Hockey is a sport for all ages. You only have to pay a visit to your local hockey club to see players as young as five or six wielding their junior hockey sticks and, at the other end of the spectrum you will see people in their 60s, 70s and 80s still playing competitive hockey.
At international level the age range is obviously considerably less but within a squad it is possible to find the ages of team members spanning three decades.
We speak to the oldest and youngest players who have been competing at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final.
Juan Vivaldi is Argentina’s goalkeeper and, at the age of 37, he was part of Los Leones’ Olympic gold medal winning squad at Rio 2016. When Vivaldi travelled to Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games, the Netherland’s midfielder Jorrit Croon was just six years old. If both Argentina and The Netherlands win - or lose - their respective semi-final matches on Saturday, they will come face-to-face on Sunday. The chances are that the old guard will meet the young pretender at some point of the competition.
“Age is not a problem for me,” says Vivaldi. “I'm enjoying playing for Los Leones and our philosophy is the same always: try to give your best effort for the team. Everyday is a new challenge and everybody can still improve. We have a big competitive spirit within the team.”
And in case Vivaldi has ever been in danger of losing his motivation to keep training, his team’s performances in recent years have been enough to persuade him to keep going. “My three favourite moments during my career have been the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara; the bronze medal in the 2014 World Cup and, of course, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.”
To stay at the top of his game and to maintain his spot as number one goalie in Argentina is not easy. Vivaldi says he has to put in double or triple the effort of some of the younger players. He says, over the years, he has changed and improved all aspects of his life – he eats healthier, has a strict fitness routine, does a lot of additional running and, of course, is always looking to improve his technical ability.
“I have changed a lot in the last four years,” says Vivaldi. “I have improved more than in the rest of my career. I'm in a good place, enjoying every tournament and competition and happy to be at this place now. When the end comes close you value every moment.”
Brilliant Dutch teenager Jorrit Croon is just setting out on his career but he is enjoying every moment of life as an international hockey player. He says the squad had been training hard in the build-up to London and personally he feels he is getting much stronger and fitter as a result.
He also appreciates the wealth of knowledge and experience that surrounds him: “For advice I go to the coaches and players, as a young player I can learn a lot and learn from every player.”
Croon was part of the Dutch squad that played in the 2016 Rio Olympics, an event where he celebrated his 18th birthday. It was an experience that has whet his appetite for many more such occasions.
He says that even now, with a little bit more experience under his belt, the moment he starts singing the national anthem and is wearing the orange shirt provokes a really emotional feeling within. Watching Juan Vivaldi belting out the national anthem for the 200th time suggest that is a feeling that never goes away.
To follow all the action at the London Hockey World League Semi-Final click here. For more information about the Hockey World League click here.