Being a sportsman provides the opportunity to influence others and have a voice that is heard more widely than many in society. For better or worse what we say and do will reach more people through media coverage, articles written, tweets, blogs and websites.
The pressure of this privilege is one that can make and break sportspeople.
The indiscretions and mistakes of youth (or those young at heart) are often easily forgotten by peers for general members of the pubic.
Not so for those who grow up and live in the spotlight of the media.
Yet, with the weight of the media’s eyes, comes the gift of a voice. When we speak there will be more people listening.
When we do something great, on or off the field, there will be young fans mimicking the behavior in their own backyards. This influence includes hairstyles, body art, brands worn, lingo used, recreational habits and physiques, to name a few.
This is why it is important for sports people to be mindful of what they chose to say and to get involved to inspire people within their communities.
My first contact with a sporting hero of mine was when David Fairleigh came to my school, Avoca Primary. He was a Central Coast local who played for the team that back then meant the world to me: the North Sydney Bears rugby league team.
I will always remember being stoked that he would take the time to come talk to us.
Fairleigh was one of us (a Coastie) and he had made it to the top of my world.
This weekend I flew to Alice Springs to be involved in the Lloyd McDermott Foundation (Lloydies) Under 18 Indigenous Boys Rugby Camp. It is an opportunity for remote indigenous youth to come together through their heritage and their love of rugby union.
While participation and enjoyment is the focus, a national team is selected that will have the opportunity to compete in the nationals and will also go on an overseas rugby tour.
The 89 players this weekend were provided with kit, accommodation, meals, transport, and the lucky few, a passport.
The players came from four regions: NT, ACT, QLD and NSW (including one WA representative). Each team will play every other team to have bragging rights over the other.
However, it is the talented few who are selected in the national team that are the real winners. Some of the boys will compete for two consecutive years to make this team, following participation in the under 16 competition in previous years.
The participants are a tribute to their families, communities and Lloydies.
For 89 youth to share rooms and come together for an intensive weekend of rugby and workshops as a group and as four teams with such comradery and impeccable behavior is heartening to see.
The mateship, sportsmanship and support they all provide one another is second to none in the wider Australian community.
Sport is an amazing vehicle to unite the people from all backgrounds, cultures and nationalities. Rugby is a truly international sport that is giving one part of the Australian community an opportunity to see the world and live a healthier lifestyle.
While rugby is the focus of Lloydies, it is far from just an annual rugby camp for indigenous people.
Lloydies requires all the participants to still be in school as part of the “No School, No Play” program and works to connect private schools with talented individuals to obtain scholarships.
They also work with the young people to help them be mindful of the decisions they make in life that will affect not only their rugby but also the rest of their lives. The camps are a key opportunity to conduct nightly workshops on nutrition, drug and alcohol avoidance, career goal setting, staying connected to Aboriginal heritage, and domestic violence.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to talk to the boys about my path from Lloydies as a 16 year old on my first oversees trip to Papua New Guinea, to the Wallabies.
I spoke about the hard decisions of a young man to sacrifice spending weekends with my friends drinking and chasing girls to make sure that I was my best on the rugby field.
I spoke about the mental toughness you need to be able to overcome injuries.
In my first three years of professional rugby I had back-to-back rebuilds on my ankle, shoulder and knee, which prevented me from getting my first Super cap with the Waratahs.
I spoke about doctors and coaches telling me that I would never make it at Super level or might not ever play rugby again.
I spoke about how you must believe in your ability, work hard and make sacrifices to achieve your goals.
I truthfully told the boys that the sacrifice is all worth it when you get to represent your state or country for the first time. Nothing can take that away from you and no one will understand how that feels until you have done it yourself.
I also told the boys that the average playing career for Super rugby in Australia, for the lucky 175 people who are contracted annually, is around 2.5 years.
So even if you reach your goals, you still have to be focused on your life and career after rugby.
Even the greats of the past and present will have a job after rugby. No-one plays rugby and then retires.
I spoke about my studies and career development throughout my career as I prepare for the next phase of my working life, whenever that may be.
That even as a 31 year old I, like them, don’t know for sure what I want to do or be when I grow up.
However, even in that situation you must be working to educate and train yourself to prepare yourself for the real world.
I reinforced that Lloydies had opened doors to me in my life, both on and off the field.
They have the same opportunity to connect with people and invest time in networks in their rugby community to help them in their lives.
People are important and you never know who can help you and how your efforts can also positively influence others; this is true for everyone and not just professional sportspeople.
I feel fortunate that the Force bye weekend has enabled me to attend this year’s camp, enabling me to provide my support to something that I feel strongly about.
I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to play rugby for my state and my country.
If I can inspire one of these kids from the bush to push hard and be dedicated to their rugby then it is a weekend well spent.
If I can give one kid a buzz to have thrown a ball with a Wallaby and give him a memory like I have of Fairleigh, then I’ll be stoked to make that kid’s highlight reel.
Lloyd McDermott Foundation is about coming together as a larger indigenous community through the love of rugby. It is a weekend of making new friends, and showing off your rugby moves for the cameras and each other.
Special thanks to my mate Tom Evans, the Lloydies Coordinator, for his efforts over the years. He tirelessly heads up a great professional team and network of volunteers who work hard to make every Lloydies successful.
Thank you to the 89 players for being a part of the weekend.
The quality of the rugby was impressive and I look forward to seeing you succeed in all fields of your lives.