Posted in captain, Coaching, Field Hockey, Hockey, Role model, sport, Women in Sport

A Captains (B)Log…

Welcome to the ‘Friends Friday’ blog, where I hope to cover some player/coaching profiles. Giving you an idea of various roles within a club level environment. The first profile I wanted to cover was the role of a captain, for the top ladies team within a club.

The honour is given to close friend and player/coaching mentor Helen “Clarkey” Clarke of St Ives Hockey Club (no, not Cornwall!) in Cambridgeshire.

Who are you?

Clarkey. I will be taking on the role of Ladies 1st team captain this season at St Ives Hockey Club. 

What job do you do?
I’m a regional tennis participation manager in the East for the Lawn Tennis Association. Which basically means I work with local priority areas to increase participation in tennis, focusing on community environments, e.g. parks rather than clubs. 

What is your hockey experience?
Player : I’ve played since I was at school, so for about 15 years at St Ives Hockey club. I arrived at the club as a junior, but started playing more frequently as a senior. My dad played at the club so it was a natural progression to join St Ives. I had a game in the threes, aged 14, then I played in the twos for the rest of the season. I then kept the bench warm for the ones until finally making the starting lineup on the pitch aged 15. I have been playing for the ones ever since. 

Coach : My boss at the time, at Living Sport (Living Sport), suggested I do my level 1 in hockey coaching. As a coach himself, he recognized something in my commitment to the club and promoted the opportunity. Professionally I was working with a lot of sports coaches and thought it would be a good idea to know what it felt like to coach. I did my level 1 in 2009 and carried on to do my level 2 in 2011. 

Who have you coached? 
Since taking up coaching I have coached at St Ives Hockey all age ranges from U7 to the senior men, including the men’s first team. I have coached in primary schools, delivering Quick-sticks and in the single system at JDC and JAC with Cambridgeshire, U13 – U16 girls. 

What stick do you use and why?

I am currently playing with a MAZON, but I’ve never bought a stick, sticks don’t really matter to me. My dad works for a sports equipment distributor so I have always had the sticks he has given me. I don’t mind what stick I play with, you just play, don’t you!

What shoes do you wear and why?
I don’t get on with Adidas, so probably Asics, are my shoe of choice, generally whichever the pretty ones are on offer!

What’s your top skill? 
Natural goal scorer – that sounds arrogant, I don’t mean it to be, just a lot of girls are not natural goal scorers. Having coached many young girls, a natural eye for goal is not very common. 

And how do you do it?
A lot of practice. I am a confidence player, so when I’m scoring I feel like I’ve had a good game. If I don’t score I feel responsible, my job is to score, especially if we’ve lost. 


Why did you take the role of Captain?

I’ve been avoiding it for years, then we got relegated last season, which wasn’t a real surprise. I recognised within the club, the reason that we got relegated wasn’t purely down to the first team, but more a build up of the wrong sort of philosophy in the club. I want to use my tenure to change the current philosophy and ensure there is a real opportunity for young players and old players alike to develop individually and progress through the club, providing a much longer term future for all of the teams competing in leagues. I want people to know they are not playing for the first team, they are playing for St Ives Hockey Club.

What does the role of Ladies 1st team captain entail?

Management. A group of girls are notoriously difficult to maintain. You can’t please everyone, all of the time. I can only try to be open, honest and fair and do the right thing for the club. 

There should be an element of tactical understanding and implementing tactics. I think that’s vitally important, so much so, that I am mentoring a manager (retired player and all round hockey guru) who will attend games and training to take pressure of me whilst I am playing, to give me another set of eyes and support me so I can continue my role on the pitch as a player. 

I have chosen to delegate my administration within the team to enable them to feel part of the team. This is part of the long term plan to develop the next captain in line, to give players an understanding of what it takes to be a captain. 

What is your aim this season?

Promotion this year or next. I am not going to sacrifice the long term philosophy in the club to push for promotion this year if its not an option. Although it would be great to bounce straight back up into the league we have spent 11 seasons in. 

I am planning on bringing players into the team that are not necessarily the best players in the club, but players that have the right attitude, work ethic and on pitch contribution.

Why do you think this is a good approach?

To reward effort, encourage other players to give 100% commitment, both in training and during games, and to plan for the future. 
Will you set individual objectives for individual players as well as team objectives?

