Naomi Duncan, 17, has had a passion for hockey since the day she was able to hold a stick in her little hands.

She played her first game on her local grass fields at the age of four. As she sat on the sidelines every weekend and watched her mother play her hockey tournaments, a passion sparked in Duncan’s eyes and she couldn’t wait for the day she was old enough to play her first competitive game.

Playing competitive hockey came naturally for Duncan who will be heading to Argentina next month to compete in the 2018 Youth Olympics.

Duncan said she felt “absolutely ecstatic” to have been selected for such a life-changing experience.

“The feeling of being selected for the youth Olympic team was one I could never put in words,” Duncan said.

“I have been fortunate enough to have made my debut for Australia earlier this year whilst at the qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea for the hockey 5s, but the reality of being able to perform at an Olympic level in less than a month has yet to properly sink in, that my childhood dreams are coming true.”

Image supplied by Naomi Duncan

There’s no doubt Duncan has worked hard to earn her position on the youth Olympic team. She has won the NSW junior field hockey player of the year (2017), won the gold medal against Western Australia in the grand final at nationals (2018), made the under-18 stateside when she was 15, made her debut for Australia as a member of the Youth Olympic Games qualifying team in Port Moresby (2018) and toured South Africa as a member of the Australian School girls’ team (2018).

Duncan will wear two hats as she takes to the field during the Youth Olympics.

“In the traditional 11-a-side hockey format, my position is a defender. However, because of the different structure of hockey 5s and the limited number of players on the field, I will be playing both defence and attack,” she said.

“Hockey 5s requires you to be extremely proactive and alert 100% of the time. As a result of the side boards being introduced into hockey 5s, it has become a very fast and enduring game.

“This requires me to be at my peak fitness performance and to make good decisions on the ball because the small mistakes that can go unseen in 1-a-side hockey will be crucial mistakes in hockey 5s.”

Duncan has been training twice a week for her weekend club teams in preparation for the big competition. Due to the physical aspect of hockey, she has been doing a PT session once a week as well as gym sessions scattered throughout the week to focus on her strength. Since her Olympic selection, she has also trained weekly with the NSW Institute of Sport.

Duncan said she was looking forward to representing Australia whilst playing a sport she loved.

“It’s exciting to be able to experience being part of the first ever Australian women Youth Olympic Games hockey 5s team and to be able to be a part of the Olympic experience of the village and being surrounded by other elite athletes from around the world,” she said.

Though thrilled for what’s to come, Duncan recognised she would face some hardships.

“One of my biggest challenges will be mentally preparing myself to perform to my full potential on the big stage,” she said.

“I know my physicality is able to match the important game, but one of my biggest challenges will be putting myself in the right mental frame of mind to not hold back and make the right decisions.”

Duncan is setting herself up for a long, successful hockey career and couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.

“In my return from the Olympics, I will continue to train hard in the offseason and welcome any opportunity that presents itself that will enable me to continue to represent my country in the future years,” she said.

“There are so many aspects I love about hockey.”

“Mainly, I love the life-long friendships I have made and it’s safe to say most of my best friends are the people I play hockey with.

Playing a lot of sport while growing up became an outlet for Duncan that helped her cope with school commitments and everyday life.

“I love the competitive nature and physicality of hockey,” she said.

“One of the most rewarding qualities of hockey would have to be the comradery and the priceless bond you develop with your teammates during tournaments or the hockey season.”