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?!