“No shinnies, no shoes… no worries,” this was the motto that Australian Hockeyroo stars Rachael Lynch and Jane Claxton came up with following an eye-opening and inspirational trip to two of the more remote outposts of the Oceania Hockey Federation.
In a move that took the pair a long way from the heat of elite international competition, goalkeeper Rachael and midfielder Jane joined the Oceania Hockey Federation Secretary General, Bob Claxton, on a trip to the South Pacific Ocean island of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to see how hockey was played in these communities.
What they found on these beautiful islands were groups of people coming together to play hockey, albeit with very little equipment, many playing in bare feet or sandals, only one mouthguard seen during the entire trip and very few shinguards.
What the players lacked in hockey gear, they made up for with sheer exuberance, enthusiasm and, as Rachael recounts: “some real talent”. Rachael takes up the story via her online blog
"From day one we knew we were in for an eye opening experience. First on the agenda was a full day of coaching at the Vanuatu Hockey pitch, located at the youth centre run by the charity Wun Smol Bag.
"After a quick tour of the facility it was straight into our session with the kids. Now, although we did come in with an open mind as to the equipment that would be available, neither of us expected that both kids and adults would all be playing in either thongs or bare feet. Shoes are taken for granted in Australia but are a luxury item here. The kids were all quite shy and some spoke a little English but with the help of local development officers and coaches we ran through some skill based and competitive drills and the kids had a ball.
"Next up was a session with both the men’s and women’s national teams. Again shoes and shin guards were rarely seen and just one proud team member was wearing his black mouth guard. This was the only one we saw the whole trip.”
One programme that is gaining a lot of support in Vanuatu is the ‘Mamas in Hockey’ project, which aims to get women of all ages playing the sport. It is very informal and women and children just drifted up to join in. At one point 30 children and 10 women were running around, dribbling and having a ball.
The second part of the trip took the players to the Solomon Islands. Here, the lack of facilities and equipment was again striking. A coaching session for a large group of children was quickly adapted when it was clear there were only six hockey balls.
While the aim of the national hockey association is to push for an artificial turf in the capital city of Honiara, Jane and Rachael decided to make the availability of mouthguards another priority.
With the two Hockeyroos’ encouragement and guidance, the High Commissioner is going to arrange for all the national squad players to have mouthguards, with the long-term aim a better understanding of the importance of player safety.
Alongside their hockey coaching sessions, Jane and Rachael also had some more formal duties. As the first Olympians to visit either country, they met with various officials from the Olympic committee and the High Commissions of each country. “We were treated like stars everywhere we went,” says Rachael.
This initiative aligns with the FIH Hockey Revolution which aims to make hockey a global game that inspires the next generation. For more information on the Hockey Revolution click here.
For more information about hockey in Oceania, visit the Oceania Hockey Federation website by clicking here.