Earlier this year, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) website ran a story about Australia women’s hockey team stars Jane Claxton and Rachel Lynch’s visit to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. While the trip was all about developing the players' skills, player safety was also a big concern for the dynamic duo.
"They can not afford nor easily access dental care yet none of them wore the mouth guards," says Rachel, explaining why this became such an important issue.
Player safety aside, the main aim of the visit was to run coaching clinics with both the men’s and women’s national teams and their coaching staff, helping the teams prepare for international events ahead.
In addition, the two players ran coaching sessions in schools and a one-off training session for ‘Mums’ in a remote village, so they in turn could pass on a love of the game to their children. As Rachel says, “there was no electricity or running water but they had a hockey coaching programme.”
“It was a huge success,” says the Hockeyroos goalkeeper, “but while there we realised the limited resources the teams had to play our amazing game, so we decided that next time we all met we wanted to make some meaningful donations.”
Currently, Vanuatu has a synthetic turf that the teams train on, with some of the athletes travelling for hours on local buses just to get to training. In the Solomon Islands, training takes place on a rock-strewn dirt patch on a school oval.
Equipment is very limited, with basic safety equipment such as shin pads and mouth-guards in short supply.
It’s not just individuals such as Jane and Rachel who do their bit to help the islanders develop the sport. Oceania Hockey helps in a variety of ways, including the training of local coaches, while the hockey programmes are run and facilitated through a local charity.
Eight months on and the teams from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were in Sydney for the inaugural Intercontinental Hockey5s competition which ran alongside the Oceania Cup. Jane and Rachel spotted an opportunity to take the sport’s development in the two communities a step further.
Rachel takes up the story: “In the lead up to the tournament I asked all our national players to keep a bag of uniform to donate while we were there.
“I also arranged some sponsorship from Madison Sports, who donated 40 mouth guards. This was huge because our main focus was player safety. The day we mentioned mouthguards and asked if they would use them they smiled and said ‘yes’ but went on to ask if they would need to share them.”
Over the course of the tournament, Rachel and Jane met up with the men’s and women’s teams from the Solomon Islands and gave them a lesson in mouth-guard fitting and care. They also handed over a brand new Kookaburras uniform to each player.
"One of the main reasons for our visit was to encourage and empower the women and girls through sport."
Australia Goalkeeper, Rachel Lynch
The Australia men’s team then met up with the teams from Samoa and Vanuatu and gave out t-shirts and shorts, while the Papua New Guinea women’s team were given a set of Hockeyroos hoodies by Rachel and Australia women’s captain Emily Smith.
For the visiting teams, the trip to Sydney was an overwhelming experience, but the feeling went both ways, says Rachel. “It was a real moment of gratitude for all of us. We want to support hockey in the Islands and, more than ever, we appreciate how difficult it is for them. I was completely amazed by some of the comments they made like how clean the streets were, how amazing it was to travel on a train, how nice it was to have showers with warm water at the hockey centre change rooms.
“Hockey gives these people some real purpose. When we coached the mums in the remote community it was just amazing to see the smiles on their faces. One of the main reasons for our visit was to encourage and empower the women and girls through sport. Traditionally they take on the role of carer at home so this gives them an outlet and something to really look forward to in their lives. We would love to get back over to the Pacific island as their is a huge need for support and development in the region. We made a huge impact and it was a fantastic learning experience for us also.”
Rachel Lynch and Jane Claxton and their Hockeyroo and Kookaburra teammates are great examples of current players embracing FIH's 10-year aimed at making hockey a global game that inspires the next generation.