…with Olympic hockey Gold medalists Georgie Twigg, Hollie Webb and Shona McCallin.
Firstly, I would like to thank Live Sport Talks (@LiveSportTalks) with Charlie Rowe for hosting such a great event at The Dickens Inn, St Katherine’s Docks, London on Thursday night. An insightful chat with three of the Olympic hockey gold medalists, and definitely worth the trip out on a school night.
“A group of players coming together with
that collective belief can be so powerful.”
Georgie Twigg makes a very valid point in that statement. The physical and mental preparation that contributes to the lead up to the Olympic Games not only incorporates skills and team play, but how those individuals function as a team. Group and individual mindset shines throughout these players and the importance of the squad dynamic (#31) and the squad contribution is the overriding message of how this team worked towards winning the Olympic Gold medal.
After the tough, disappointing performance at the World Cup, (the girls agreed that this was not a controversial point, but indeed a valid learning and turning point for the squad), this appeared to be the start of a driving force behind the momentum that propelled them into the Olympics.
Rio 2016 was Georgie Twigg’s second Olympic Games, and a first for Hollie Webb and Shona McCallin. The passion that comes across from these three ladies was inspiring, and hearing about the hard work and meticulous preparation in the cycle leading up to the games showed these girls deserved every success they had achieved, both on and off the pitch.
The squad is currently in a re-building phase and as Shona so gracefully put it “after an Olympic games there is a big clear out”. Georgie, choosing to concentrate on law and players such as Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, Crista Cullen, Hannah Macleod and Sam Quek no longer training with the England/GB set up. But this means there is a new breed of talent, waiting to shine through. Players like Emily DeFroand, Hannah Martin and Rose Thomas, to name a few of the fifteen new additions (full list: Here).
Following ‘that’ game, the profile of hockey shot through the roof. People who had shown little interest in the game were now watching the pinnacle of women’s hockey live on BBC One. The interest in the sport increased overnight, in schools, in clubs and people were just talking about hockey. Georgie shares,
“I have been told it was the stand out moment of Rio 2016 – compared to ‘Super Saturday’ from London 2012.”
The girls spoke about the number of people who have approached them to speak about the team, about their passion, and most of all about their sport. Hollie still seemed genuinely surprised about their elevated status amongst Team GB, the reception they received at Heathrow on their return and how great it was to have young fans travel especially to the airport in search of autographs.
Olympic village: A stand-out moment for Georgie Twigg was a topless Usain Bolt, wearing one of his gold medals, dancing on his balcony, shouting to passers by below. A surreal time, with a realisation that they were all there, amongst many of their idols, to do the same job.
A meticulously planned training regime, to be carefully executed over a period of fourteen days meant the girls turned up prepared, physically and mentally in the exact place to execute their plan. Replication of tournament conditions throughout the training phase, eight games in fourteen days, and consistent monitoring of their strength and condition ensured every member of the squad was at their peak and ready. But it wasn’t all hockey in Rio, the girls did manage a one day trip up Sugar Loaf mountain, away from the hockey pitch as part of their preparation.
The tournament: They knew every game would be tough, they knew the challenges they would face, and they had video footage to study, with homework to do. The squad took into the Olympics, from previous tournaments a “take one game at a time” mentality, allowing them to purely focus on that one game ahead of them.
Shona talks about their grit and determination showed during the Argentina game with ten minutes remaining, down to a field of nine or ten players, playing against a strong Argentine team in full attack mode, with hundreds of fans behind them, in awful weather and coming out victorious. A proud and defining moment for her during the Olympic Games.
Hollie speaks about the first game against Australia and their meticulous planning leading into the game to secure such an important start to the tournament. Mentally, this set the tone for a good tournament. Georgie talks about the New Zealand semi-final. She eludes to her thoughts as she received a ball to the jaw, “I’ve broken my jaw like Kate, ” she squeals, “so not dramatic at all!”. And once stitched up and ready to go, she remembers with a giggle, “we were still only in the third quarter, still only one-nil up. Helen had hurt her hamstring, Lily had hurt her shoulder and Sam Quek was on the forward line. Karen Brown was like, Twiggy, get back on the pitch!” The chaotic game was a real battle which made it a special game to win, and of course she states, “and we had just made the Olympic final.”
They shared the moment after the game when Kate [Richardson-Walsh] looked at everyone in the team and said “one more game” recalling it as such a powerful moment. They weren’t going to settle for silver.
The final: Shona states, “The Dutch do not like playing against Great Britain. We were quietly confident.” Twiggy then shares the moment before walking onto the pitch, for the Olympic final, “In the line up to walk out towards the pitch, the Dutch were whacking on the scaffolding. I just thought the cocky things – we may be the underdogs and we are not going down without a fight.” This seemed to be the ignition needed for the fire and passion the girls displayed on the pitch. Shona adds, “That game (the finals) showed hockey for what it really was, it had everything – amazing goals, end to end play, a team on top for most of the game, and of course the amazing penalty shoot out.”
And how did they cope? Well, they had practiced performing under pressure and being able to think clearly. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they managed to do it, despite it being the Olympic final. And this was the moment they had trained for, endlessly. And boy, did they do it! Out of a group of nine girls, five are selected after the game to step up for shuffles, and Hollie is nominated for the first time.
“I was hoping Unsy would score and I wouldn’t have to take one.”
She knew what she was doing though, so calm and collected. She had practiced the night before, she had watched footage of the goalkeeper, she had every move, every step planned in her head the night before. But what was she thinking?
“If you think about the occasion and you think about what this means, and what it could mean, then you’ll let yourself get so nervous, and if you mess up you’ll be kicking yourself for years, so I was like right, that’s just not going to happen.”
She jumped a clear metre in the air, and I think half the nation jumped just as high. I was in a little static caravan in Blakeney, Norfolk and I’m pretty sure it almost fell off its bricks that night. Still humble in the part she played, ensuring that people knew that it was a team win, a collective effort, a squad dream, tireless training hours and a brilliant goalkeeper that made that dream a reality. But as I pointed out to her, they couldn’t have won without your ball in the back of the net. Her advice to her younger self would be to concentrate on your strengths as well as your weaknesses. She made sure that she was the best at passing, the best at hitting and the best at tackling that she could be, doing the basics well, and remembering that the strengths, as well as your weaknesses can be developed.
Hollie Webb, scoring her penalty shuffle in the Olympic Final, Rio 2016
Captain Kate: With Twiggy as spokesperson, the girls agree that Kate is a pioneer for hockey, a phenomenal woman, captain for so long, epitomising what a captain should be. She led by example, set the tone in training and in the gym. She showed professionalism and thats the way she led the team. They state the experience she brought to the side, knowing the right thing to say at the right time, being very wise, was invaluable and she will be sorely missed, a great leader and role model for everyone.
Olympic Gold legacy: The legacy moving into the future will continue with the outstanding work the team, and individuals in the team have engaged in. They will continue to promote the love of their sport around the country, in schools and in hockey clubs. What can the hockey community do to continue to help? Get more people onto the pitch, youngsters playing the game, or people who are getting back to the game.
Their motto was “Be the difference. Create history. Inspire the future” and that is their promise. They will inspire people to get onto the pitch, they will help make hockey more visible, get on tv more, and aim to get it as a main sport into this nation. The more competition there is, the better chance to get better, from grass-roots to national and international level. That is their promise to hockey clubs and schools across the country, not only theirs though, the work of volunteers in clubs is invaluable. These three girls add, “What we can do to help you make it sustainable is to keep developing and make it better.”