Moama hockey player Jayden Gulson recently returned from the Cape Town Under 18 International Hockey Festival.By Geordie Cowan
Jayden Gulson described his trip to South Africa to play in a hockey tournament as the ‘‘best experience of my life’’.
The 16-year-old went to the Cape Town Under 18 International Hockey Festival with the NSW Bushrangers side, but he gathered more than just playing experience and technical knowledge during the trip.
The Bushrangers ultimately finished sixth out of 18 teams in what was an ‘‘awesome’’ tournament.
‘‘Some of the hockey that I saw was really impressive,’’ Jayden said.
‘‘Compared to home it was so much of a step up.
‘‘I didn’t imagine it would be that hard.’’
The team finished second in its pool of five teams, with the only loss against the eventual winners, before going on to win a match in a penalty shootout before playing Perth Como — the only other Australian team — in the match for fifth spot, losing that.
Jayden played full-back for the entire tournament, playing every minute in the full-length games, against teams from England, Namibia, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands and South Africa.
Another benefit for Jayden and his development was the quality of coaching available to him.
One of the travelling coaches was from State League One in Sydney, who was being mentored by the Australian Hockey League coach from NSW.
Jayden hoped to use some of the practices and techniques he developed in South Africa with the River Rats back in Echuca.
‘‘We have done some of that at training and worked on it in games,’’ he said.
‘‘We are trying to keep a similar structure to what I had over there.
‘‘The team I’ve got here at home is a really good team, but in South Africa the teams we played were a lot harder.
‘‘Fast, more skilful, different ways of coaching. Just incredible.’’
A highlight of the trip — aside from the actual tournament — was a four-day training camp at Pretoria University, as well as sightseeing along the Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.
Jayden and his father Mick also visited a shanty town with the touring group, which Mick said was ‘‘a real eye-opener’’.
‘‘They basically put us up for the day and we went into primary school, creches. The kids went and did a bit of a clinic at the high school,’’ Mick said.
‘‘And that was a real eye-opener, just to see the poverty they were living in.
‘‘But just to interact with the people was incredible.’’
Mick said the experience changed his whole outlook on life.
‘‘That to me was something that was incredible,’’ he said.
‘‘The whole time we were away, the kids were having to either work with South African people or interact with them and to me the whole difference from Australia to over there and how the kids had to react and what they had to do was incredible.
‘‘For somebody that had never seen it before, it wasn’t so much a challenge, but it was a real wake-up call.
‘‘Just to see the difference in life over there compared to how lucky we are here.’’
‘‘They’re the happiest people, with nothing. They welcome you in with open arms, accommodate you in any way,’’ Mick said.
‘‘So that was a real wake-up call to us who have everything and expect everything and a lot of the time we’re still not happy.’’
Mick said he was now inspired to try to develop an interaction between the River Rats and the high school to which Jayden donated some of his older hockey sticks and shirts.
‘‘I’m hoping to get a heap of hockey sticks and stuff sent over to the high school, because they are in the process of setting up a hockey team,’’ he said.
‘‘It would be great to have that sort of interaction between the hockey club here and the hockey club over there.’’
Jayden thanked everyone who helped him get to South Africa with fundraising and donations.
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