Yes, we have a level 3 coach that we’ve engaged, who coached us last year. This is a long term vision to support our long-term club development. I hope to work with him to identify areas of weakness within individuals that we can develop, support and build. This is particularly important as some of the players that will be playing in the first team won’t have experienced that pace, aggression and intensity. 

What league are you playing in next season?

East region, division 2NW

What do you think people expect from a captain?

Commitment, honesty, motivation, role model, lead by example. I don’t think you have to be the best hockey player in the team to be captain. 


What qualities do you have as a leader?

I  think it helps that I know and understand hockey and have played at a reasonable standard. I have the respect of the players that I have worked hard to earn over the last 11 seasons and the wider club, due to the work I am prepared to put into running the club. I have been very focused on direction and goal outcome for the season and have been very passionate about what I want to achieve with rebuilding the team hoping the players will follow me. I can be motivational at the right moments to ensure fire and passion passes through all players. I have the support of some of the senior members of the team who are not afraid to keep me grounded and tell it to me straight. 

What do you expect from your team members?

To reciprocate what I give them, a symbiotic relationship…..

How are you preparing for the season?

Personally I have put more emphasis on my own fitness so that I can lead by example. 

When is your training?

We have an hour and a half on the pitch on a Tuesday night from 8-9.30pm at the outdoor St Ives leisure centre, with a half hour whiteboard session at 7.30pm prior to pitch time. This is hockey specific, so I do expect people to look after their general fitness during the week and maintain match fitness in their own time.  

How will you carry out your team selection?

The three ladies teams captains and club captain meet weekly to discuss availability of players. I will get my pick, being first team captain and it will be based on qualities such as commitment, attitude, hunger etc….

What do you think the hardest part of being a captain?

Not taking it personally. So if we get beaten, its not necessarily because I haven’t played well. There may be several contributing factors. If we lose, then I have to look at why we lost, which is different to being beaten. 

And the best part? 

Leading the whole team in the same direction and achieving a mutual goal. 

How would you develop potential players that are striving to be in your team?

Build a channel of communication with them. Avoid the ‘clicky’ nature of teams. I would like for people to feel they are able to approach me and will try to do this by integrating myself into wider groups at training. I want to try to inspire players to want to play higher and better themselves. I am also going to set up a buddy system so more senior players take a less experienced player under their wing, to forge a relationship and bounce off each other. 

There will be players in the team that you just want to push a bit harder. For all players, including players that have been playing for a long time. 

Who is your hockey hero?
My dad – no one can stand on the back post like he did. He’s my inspiration to play. 

Favourite GB player? 

Hannah Macleod – I taught her everything she knew. (Said with a massive smile! They did go to school together!)

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t want to have to umpire! We need to recruit more umpires though. 

I will get back into coaching, once my objectives as captain have been completed. I want to focus on building the club for the future. Then I’m just going to play hockey until my hip or knees give out… (Hopefully a few more years yet!!)

Do you have an inspirational quote?

 “the interesting thing about coaching is trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”  Ric Charlesworth. 

St Ives HC is located at the One Leisure St Ives Outdoor Centre, California Road, St Ives, PE27 6SJ. They currently have five men’s teams and three ladies teams, mixed teams and junior hockey, providing opportunities for all members of the family to play hockey. If you fancy picking a stick up and joining in, log onto the website to see times and dates.(St Ives HC website)

Posted in Coaching, Field Hockey, Fitness, Hockey, Pre-season, sport, Women in Sport

Pre-season starts here….



Having just finished a pre-season session with Stevenage Hockey Club, watching my hardcore attendees battle with running for the first time since the end of the season, I thought I would share with you thoughts in regards to pre-season training. I am massively open to suggestions and tips!

Why should you do some pre-season training?

In brief, pre-season training will improve your cardio-vascular capacity, so when you run on the pitch for the first time, you don’t feel like your lungs are going to leap out of your chest, screaming in panic. It will improve your strength and power, so you can smash that ball up the park. And it will improve your speed and agility, so you can ‘skin’ the opposition. These are all good enough reasons to get training straight away.

