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2017 Age Group Worlds, from Holland, 7

So many letters of encouragement from home. Thank you all. Only one game today.

USA vs South Africa.

After lunch, we arrive at the pool center and stretch outside on the lawn as all the teams are doing. The air is cool and crisp but after running in place for a few minutes, Eric Mai, who leads our stretch work has the boys perspiring. I mark their cap number on their arms and legs with a marker. They love this. It's as if I'm putting on their armor in preparation for battle. Quantum and Raymond receive the coveted "C" and "VC". At age group worlds the captains are given much respect and players and coaches alike always take a second look at opposing team captains.

We finish stretching and walk into the team section of the stands. Our swimsuits are already on and we set our USA bags down and head to the diving pool deck with our gear. We wash down quickly by the deck shower returning to put on our gear. Coach Tom Brown is watching the clock and keeping me informed of our time.

I call out "go" and the boys slip into the pool and swim 500 yards. They know the drill. 100 SWIM, HOHU, HUHO, FUFO and FUFU. They are in single file as they swim. Four lanes in the diving pool. The other teams swim their warm ups as well. Some teams swim double lines and tight formations and others a little looser. All the coaches eye each other and the teams they are about to play.

South African Coach Johan DeKirk walks over from the other side of the deck to shake my hand. He calls me by name and is the same gentle, dignified coach I remember from 2015 worlds in Spain. He says "good luck and let's have a fun game".

We finish the warm up. The boys take off their fins and we march to court 2 for our game. Before we are allowed onto the court the refs perform the mandatory gear check. Ben Leo has a tear on his fins and fails inspection. Team manager Scott Zeigler has the repair kit, performs a tape over repair and all is well. On deck, the boys in unison swim a full under 25 across the pool and surface and circle up at our starting wall.

I swim up and join the circle. I tell the boys a few final key points. "Forwards fly with Zakk". "Eric controls the middle" "Protect Ryan". "sniff their suits!" They are key points and the boys know exactly what they mean. "Quantum are you ready?" He shouts "Team!!" We respond "USA!!! We chorus three times and the buzzer counts down. There is a "ping" at thirty seconds and then 10 pings count down.

Buzzer strike, we attack and reach the puck. The play is furious and intense. The South Africans are big and strong and outmuscle us. We try to take it to the wall but they cut us off and swing around and score quickly. They score in the same pattern and we do our best to defend our goal. Size and strength matters in hockey and aside from Zakk, we cannot match up. In age group, there is a dramatic difference in body maturity between a 16 year old and an 18 or 19 year old.

The entire game can be seen on you tube and as many of our supporters have said, they like to hear my insight as compared with watching the video, so I will try to write as often as I can about things you cannot glean from the video.

Our team is by no means overwhelmed as we play in their court much of the time. In the second half, we have them back against their goal and we attack. They defend and foul us getting a player thrown out for a minute. We attack again and they are desperate and foul us once more. They are now down two. We slam into them and rather than giving up the goal, they foul us again and are three down. For once, our numbers overcome their physical size and Raymond scores. Our supporters cheer as if we had won the game. Final Score: USA 1 South Africa 13

The boys are good. And they're having fun. Gaining experience and having fun. A good thing. After the game, the South African players all come over to our section and give us these beautiful custom pins. All the teams exchange pins or patches after the games. The boys, in return, give them miniature hockey sticks, laser etched with USA and Tasmania on them. They are just as nice, in their own way, as the SA pins and I want to thank Tristan Debrunner for producing them for the USA teams.

Coach Johan DeKirk comes over as well. Not all the coaches do this, just letting the players do the exchange, but Johan is all class and gives me a SA pin. We shake hands and look each other in the eye with respect.

We shower, go to dinner and return to the pool to cheer for our U19 girls in their late game with New Zealand. We do our best to let them know we are there for them. I see that Nicole Wong is sitting out. It tells me that Coach Kendal and Sue know that they cannot win this game. They are sitting Nicole, so that she can play in the games that will count as they march towards the playoffs. Final score: USA 0 - New Zealand 10.

Great Britain Tomorrow.

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