We chat to Leone Neal (Mother of Shay Neal, striker for the NZ Black Sticks) to find out what it takes to raise a hockey star.
1. HOW OLD WAS SHAY WHEN HE FIRST PLAYED HOCKEY
Shay started hockey at age 4. Hockey Northland have a great system where they play three-aside fun games on small areas, and then gradually move up to bigger pitches and more players. It gives them a great introduction to the game.
2. IF SHAY WASN’T A HOCKEY PLAYER, WHAT OTHER SPORT DO YOU THINK HE’D BE PLAYING?
Roller Hockey was a big part of his life for many years and at one stage he was an U16 NZ rep in both sports. Roller hockey really complemented his skills in hockey. It is certainly more of a contact sport, which made him quite unpredictable on the hockey field when he tried out some of his more radical roller hockey moves.
3. DID SHAY ENJOY SCHOOL?
He didn’t sit still at kindy long enough to even paint a picture, but when he got to school, he was ready to learn. “Shay has the ability but needs to apply himself more” was a fairly common report comment. Now at university (studying Law), he has found something that interests and motivates him and is achieving highly, despite a huge training load.
4. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE TO SHAY’S EARLY SPORTING PROWESS?
I think the saying “success breeds success” is so true. Shay learnt hand-eye coordination skills early, so he enjoyed playing sport because he was good at it. He kept playing and so he improved even more. We weren’t pushy parents training him up; we couldn’t have stopped him if we tried.
5. WHAT ASPECTS OF SHAY’S PERSONALITY DO YOU THINK HAS HELPED HIM BECOME SO SUCCESSFUL?
Being self-motivated, resilient, determined, and an independent thinker.
6. WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN THE NEAL HOUSEHOLD?
Energy, action and mess would describe our household most days! Always tons of activity going on. Plus, we would often have one or more extra kids visiting or staying, so there was always lots of noise, chaos and fun. Grandparents at the beach ensured Shay and his equally sports-mad sister were exposed to all sorts of water sports. Looking back, I think Shay had the potential to be a hyperactive nightmare, but, because there were always plenty of outlets for activity, he was simply a happy, active and energetic kid.
7. WHAT OTHER PARTS OF HIS FAMILY BACKGROUND HAVE HELPED DEVELOP HIS SPORTING ABILITY?
Our children were encouraged and challenged to explore take risks, make decisions, and invent new games and activities. They had a great environment to do it in: big concrete and grass areas, bush next door, a bin full of sports gear in the shed. They had definite no-go zones and rules, but also lots of space and freedom to make their own decisions. His father is a former Northland Hockey men’s rep and coached Shay’s teams right up to U18 age group. When I was a college PE teacher, Shay would walk to meet me after school and join in whatever game happened to be playing last period. It didn’t take long for the girls to realise that the primary school kid was a real asset to their teams. Also having a sister who was sports-mad helped. Brooke was his goalie, pitcher, catcher and target whenever he needed her to be. She would always come off worse for wear, but then got sweet-talked into going back for more punishment. (Brooke is now in the NZ U21 women’s hockey squad, so all that bruising has paid off.)
8. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF GETTING CHILDREN INVOLVED IN SPORT?
We think sport has helped keep Shay more focused especially during the teenage years. They learn some valuable life lessons in a practical way such as learning to value and consider others.