Pre-season training should be completed in order to minimise the risk of injury at the beginning and throughout the season. Although with experience, too much too soon can cause injury from the start, which is what we must try to avoid. Careful management of individuals may be required to optimise their training and minimise personal risk of injury. It can be argued that strength and conditioning training is as important, if not more, as skills and drills.

However, maintaining a balance between work and rest is crucial throughout the year, as coaches cannot risk overtraining their young athletes, which may have a detrimental effect on an athlete’s performance and health.” (Stop Sports Injuries)

What fitness does it take to be a successful hockey player?

Successful hockey players need a good aerobic fitness in order that they can last the whole of the game. However, with rolling subs, it is easier to incorporate recovery times within that game period. You must be able to keep up with the pace of the game, remain on the pitch free of injury and fatigue, whilst maintaining speed, aerobic fitness, anaerobic ability and agility. A hard task, requiring all areas of fitness.

Here is how I like to carry out my pre-season training. I split it down into three phases, with each phase around 3 weeks long.

  • Building phase – to build up stamina and aerobic endurance
  • Strength phase – to build targeted muscles
  • Power/explosive phase – to build up speed and agility in relation to game play

Building phase

This is the phase I use to develop the anaerobic capacity and baseline aerobic fitness. There are many ways to improve the aerobic capacity, however my favourites are Fartlek training, Interval-based training and running.

Fartlek sessions – The principle of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running, are adapted for the level of fitness you are starting from. For beginners, jogging or walking can be used as your slower periods, and as your fitness increases, you can progress to fast and slow running. I also like to put some hockey specific movements in too, agility circuits, various efforts of intensity and backwards/sideways running, anything that can replicate the physical requirements and intensity of the game.

An example Fartlek session:

5 minute run
2 minute on / 2 minute off   x4
1.5 min on / 1.5 min off   x4
1 min on / 1 min off   x4
5 min run

ON = Sprint
OFF = Jog

Interval training – Consists of alternating periods of high and low intensity activity. For example, can be high intensity sprints, with rest periods interspersed. Interval training will increase your aerobic base level of fitness and also develop your anaerobic energy system, allowing muscles to function more effectively without oxygen.

An example Interval session:

Warm up/stretch
2 x 800m : 4 mins rest
2 x 400m: 2.5 mins rest
2 x 200m: 1.5 mins rest
4 x 100m: 45 sec rest
4 x 50m: 30 sec rest
Cool down/stretch

Running – Depending on your current fitness levels, you should be building up your running capacity. Ideally you should be aiming for at least one run around 5K or 10K per week. Build up slowly – run for as long as you can and if you need to, walk for a minute before starting to run again. Continue this until your desired time. Start at 15 minutes and build up in 5 minute increments. Your mental strength should get you through.

I shall visit the strength, power and explosive phases in separate posts.

The start of the season, you will feel the difference – you’ll feel on top of the world for your first game!

Posted in Field Hockey, Fitness, Hockey, sport

Get on your feet… get moving!

So the hockey season is nearly upon us and a number of you may be thinking about moving from the couch to start some exercise. Especially those of you that may be aiming for a higher team, or have just been promoted, or you’re a team battling for promotion this season. A strong fitness base for the season can ensure you and your team last the distance together.

My Facebook feed this morning was filled with friends running the ‘Race for Life’ or the ‘British 10K’ and it inspired me to want to get up and exercise. I remember the time when I used to think about exercise a lot, however the execution never matched my enthusiasm. I would make far too many excuses.

  • I don’t have any time,
  • I don’t feel great today
  • I don’t know what to do!

I am no expert, you understand, but here are a few things I found to get me motivated.

*Treat yourself to some funky sports gear that you have always wanted.*

Pick the clothes that will make YOU feel great. Pick some clothes that YOU will want to put on in the morning. afternoon or evening. This way you’ll want to wear them all the time. As soon as you wear your new funky sports clothes, there’s no excuse. This literally is the hardest part. Getting those clothes on puts you in a mindset, no excuses. Then challenge yourself to get them sweaty. Even a walk in the park is a start. The greatest journeys start with a single step.

Some people think clothes shouldn’t stop you exercising. I think, wearing the right gear is the first step. Puts your mind in the right place, to start thinking about exercise. Once you start thinking about exercise, you can move on to starting to do some exercise.

Get new equipment, a new stick or new shoes for example and hopefully you’ll want to go try them out as soon as possible, encouraging you to play the game you love, whether that’s hockey or any other sport.

*Get an app, or a Fitbit©, pedometer, or heart rate monitor.*

This way you’ll see the progress you are making and you can see how well you are doing. Counting calories, or steps, or training to your maximum heart rate are all good ways to measure your progress and keep your motivation going.

Pick a friend and share your progress with them. Keep them motivated, whilst they encourage you. I found this was a great way to exercise on the days I really didn’t want to.

*Get a good playlist.*

Music can really motivate you to move. Pick a beat you love, and go with it. There is nothing better than losing yourself in a world of your favourite tunes whilst jogging in the park, or bashing out some burpees!

Now – you’re ready to go… so…. What are you waiting for??

You could always come to one of my sessions:

Monday 8pm – 9pm
Martins Wood School, Stevenage

Wednesdays – 7.30pm – 8.30pm
St Ives Outdoor Centre, St Ives

I’ll be posting regular fitness updates on the blog, so stay in touch!

Posted in Field Hockey, Hockey, sport

A good fit?

I didn’t intend to write any blog posts based on my feelings alone, but I feel that this may actually help me understand what I am feeling right now, so forgive me for making it personal.

I started thinking more about this after reading the very thought-provoking, honest blog, That Inking Feeling (@inkingfeeling) and one of her recent posts, detailing her struggle with being on the periphery of the England/GB set-up. She sets out her related emotions of not being selected for the squad, alongside her mixed feelings whilst essentially supporting her colleagues but also having to deal with her own disappointment.

Whilst reading the post, even though this is at the highest level of hockey, I could relate to some of those emotions, and no doubt they are replicated by others also. I think there are people all over the hockey world that can relate with her, in some form, whether that is starting on the bench in a team where you think you should be playing, or not being selected for a team that you think you deserve to be in.

On a personal note, I can relate, on many occasions to that disappointment felt when you don’t make the squad, or the starting line up, or more than that, when you feel that you simply just don’t fit into a squad, despite all your efforts.

It’s great to be selected to represent a team, always has been.  Whether that’s the School 1st XI, club team, work team, county, regional or national squad. It’s usually the result of hard work and perseverance, that lands you a place in that team or squad. But there have been occasions when a selection is based on making up numbers. I have to ask the question as to whether that is really a fair selection? And who is it fair to?

We had trials to be selected for the current team I play for. Half a day, working the hardest I have worked, discipline after discipline, maintaining fitness, communication and skill. I really wanted to be selected for this squad, as I had missed out being seen at the tournaments used for selections for the previous six years. I wanted to prove I was good enough for this team, that this team needed me, and it was only the coach and the existing squad who needed convincing.

I was fit enough, I had confidence in my playing ability, I knew some of the girls in the squad and I believed I could match their playing style and ability on the pitch. I desperately wanted to prove I was good enough to make the side. Especially as I don’t play at National League level. I played for a club that no-one had heard of, or was likely to hear about but I had ambition and I had an aim that day, nothing but selection would do.

So sitting there at the end of the session, like a nervous school-girl, waiting for the selection list to be read out, I was dreading not hearing my name. A squad of 18 was selected, with two reserves and it was worrying when the first eight or nine names read out were not even in attendance at the trials. But there I was, at the end, a place in the full squad. I was so chuffed, I finally backed up the bit of confidence in my own ability. However this feeling was short-lived, as my colleagues who had travelled up with me were not selected, and were obviously better players than some of the names selected. Collectively we were gutted.

The selection covered a series of practice tournaments and two competition tournaments. The first weekend away, I felt that I could get stuck into the training and the matches and I felt I was making progress into establishing myself into the squad. One of the core squad even asked me why I hadn’t tried out before and dismissed the answer that I didn’t think I was good enough, which gave me great confidence. She made me feel welcome, and being one of the best players, the recognition was amazing. I felt part of the team. I enjoyed that weekend very much and the team constituted of a number of players who complimented each other, both on and off the pitch.

