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Disneyland adventure for Welsh youth leaders

Report by Jon Elliott 

Bright and early (some earlier than others!) on Sunday 3 April, an entertaining coach trip was beckoning. Fifty-eight girls from all over Wales were ready to embark on the inaugural International Hockey Experience. 

The song of the week was blasting out of the speakers on the first bus after 10 minutes, with the activators singing along to “Show Me the Way to Amarillo”, and then the Radio 1 version, “Show Me the Way to Aberystwyth”. After the long gruelling journey, we eventually made it to Davey Crockett’s Ranch in Disneyland, Paris. Finally, everyone could relax and stretch out (apart from the senior staff of course!). 

Day 1 started with an opening ceremony, led by Robert Jones, ex-Wales and British Lions rugby star. This was attended by both the hockey group and the rugby group, who were running their own International Experience alongside, where the itinerary was explained to the players. Everyone’s excitement could finally pour out as we spent the first morning in the park, although we were all a bit worried about Dave Roll, who couldn’t hold his joy in any longer, and started dancing and skipping around the park as soon as we got there! 

We stayed in the park until late afternoon, where we departed for the Manchester United Training Camp, where an interesting AstroTurf awaited us. The players were split up into groups, and were coached by two or three activators, who were preparing them for the 11-a-side tournament on the Wednesday. 

The sessions carried out by the activators were prepared weeks before leaving Wales and a group of LDOs that had come out with their respective unitary authority were working towards an NVQ, which involved them having to mentor the activators as coaches.

The sessions homed in on basic skills, which were tough on the bouncy surface - nothing like the astroturfs at home. After the sessions while the players were getting ready to move back to the Ranch, the activators were given feedback from the LDOs about their sessions, before the LDOs were given feedback themselves by the senior staff about their mentoring. 

We went back to the parks for food, where the activators held their first meeting, discussing how the day went, what could have been better, and electing a chair and scribe for the next day’s meeting. When we got back, it was a chance to chill out and use the swimming pool for the players, while the staff met to discuss what was mentioned in the activator’s meeting and the plan for the next day. These meetings took place everyday. The staff could then enjoy what some would say was one of the best parts of the trip…sleep! I’ve never seen anyone fall asleep as quickly as Rhodri in my life! 

Day 2 was a very early morning for me and Ben, as we arranged to meet Dan and Andy for a run. They didn’t show, and claimed they did it an hour after we had! While Ben was trying to keep his eyes open, both rugby and hockey parties met in the indoor tennis courts to participate in a question and answer session with Rob Jones, who was joined by two other Welsh rugby legends, Ieuan Evans and Jonathan Davies. 

The sight of Jonathan’s finger (which wasn’t straight by the way), and Ieuan’s story about how he had a gash so big that he thought it was his shorts pocket had some of the girls feeling a bit sick, but we all learnt a lot about how to be a top class athlete. 

Again, we spent the rest of the morning at the parks, mostly in the Walt Disney Studios. The afternoon was again spent on the AstroTurf, with a shortened coaching session, again working on basic skills, before small 7-a-side matches in the coaching groups were set up. This was to give the players some kind of competition and teamwork practice before the tournament the next day. Luckily for the staff, this tired them all out, making the evening nice and relaxed for all. 

It was agreed in the full staff meetings that the activators would organise the last day’s events, under the supervision of Ant and Dec (aka Katie and Susie). We decided after a hard week to allow the players and senior staff to relax in the morning, before going to the parks late in the afternoon, as they needed all the energy possible for the competition later.

The competition started in the afternoon, with a round robin structure in the first round, a bronze play-off, and the final. Once each team was named, the tournament could start. The activators umpired the matches, with our travelling umpiring mentor Steph giving us feedback after the matches. The players enjoyed the competition, but the coaches might have got too competitive sometimes, to the amusement of everyone else. 

I found two main points from the tournament, one of which was the fact that the players enjoyed the competition between each other. But most importantly, my team, The Mighty Minnies, with the help of Chloë and Elin, beat Andy and Ben’s team in the final! (Possibly my greatest achievement) 

After all of the celebrating, we finally had to join everyone else on the coach to go back to the ranch. As the rugby boys over ran in their closing ceremony, the activators entertained the players by the most out of tune sing-a-long I’ve ever heard, in their Cowboys and Indians costumes! 

Our closing ceremony started with some final words from Robert Jones, before the awards started to be handed out. As it was Chris Marriott’s birthday, we had a small celebration, but unfortunately the idea of a slightly modified version of Bruce Forsyth’s “Get Your Cards Right to Get Your Age Right” wasn’t carried out. The night ended with cake for all who wanted it. 

The inevitable had arrived, we had to go back home to Blighty, with Sal and Fido carrying on the sing-a-long from the night before, which was worse somehow! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the week and it was a trip to remember, especially for the activators! Many friendships were made, with both players and staff, and with some of us already talking about next year’s International Hockey Experience, we can all say that the trip was a huge success. 

Activators:  Jon Elliott, Rachel Fido, Chloë Guy, Dan Jones, Elin Morris, Sally Raitt, Dave Roll, Rhodri  Ryland, Ben Samuel, Andy Seimann
Staff: Susie Osborne, Katie Hamer, Darren Bartley, Stephanie Robinson
Senior Staff: Debbie Austin, Chris Marriott, Sarah Powell

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