By Adam Clifford
American civil and children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman famously coined the phrase: “you can’t be what you can’t see,” words that have made a lasting impression on the Sultana Bran Hockey One League’s first openly gay male hockey player, Davis Atkin.
At the heart of Wright Edelman’s profound quote is visualisation, a technique used by many high-performance athletes as a way of conditioning their brain for successful outcomes.
They can rehearse their skill execution and decision making under pressure to habituate it in their mind and focus themselves on what they are seeking to achieve.
But for Canberra Chill’s Atkin, a journey of feeling comfortable in the competitive world of high-performance sport was initially forced upon him and he now hopes to be a trailblazer for others in the future.
His personal story is one of courage, self-belief and acceptance, as he forges a path for other openly gay men to potentially one day follow.
“I’m still trying to find my path individually, because while I have been comfortable with myself for quite a while now, until recently, I wasn’t comfortable opening up in a high-performance environment,” Atkin reveals.
In an unfortunate set of circumstances, the 21-year-old Human Biology student had his sexuality disclosed to his head coach by his psychologist without his permission last year.
“It was hard because I was comfortable with myself but the opportunity to tell my coach, who at the time was the Junior Australian Coach, that I was gay was taken away from me.”
“But as bad of a situation it was, I am proud to be the only openly gay athlete in the Australian hockey high-performance scene.”
“I’m not naturally a leader and I’m not great at inspirational speeches, but I like to think that just being present and known to people as an openly gay athlete in the LGBTQI+ community is enough.”
“From my perspective, to have had someone or been able to see someone like me at the highest level previously, it would have changed my younger self’s perspective on how comfortable I did feel with myself.”
While Atkin admits 2021 was an extremely difficult year, he recognises that he was given immense support, particularly from Hockey ACT, the University of Canberra and his local hockey club.
“I want to thank Ben Bishop specifically, the previous ACTAS hockey head coach and Burras coach for his support.”
“He has been there since the beginning of my high-performance journey and has been especially helpful for me throughout the past couple years.”
“I also received messages from different coaches around Australia since coming out which was amazing.”
This support has enabled him to continue chasing his goal of playing for the Kookaburras, having been a co-captain of the Under 21 ACT side that made the semi-finals and previously involved in the Australian Under 21 Burras program.
“This year’s Australian Under 21 Championships was probably one of my favourite junior national tournaments. We had a solid team and some great coaching staff, which was the reason for our success.”
Having moved to Australia from England in 2008, incredibly Atkin’s first love was soccer and he only picked up the sport at the age of fourteen.
Fast forward seven years and he is part of a wave of talent emerging from the nation’s capital, including Anand Gupte, Ben and Jack Staines, Jay MacDonald and Connor Tuddenham, that will excite Canberra Chill fans and test even the most experienced Hockey One League sides.
This was evident in their opening Hockey One League match, a 3-1 away opening loss to title fancies the Brisbane Blaze, but a match in which the Chill truly challenged the league leaders.
Moving forward, Atkin is honest in his assessment on how he can improve his individual game, operating as a polished defensive midfielder.
“I pride myself on not losing the ball too often and therefore having a greater attacking presence moving forward has become an increasing priority that I’m focusing on.”
While on-field the Chill will be pushing for a finals berth, particularly with three home games still to come, Atkin is also keen for the League to continue promoting men’s and women’s athletes equally and called for the implementation of a Pride Round next year.
“Having a Pride Round would be great to spread awareness. In regard to inclusivity, I think the Hockey Australia community has made great strides in promoting and spreading awareness of it, which is as much as I could hope for.”
“Sport is slowly becoming a safer area for people to feel comfortable coming out in, but high-performance sport however is an area where I think there is a lot to work on still.”
Or as Marian Wright Edelman herself again expressed it best, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.”
Atkin and the Canberra Chill return to action for their first home fixture of the Sultana Bran Hockey One League from 6:30pm AEDT on Thursday 13 October against HC Melbourne. The match will also be broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo.