five. Don’t forget ok? It’s really important…
Alright you better get moving, today’s a big day.
Dad’s taking you down to Muswellbrook Sportscene to buy your very first outdoor hockey stick, a Kookaburra Classic. Afterwards you’ll head down to the Indoor Sports Centre and practice bouncing hockey balls off the side netting and landing them in space for your teammates to run onto. That skill will come in handy later on.
You’ll go to your first hockey talent camp in the next few months at Bathurst, NSW. Amongst the hundreds of kids there, you’ll be one of the worst. But that’s ok; you’ll get a lot better. There’s no rush mate, everyone develops at their own rate. Ignore the incredible amount of low scores scribbled all over your hockey report card, you play hockey for enjoyment, and to be with your friends, that’s all.
Dad will be at the camp as well, to watch and make sure you’re ok. You don’t know this now, but Mum and Dad will follow you to all corners of the globe later in life. And there’ll be no better people to share your success with. Don’t get me wrong; they’ll enjoy themselves as well, apart from their trip to Morocco where Dad gets pretty crook. But it’s important that you appreciate how much they will support you over the years. The journey that awaits you won’t be possible without the nudges, the encouragement, the stern words, or the cooking and car advice.
As you get older, you’ll get bigger, faster and stronger. By the time you’re 16, you could very well be one of the best kids in the state. And if you are, stay modest and try to keep learning. I guarantee if you take one piece of advice from every coach you have along the way, you will be one hell of a player. And don’t forget where you come from, and who helped you get there. Teammates will come and go, good friends will last forever.
You’re going to be a whiz at school, up until Year 10, and then the wheels will fall off. Hockey, the beach, parties, and the occasional girl, will take most of your attention. In hindsight, I think you’ll look back and wish you applied yourself more in the classroom. It would have taught you how to achieve life balance early on in your journey, an important tool needed to help escape the daily grind of elite training when you enter the national program later on. Having other passions to focus on when things don’t go your way will also make you a better person, as well as a better hockey player. Think of the big picture and just keep chippin away.
These are some things I’d consider investing in before it’s too late:
- Identify yourself as more than just an athlete. Don’t let people pigeonhole you as ‘the guy who plays hockey for Australia.’ You can be much more than that.
- Work just as hard on your mental preparation as you do on your physical one. Hours in the gym might make you look good for a while, but eventually that will disappear, with or without your consent. Don’t let that happen to your mind as well. It can be a powerful ally.
- Find interests away from hockey. It’ll be easy to finish training and play a lot of golf or go home to muck around on the PlayStation. But just remember, everyone else is out there putting in work to get ahead in their prospective fields. You’ll run into them all when you finish playing hockey, and they’ll probably have a big head start on you if you let them.
- Meet people and friends outside the traditional hockey circle. Many will be interested in you because you are talented on the hockey field, but find people that encourage you to reach the same lofty standards away from the pitch. It’ll always be nice to get out of the ‘hockey bubble’ from time to time.
Robert Frost famously said, ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’ You’ll learn to appreciate that line more over time, as it will probably sum up your career as an Australian hockey player. You won’t be clichéd or stereotypical, you will be a difference maker, a game-changer, and a risk taker. You may need those skills if you want to stand out, whether that is at a job interview, to a prospective partner, or on the hockey field.
You won’t be a wallflower either, no siree…you’ll be a fire breather. You will accidentally cross some lines and rub people the wrong way at times, but it’ll teach you a lot about yourself and others as well. You can take the learning’s from those robust discussions and disagreements into the ‘real world’, where you’ll have to manage conflict, support friends, work together with colleagues, or convince others to believe in your vision. You’ll share a beer with many of these people afterwards as well. That’s how it should be.
You’re first foray into the Olympic Games will be everything you hoped. Your second, not so much. You won’t win a gold medal, but you’ll be ok without it. One of the best things your parents taught you was that it’s just a game, and that medals, titles and accolades won’t ever define you.
Playing for Australia will be such a rewarding experience, but here’s five things to remember before you get too wrapped up in the system:
- Don’t be so tough on yourself. Life is about making mistakes and then learning from them, you will learn a lot.
- Grow on and off the field. Take as many opportunities as you can fit in. Balance is the key to a happy life and you will go through periods where you are so off kilter, it’ll feel like you’re sitting on a seesaw by yourself.
- Learn to be comfortable in your own skin, because that’ll be your greatest challenge, but best asset.
- Keep the bastards honest – challenge the people around you when you believe in something, because many won’t, and it’ll be detrimental to the end goal.
- ALWAYS CELEBRATE! Win, lose or draw, make sure there’s a beer in one hand, and wrap your other one around one of your teammates. Always try and enjoy yourself!
You are going to learn some valuable lessons and experience some magnificent things over the next ten years, but it won’t always be easy. You will do it tough on more than one occasion. There’ll come a time when a black dog barks long and loudly. A time when hockey isn’t fun anymore. When life is rather dull as well…
A few months after being told you’re not a good enough hockey player anymore, you’ll find yourself sitting at home, pondering the exact purpose and direction of your life now that you aren’t a member of the national hockey squad.
There will be a day when you will mutter something along the lines of ‘Is this it? Is this as good as it gets now?’ Well the answer is no.
When you get this phone call -
“Hi Orch, I’ve been busy putting the national squad together for next year and I’m calling to let you know that you haven’t been selected.”
Now get out there on stage mate, it’s time to enjoy and embrace the next chapter of your life.
You will have well and truly earned it!
Break a leg big fella.