Then a number of things happened that ended in a cascade of lost confidence, leading to a lack of ability, decreasing the confidence to believe in my ability to play. A year passed by, I missed a tournament and due to some very challenging times at work, I had become a different person. A number of the squad who had played at  the first weekend were now missing. A few were pregnant, a few unavailable and some left the role they were doing so became ineligible to play in the side. The squad was a completely different side and I felt that I was not a great fit into this newly established team. Having missed a weekend, I felt I had missed the development of the squad, getting to know the new players, and yet again I felt like I was the one struggling to prove myself. I was also unwell the weekend we were due to play, but my fear of missing two tournaments and being de-selected meant I attended the weekend with about 50% fitness, and not mentally in a great place.

I felt weak and unable to play to the best of my ability. This, coupled with my recent struggle at work, meant there was literally no hope for me this weekend. This was only enhanced when the coach dismissed me when I tried to put myself forward to take a flick in practice. That was the final straw, and it broke the camels back. I was beaten. I became disinterested in playing for the squad, angry that I was not being given a chance and along with the ability not to play well through illness, my fate was sealed this weekend. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I knew I had let myself down.

Returning for the final tournament, I had very mixed feelings about playing and yet again I didn’t feel I fitted into the squad after my last performance. I had to make up for my poor attitude and hockey, and felt that would be the only thing people would remember. I knew the coach did not rate me as a player and I was dreading training, but it was cancelled. No time to undo the last weekend, no time to prove I was fitter, faster, stronger. No time to prove I was able to play as well as everyone else in the squad, and most importantly, no time to prove to the coach that I was better than that last weekend. All I could do was wait until my turn on the pitch and hope to show how much I had improved.

I didn’t expect to start on the pitch. I knew that I would be fighting for a position on the pitch all weekend. My inspiration to play well was reinforced over and over in my head by saying HRW didn’t start on the pitch for the World League Semi-Finals in Valencia, and she came on to play some awesome hockey. Scoring goals, settling the side, I had a glimmer of hope that I could restore everyones belief in me. A whole half passed and I still hadn’t been called onto the pitch and my disappointment was beginning to overcome my desire to prove myself. And I had to really dig deep to find any trace of confidence left hiding within me. It was there, I knew it, I just needed to get it out there. I only had 10 minutes on the pitch, but I was not going to stop running, tracking back, chasing the ball and was fighting to be in the right position for the right people at the right times.

The second game I was put on the pitch in the first and the second half. I was getting there, but so were the squad. A few rusty nails, stray passes, building communication and slowly but surely it started to come together. I didn’t feel like I had played to my best ability, but it was a definite improvement on the last weekend. The final day was better for me. I started to feel that I was playing better. I was in the starting line-up for the first game of the day and it helped my warm-up and I was more optimistic about playing better. The communication within the team started to improve, people were becoming comfortable with each others playing style, and people started working for each other, instead of individually. By the time the last game was played, our opposition had no hope. We were stringing passes together, beating players and most importantly scoring goals. Nine of them to be precise. And I even managed to find the back of the net following a superb pass from the baseline. All I had to do was not panic and slot the ball into the back of the goal. Luckily I managed it, and I felt with that goal that I had overcome a major personal battle. At the beginning of the weekend I felt I never wanted to play in that team again, to the end of the weekend where I was considering perhaps not everything was as bad as it seemed. I enjoyed the hockey, and I enjoyed hearing some of my team-mates encourage me to play better.

The experience of the weekend showed me a number of things about hockey. Its not just your ability to be able to play good hockey. Playing is so much more than running on the pitch with fifteen of your team-mates. The psychology behind sport and team play is very widely discussed and plays an important part in team sports. If you do not feel part of the team, you won’t be part of the team, no matter how good you are or how hard you try.

The question I leave myself with is, how do you overcome your insecurities and start to feel part of the team?!

Posted in Field Hockey, Hockey, sport

Rules Rules Rules

Do you ever get confused by the rules? Are you a player that thinks you know them better than the umpires? Do you want to know more about the rules of the game?
You do? Then this blog may help…. I want to take a look at some of the rules that are played in the game of hockey, trying to get a beginners breakdown, and better understanding of the rules that govern our play on the pitch. This is often a controversial topic, with players often believing they know the rules better than the umpires on the pitch.

The rules are set by the Federation of International Hockey (FIH) and put into place by each hockey governing body. They are enforced on pitch through two umpires (and a video umpire at higher levels – International level).

