Youth Summit a learning curve for All Stars

With 60 Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori students from both Australia and across the ditch heading to the Gold Coast for the 2015 NRL All Stars Indigenous Youth Summit on Wednesday, there was always a fair chance learning was going to be involved. 

This year's summit set out to enhance the skills and knowledge of these students in terms of cultural knowledge, success at school and success when the time comes to leave school.

But it hasn't just been the younger generations who have learnt a thing or two according to participants in this Friday night's All Stars fixture at Cbus Super Stadium.

Given the opportunity to have cultural sessions in their time up on the Gold Coast, the knowledge these 60 upstanding teenagers already possessed blew away players from both the NRL and Indigenous All Star teams who joined them for an intensive day of activities and educational workshops.

"There were some answers there that the kids knew that I didn't so I learned a bit off them," NRL All Star Dylan Walker admitted to NRL.com.

"I went through a high school which was very Indigenous-populated so when you get kids like this who are willing to learn about their culture, it really excites me.

"It's good, things like this, where kids get to come out and see footy players like myself but it's also a good program. Teaching kids about Indigenous culture is very important."

Playing a huge part in the experiences of the summit, Indigenous centre Dane Gagai has made it his priority not to miss anything involved with the All Stars week, adding he too learnt plenty in the Summit sessions and the week itself.

"There is a lot of stuff that a fair few of us didn't know about, like different cultures and how different cultures do things and their own stories which are really interesting so I have loved every moment of it," Gagai said.

"Obviously being Torres Strait Islander, I knew about Aboriginal culture but I didn't know as much as I thought which means I've learnt so much.

"We have been doing a lot of cultural stuff and I'm really enjoying it and learning a lot about Australia's history and Indigenous culture."

While the players have been learning, the students have been absorbing the opportunity to sit alongside some of the game's biggest names and hear their stories of reaching the pinnacle of their sport first hand.

Rugby league legend and the mastermind behind the All Stars match Preston Campbell, who has run music workshops throughout the week, said the Youth Summit gives these students an opportunity to develop and grow within themselves.

"These kids are already good kids. They are almost cream of the crop. These kids are already leaders in their community," Campbell told NRL.com. 

"For them to be able to come here and see these All Stars like 'JT' (Johnathan Thurston) and Greg Inglis, who are mostly all leaders, and for them to rub shoulders with these kids and give them a bit of advice will only help them develop and grow personally."

Theoretical constructs are one thing but the chance for these students to engage and converse with players such as Inglis, Thurston and Walker will only be beneficial in the long run.

Growing up in and around Sydney's Matraville area, sport was a huge influence in Walker's life and managed to help him achieve some lofty goals at such an early time in his career. 

Learning the positive influences sport contains is a handy lesson for these students to abide by considering Walker at just 20 years of age is now a premiership-winning Rabbitoh and incumbent Australian Test centre.

"I always loved sport and that always kept me on the straight and narrow because I knew where I wanted to get too," he said.

"You have your ups and downs over whether you're going to make it or not but it's definitely something which helps you strive [towards your goals] too.

"I was lucky enough to go to a school where I had my best mates with me. We always kept one another on our toes. We all played footy together and made the rep teams together. There was no odd person. It goes to show how much it helps to surround yourself with good people."

Learning life lessons from role models such as Walker has proved important at this year's summit and it is a testament why the Youth Summit has been running for four years.

Walker is realistic about the influences of other people – both good and bad – and went on to add that if any kid, whether participating in the Youth Summit or not, does slip up in life that it is just a matter of learning from the experience and moving on in a positive direction.

"You have people that go down different paths but you have to realise what your main goal is and what you want to get out of it. There's always going to be things in your life which may lead you to an unfamiliar path," Walker said. 

"But for me that's the whole thing about learning. You learn things through different mistakes. No one is perfect but it's just a matter of narrowing your focus on what's going to make you happy."