Opportunity knocks no matter the sacrifice
FOR two years, Rhys Armstrong and his son Noah have stood at the Minnie Water highway rest stop of a Saturday morning, their faces nuzzled into their jackets to fend off 5am winter chills, waiting for the team bus to arrive.
"It's a huge commitment,” Rhys said.
"But it's not just me that does it, it's all the parents involved.”
Rhys is part of a small army of Youth National Premier League parents who sacrifice their time, physical comfort and finances to give their children the best head start in Australian football.
"Sure, it takes up a lot of your time, and we're spending quite a lot of money on registration fees, not to mention wear and tear on the car twice a week, thousands of kilometres a year, but the thing is, if your kids are into it, you've got to give them that opportunity,” he said.
"These kids have never complained once about the travel and I've never seen them complain when they've lost a game. So, while they're like that, we're going to commit to this as well.”
For those who are unfamiliar, NPL is an Australian national soccer youth developmental and reserve league run by Football Federation Australia with the North Coast Football teams dedicating long hours travelling south for the Newcastle-based competitions. Of those from the Clarence Valley region, add an extra 90 minutes travel each time.
"Training is in Coffs Harbour between two and three nights a week, as are home games so we drive down there two to three nights a week,” he said.
Away games are held in Newcastle every second weekend at the multimillion-dollar Speers Point, Lake Macquarie complex.
"The bus picks us up at 5.15am and we get dropped back at 11pm the same day, but we share the travel between myself and my partner, and other parents.”
Rhys said on occasion the squad had to miss a bit of school to get to games.
"The schools have been really supportive giving them time off and organising catch-up work. South Grafton High have been really amazing in that respect.”
Rhys said the level of play from children who have barely reached adolescence was quite a sight.
"It's just impressive to watch for kids that age, but the coaching is also top level,” he said.
"It's such a strong competition. Every week they play and because it's a really high standard they're at, there's no guarantee that any team in particular can win that week.”
If dedicating a proportion of his time to the NPL wasn't enough, Rhys also works full-time at Grafton Base Hospital, coaches the Yuraygir Football Club under 11s team and is the ground keeper for the club it's impressive he finds time to sleep.
"I'm starting to wonder that myself,” he laughed.
"I'd actually like to squeeze in a surf but that seems to take a back seat these days.”