Every child needs a real hero

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2010, 12:00am

When Gareth Edwards, 63, was playing his unforgettable games in the golden era of Welsh rugby, Sean Fitzpatrick, 47, was watching his every move on his TV screen halfway across the world in New Zealand. Simultaneously, Jonathan Davies, 46, was idolising him on the airwaves down in the village of Trimsaran and David Campese, 46, was tuned in to league heroes like Graeme Langlands in Queanbeyan, when not 'owning the streets' or playing cricket, league and Australian Rules.

They all turned out to be legends and they all share the belief that youngsters need heroes - and even more so today with so much competition for recreation, particularly from the cyber world.

'To a degree, every generation thinks they had it worse than the one before,' says Edwards. 'Today, for youth, there are so many outlets and opportunities for children to do many things. However, I still believe that heroes are important. We all need heroes, we all need something to strive towards and someone to emulate.'

Fitzpatrick believes not only are heroes important, it's also crucial for young players to enjoy what they do.

'My parents were great. Although my father was an All Black, he didn't put pressure on me to follow in his footsteps; they were just interested in me enjoying it. They didn't mind which team sport I did, as long as I had fun. And I think that is the key with all children. No one will ever succeed at a sport if they don't enjoy it.'

To a degree, Fitzpatrick feels the social milieu has changed, and this may be partly to the detriment of younger people. 'I wholeheartedly believe you have to strive to be as successful as you can at anything in life. A lot of kids don't talk about winning any more. Winning has somehow become politically incorrect and society shies away from it. You've got to want to win. You've got to give it a good shot.

'I like nothing more than when a kid comes up to me and talks about wanting to win. I like kids who want to be winners,' says Fitzpatrick.

The Welsh language version of this spirit of success and drive to succeed would be ymdrech a lwydda.

Davies does believe ymdrech a lwydda is important to success, as is enjoyment. 'If you don't enjoy something, you won't perform at your best,' he said.

When Campese, Fitzpatrick and Edwards were growing up, the greatest ambition a player could have was to play for their country.

'There wasn't even the World Cup for young players to aim for in the 1960s and 1970s; the first World Cup was in New Zealand in 1987,' Davies said. 'Now young players have rugby in the Olympics to strive for, too.'

The principles to getting there are still the same, says Davies.

'You've just got to have ambition and self belief, despite the knock-backs. If your face doesn't fit this time around and things don't' work out, you've got to not worry and keep persevering. It's important to learn to keep taking the knock-backs. And when opportunity comes along, you've got to grasp it and seize it with all your might. And when you do succeed, you've got to work your hardest to stay there.'

Davies lives by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adage that 'an error is only a mistake if you don't learn from it'.

'Remember your defeats, as well as your victories,' he said. 'There's a lesson in all your mistakes.'

'Campo' also shares the group's view that enjoyment in sport is the key to success. 'My South African wife, Lara, says to me: 'It's so important to take the children outdoors to play. Sport is the best thing for kids'.

'We were living in a golf course complex in South Africa, so our two children, Sienna [5] and Jason [3] could have a similar sort of childhood that I did, just getting outdoors when they felt like it. Now we're living back in Sydney and, like most families with young kids, we ferry them around to soccer and swimming lessons and parks.'

Campese says that without sport, he would have probably amounted to very little. 'I came from the wrong side of the fence. I was hopeless at school; I didn't have any attention span. All I had was sport. When I went on my first tour with the Wallabies, Mark and Glenn Ella said to me, 'Buy a book'.

'It was probably the first book I ever read. It's the habit of a lifetime now. Sport gives you character. I honestly believe children today need heroes more than ever. Too much time is spent playing on the computer in the virtual world with computer-generated icons. Kids need to get outdoors and play sport and have real heroes, not pretend ones.'

Campese is said by many to be in his element coaching, particularly youngsters. It is thought that even more than being the first player ever to reach 50 tries for Australia and his infamous goosestep, this may well be his most cherished lasting legacy. When 'up close and personal' with children, his skill, passion and belief in mentoring is palpable.

The quartet gathered in Hong Kong this week for a series of Barclays Capital/Chartis coaching clinics, finishing off one coaching clinic in the searing hot sun then heading off to another. Their collective goal was obvious: to help youngsters kick more goals.

'If you don't have goals and ambitions, what's the future?' Edwards asked. 'It's easy to think it's too easy for the youth of today. They face different challenges. And it's important we give them direction.'