I had the pleasure last weekend of playing in the Freda Bennett carnival, an annual gathering of women "of a certain age" keen to play hockey, catch up with friends, lament, at times, that all the promises we made at the end of last season, promises to get fit, to learn some new skills, etc, were packed away with our kitbags and ignored.
More than 380 women, ranging from their early 30s to close to 70, came from around Canberra and further afield. Teams from Sydney and Newcastle, the South Coast and areas out west ecstatic to finally be able to get some hockey in after competitions were scrambled due to COVID.
It was a super weekend, finally being able to see old friends, bringing new ones together to play in our team. And, by the way, we ended up winning our division, I scored a couple of goals, saved one cracker, and my knees held up okay, so, all in all, a pretty good weekend.
It was late in the afternoon, I was procrastinating about going home, a few celebratory sherbets had been had and I was in no rush, when finally it was time to go and I decided on a quick toilet stop before I did.
As I entered the toilets I could hear a young girl sobbing, her breathing was strained, and she was obviously in some distress. I asked her if she was okay and she was brave enough to say she wasn't and that she was anxious because she had to go out and coach her young team for their game which was due to start.
Maybe because I had had a celebratory sherbet (we won, did I mention that?) or maybe because I love hockey, or maybe because I have a soft spot for teenagers who are brave enough to admit everything is not okay, I told her I would come out and help her and that everything would be okay.
The dear little thing was obviously struggling and before half-time her father came over and gently took her away.
So I stepped in and tried to rally her young team, helping them with interchanges and tactics, and then it occurred to me I was helping them with something else as well.
They were the loveliest bunch of young women, not all of them were terribly interested in the idea of playing hockey, to be honest. But we've all had teenagers who are keen to catch up with some friends on a Sunday afternoon and if it means playing hockey together, so be it.
I got talking to them about how it's perfectly okay if hockey is not their thing. Just go back on and give me five good minutes and come back off and we'll have another chat before you go back on. Hockey is a pretty simple game when you break it down like that.
I got them talking about how important it is to find your thing. Some of them loved music and art and other sports, or their pets and hanging out with their friends. A lot can be learned about people in a few minutes on a sideline, you just have to listen, and sometimes, I know because my own teenagers tell me, as a teenager you feel as though no one is listening.
There was one particular girl who started crying when I was asking her about her thing. My maternal instincts took over and I hugged her and this girl hugged me back, crying into my shoulder about how lonely and out of it she feels at home and at school. How her parents tell her her younger sister is the better player and she's just a bit useless and how she hates feeling so inadequate.
I grabbed her little tear-stained face in my hands and told her that people will always try and bring you down and sometimes those you think should have your back will not actually have your back and there will be times where you do feel completely alone. And that's all completely normal. She regrouped and went back on the field with some resolve.
I posted something on my Facebook page when I got home that night, one of those chance encounters that you feel needs documenting at the time.
Close to 200 people liked the post, close to 60 people left a comment, mostly about how I wasn't quite as crazy as I felt after the event. I wasn't looking for validation, for me it was more a post about how sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone and help a stranger, particularly young women who perhaps share a love of a sport, who are brave enough to step up and coach, brave enough to hug someone and speak their truth.
My hockey friends have done this for me over the years, I've done it for them, and nothing made me happier than the response from the Hockey ACT community who are going to reach out to these young girls and see if they need some support.
I didn't post on Facebook, nor write this story, to embarrass the young women involved, moreso it was about celebrating that sense of community that comes with playing alongside strong women.
If any of these girls turn up to play Freda Bennet in about 30 years, my job is done.
I think they lost 10-0.
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