The opportunities and sacrifices of pursuing elite sport out of the Camden Haven

Reeve Simmons in the ruck contest for the U19s Swans Academy.

A NUMBER of local youth athletes have been offered opportunities to train and play at the elite level, however with most top performance programs located in capital cities, the strain on players and their families can be immense.

Dunbogan’s Reeve Simmons had his AFL talents identified after Brent Wilkinson, one of his teachers from Camden Haven High School, sent an email to Leon Cameron, the talent director from the Sydney Swans Academy.

The next day Reeve’s mum, (NOTA sports reporter) Kim Ambrose, received a phone call asking if her son could attend a training session.

After that session, his mum received another call, this time asking if Simmons was available to play for the Swans Academy under 16s the following Saturday.

He impressed and his journey with the Swans continued, with sixteen-year-old Reeve and his mum travelling weekly from Dunbogan to Sydney for training.

After a year, Reeve and his family were faced with a difficult decision.

“At the beginning of this year I had a really tough choice to make,” Reeve told News Of The Area (NOTA).

“Do I relocate to the Central Coast, where I am originally from, so it will be easier for me to continue training with the Sydney Swans Academy?

“Or do I stay on the North Coast and return to club footy as travelling down to Sydney each week for training was not really a practical option or sustainable for my mum.”

Reeve said he endured many “sleepless nights and feelings of guilt” over the decision.

“I knew if I did return to the Central Coast it would be without my mum, or my twin sister, Scarlett,” he said.

In the end, the chance to pursue a professional AFL career was too good to pass up.

“In the end I decided to take the risk and move back to the Central Coast as I may not get this sporting opportunity again.

“I wanted to give it my all,” he said.

“The move made travel to and from Sydney so much easier and I now have the opportunity to train with the Swans Academy twice a week, increasing my presence.”

Despite the on-field benefits, Reeve told NOTA he has struggled with the move at times.

“It has been difficult being away from my family, in particular my twin sister, Scarlett.

“I have also had a few injuries which have not helped my mindset.

“I have always had Scarlett by my side.

“We both attended Hunter Sports High before moving north, we were in some of the same classes at Camden Haven High School and we even play the same sports, so it was a new experience for me to do all of these things without her and it has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

The hard work is paying off however.

Reeve was selected in the under 19s Swans Academy this year, playing several games before being ruled out due to injuries.

Another young man in a similar position is Adam Drewitt, who was selected to be part of the NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup for the North Sydney Bears.

The NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup is a junior representative pathway that has developed almost every NSW-based rugby league star since 1970.

The competition includes both junior representative teams of the National Rugby League (NRL) and clubs that do not field teams in the NRL competition.

Adam’s selection in the NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup was made possible after selectors identified his talents through video footage of his 2023 club games with the Lake Cathie-Bonny Hills Raiders JRLFC.

The North Sydney Bears then asked Adam to join their squad for a series of trial games.

Following strong performances, Adam was selected to join the training squad alongside 45 other talented players.

This meant a transition to online learning to complete his Year 10 studies, as well as moving to Drummoyne to live with his extended family in order to attend training sessions four times a week for the next two months.

Following a two week Christmas break, the squad of 46 was reduced to 25 players, with Adam making the cut once more to play in the NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup.

The Cup runs for nine weeks plus finals, with training three times a week, meaning an extended return to North Sydney for Adam, away from his friends and family.

The competition ended in April this year, just before the end of Term 1.

As a result, Adam has since moved back home with his family and has returned to the classroom to complete his Year 11 and 12 studies.

Adam told NOTA his time in the NSWRL Harold Matthews Cup was “definitely a positive experience” and he would highly recommend the program.

“The training was completely different to any other training and skill sessions I have been involved in and I have definitely learnt a lot of new things that I am now incorporating into my club games.”

At this stage Adam is unsure if he will trial for the North Sydney Bears under 19s squad.

“It was very difficult being away from home and I struggled socially not having my friends around me,” he said.

“I will probably concentrate on school this year, as I’m in Year 11 and I’ll possibly trial again at the completion of Year 12.

“However, if I do get the opportunity to trial for the under 19s program, I will now be better prepared as I now have a better understanding of what is needed physically, socially and mentally in order to be part of this process.”

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