An International Step Up – Wales Under 17Dalton Harris
After my performances at U16 level, I was selected to participate in the UEFA European Championships at the age of 15. So I was playing with players that were 2.5 years older than me and at the age of 15 to 17/18 physically there is a huge difference.
It was a tough blooding in, because the squad had been together for some time and I was a newcomer, and also I was the youngest in the squad, so often I was isolated as it took some getting used to the squad banter and dynamics.
We were based in Wales and played, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Russia and Iceland in our group. At the time, no Wales U17 team had made it out of their group. It was far more intense as these players were often playing for the reserves in their own club teams and I was still playing school boy football.
The training was faster, the sport science was further developed as I was out of school for 2.5 weeks, and during that time I had picked up a slight muscle tear, which the team doctor used acupuncture to cure and within 2 days I fit again.
After training sessions and games we would have ice baths, followed by hot showers to ensure that we maximised our recovery and performance, post games, to make sure that because we had so many games in a short space of time, we were encouraged to do active recovery in swimming pool.
I was fortunate to start in the second game against Iceland where we won 2-1 in the last minute. Before the game when the starting line-up was announced I was petrified, especially as I had seen the Wales first team manager and he said good luck to me. Warming up on the pitch with a huge crowd cheering when the team’s names are read out loud over the tannoy and trying to concentrate on warming up and getting gin to a good frame of mind was even more difficult when people are shouting your name and the first team manager is in the stands along with your family.
Unfortunately that game, I was brought off at half time and if I’m honest, was maybe a step too far too early as mentally I wasn’t strong enough just yet to cope with the demands that I faced. I hadn’t even started my GCSE’s yet and I had to cope with the expectation of the first team manager of Wales watching me play in the European Championships qualification.