The FIH introduced some rule changes that came into place on 1st January 2015 for International matches and have been played in the National Leagues from 31st January 2015.

From the 1st July 2015, all the new rule changes will be implemented in all levels of hockey, the 11 a-side game, for 2015-2016 season in England, Scotland and Wales.

In an attempt to understand some of these new changes, I have decided to first look at the traditional long corner re-start.
This rule comes into play at the ‘re-start after the ball has unintentionally been played over the back line by a defender or deflected by a goalkeeper or player with goal keeping privileges, and no goal is scored
Where before, a long corner would have been awarded, the new rule states, ‘Play will now be re-started with the ball on the 23m line and in line with where it crossed the back line.’

The FIH states that this re-start replaced the corner as it was ‘an ineffective and inefficient re-start‘. The idea is to open up the play, preventing the ball getting trapped within the corners of the pitch.

The umpire will point with one arm at the corner flag nearest where the ball went off. And the ball will then be placed on the 23m line in-line with where it went off.

FIH Rules

This rule seems simple enough… So the question is, will it have the desired effect on the game, or will it be another rule that will change in the near future?

Speaking to Lynsey Buchanan-Barlas, a player at GHK hockey club in Glasgow, Scotland who have been playing this rule since January in the Scottish National League, here is what she had to say about the rule.
Having played the new rule for the second half of last season I am of the opinion that it has done what the FIH set out for it to do – the play remains open and does not become stuck in the corner of the field.

From an attacking point of view this is a great addition to your attacking options with our coach now incorporating exercises that allow us to make the best use of the new long corner rule. It allows the play to stay in the middle of the field and the attacking options that playing from this area of the field allows is a massive advantage for the attacking team.

The ball must still move five metres before it can be played into the circle so occasionally the ball can still become trapped in the corners of the field due to players dribbling or passing into these areas in order to make the ‘5 metre rule’ before passing into the circle. However, on the whole this rule has been a great addition to attacking teams and allows the play to remain at a high intensity rather than being slowed somewhat by the old long corner rule.

From a defensive point of view, however, this rule has been a nightmare. As a defensive team the old long corners were seen as a way of disrupting the attacking teams ‘flow’ and often the ball would be played over the back-line in order to slow the play down and allow the defence to set-up properly, attackers and midfielders to get back into defensive positions, etc. With this new rule, from a defensive point, the play does not slow down sufficiently in order for the defence to receive any advantage of this. Yes, it takes some time for an attacker to return the ball to the 23 metre line where the ball went off the back-line however as the speed of this return is an attacking advantage, the ball is normally returned quickly.” 

And especially quick if you are playing an International match or a game with ball boys/girls to put that ball in position almost as soon as it leaves the back line. She continues,

The new rule also means that the attackers are playing around the top of the circle for most of the play and the ball is very rarely getting trapped in the corners of the field. Again, from a defensive point of view, this can be very intensive if you are playing a better quality team and are defending a lot. With the old rule, the ball becoming trapped in the corners by the attack was a huge advantage for the defensive team in that very rarely would players score from balls played in from the corners of the field.

As a defensive team, however, if you win the ball in these areas then you are at more of an advantage than if you had won it in the corners of the field and this can lead to more attacking options for the defensive team and on occasion more goal scoring opportunities.
Overall, I think the new rule is better than the old rule (perhaps because most of the time I am attacking) and that it allows the play to flow better and the intensity of the game to remain high. If you are a defender or are quite unfit then I can see how you would hate the new rule but I think there are more advantages to it than disadvantages.”

Sophie Hoskins of Stevenage Hockey Club, thinks the following, “long corners I think if passed back and taken quickly could be a super advantage to attackers but if not taken efficiently as a defender I think you get time to set and press play wide .. Obviously it still has to travel 5 so plenty of opportunity to upgrade to shorts etc .. All in all quick reaction from attacking team is imperative to gain benefit.”

From an umpiring point of view, will this be easier to enforce, or will it cause confusion on pitch? In discussion, the overall feeling is that it will be a rule that benefits the game and will be easy to enforce. Making sure the ball is taken directly on the line, and not behind, making sure the ball travels 5, and the defenders are held on the back foot, this rule should be easy to enforce and be of benefit to the game.