Nationals to Team: Rhyan Grant Recalls Youth Championships

Growing up in the quiet town of Canowindra in New South Wales' west, a teenage Rhyan Grant was ecstatic upon hearing he was travelling to Coffs Harbour to compete in the National Youth Championships. Little did he know, the competition would serve not only as the launchpad for his illustrious career, but also the beginning of lifelong friendships and memories.

Fast forward to the present day, and Rhyan Grant is a giant of Australian football. The 32-year-old has excelled internationally, playing in 21 matches for the Subway Socceroos after representing the Under 20 and Under 23 Australian teams. Domestically, some of Rhyan's achievements include:

  • Sydney FC's longest-serving player, having made his debut in 2008

  • Became Sydney FC's first 10-year player in 2018

  • 4 x A-League Championships

  • 4 x A-League Premierships

  • 1 x Australia Cup (formally FFA Cup)

  • Inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year for four consecutive seasons (2016-17, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21)

Aside from his obvious skill and determination, the catalyst for all these achievements came in the form of the 2005 and 2006 editions of the National Youth Championships.

Rhyan represented Football NSW Country in the Under 15s (2005) and Under 16s (2006) tournament held in Coffs Harbour. The nine-hour trip up the Pacific Highway was well worth it, as the National Youth Championships gave Rhyan a platform to showcase his skills and it wasn't too long before scouts started to notice.

"If you did well, you knew you could get selected to go to the next level, and for me, that was NSWIS (New South Wales Institute of Sport)," Rhyan said.

"You knew you were coming up against the best of the best. You could tell it stepped up a level and you wanted to do well."

Impressing scouts and making a name for himself wasn't the only motivation for Rhyan and his teammates, they also shared a burning desire to trump the more favoured NSW Metro side but also found a strong sense of pride in representing their region.

But even with motivation and endless potential on his side, there was still one thing that Rhyan wasn't prepared for.

"As I was coming through the competitions beforehand, I was doing quite well and I thought I was on the right trajectory," Rhyan explained.

"But then, when I got to National Youth Championships, I realised I needed to go up a level if I wanted to continue this path because the skill of the players I was up against was just another step above.

"I realised that there are lots of amazing players out there and that I needed to improve to make sure I reach the next level."

The National Youth Championships are far more than just a talent identification event. The annual tournament also serves as a great place to meet and make new friends who often become friends for life.

From best mates to changeroom pranks, some of Rhyan's fondest memories of the National Youth Championships have nothing to do with a football pitch.

"I still have three or four mates that were in that team that I talk to on a regular basis," Rhyan said.

"It's that perfect age where you forge really close friendships, and you get to hang out as much as possible. Even when everyone went their separate ways after the tournament, we all stayed in touch, making it a really memorable time."

"I remember there were always practical jokes and pranks going on. Our coach would make you wear a blindfold and put a wooden spoon in your mouth and you would have to hit each other on the top of the head.

"The trick was that one of the boys was in on it and he would take his blindfold off and just be whacking him on the head.

"Everyone was getting involved and having a laugh, it brought all the boys together and formed a really close bond, and that's something I still remember quite clearly to this day.

So, while there's plenty to play for at the National Youth Championships, for Rhyan, the most meaningful and long-lasting victories can come from off the pitch.

"I was the groomsman at a couple of weddings of people that I met at the National Youth Championships, so you need to remember to enjoy yourself.

"When you're enjoying your company, I think you get the best out of yourself and that's when your career can take off.

"The best advice I can give is to enjoy it and don't take for granted the people you're with and the friendships you make because they could last for a lifetime."

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