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

Farewell not bye? 

It’s no secret that I like hockey. In fact, I shout it out from the rooftops at every opportunity because I have always believed in hockey as a sport. I started playing at the age of 11 as hockey wasn’t a sport that was accessible to me before (Lacrosse was the school sport of choice). And from the moment I picked up a stick, I loved it. Through playing and now coaching, I continue to love it, to watch it grow and develop and I will tell anyone and everyone who is interested (or not!!) about our sport.

It does slightly annoy me when our sport has been dismissed. For example; During a recent discussion with my former work colleagues pre-Olympics about which sports were going to win medals. The obvious sports were mentioned, Swimming, Athletics, Gymnastics, but when I put out there that the Hockey girls were going to win a medal, if not the Gold, I was shot down in flames; “No-one cares about hockey!” was the snipe, before continuing their conversation.

Well – we certainly showed them!


Photo credit: @Getty Images – Gold medals

It was four years ago, I first had the pleasure of meeting the current GB squad pre London 2012. Running around the country as part of the 35 strong Olympic Torch security team for 70 days, the minutes spent at Bisham Abbey were definitely ones to remember.

Day 53: Bisham abbey – GB Squad 2012 + Torch Security Team

It was the 10th July, 2012. We had no idea where the torch would take us today, or who any of the torchbearers would be, just specific timings, locations and numbers of torchbearers in each location. By day 53, the day’s were pretty routine – up, out and run. We barely had time to work out where we were, just where we needed to be in terms of on the road with our torchbearers. Today we were the running team. There were four main rotations of duties on the relay – running, support (the guys and girls on the pedal bikes), driving or rest.

Our coach was heading into the driveway of Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre and fellow hockey player Gunny [Claire Gunn] shouts, “OMG it’s Crista Cullen, that’s Kate Walsh, wait, is that all the hockey girls?” Scrambling to look out the side of the bus, we could see a lot of Team GB had lined up to see the arrival of the flame, taking a break from their preparations for London 2012.

I was so excited. We had already been the running team with Georgie Twigg on the 24th May, down Henleaze Road, Bristol and we were the support team on the 4th July for Captain Kate [Richardson] Walsh as she ran through Norwich. So to see the national squad of the sport I loved prior to a home Olympic Games was incredible.

I jumped off the bus, probably when it was still moving, I was so excited to see them and wanted to have the opportunity to have a selfie with the squad. Catching up with Annie Panter as she was walking back to resume training, I asked (probably begged if I’m honest!) if I could have a photo with her and the squad.

But at that moment I had a revelation. I had the Olympic flame! Surely they would want a photo with us? Ok, well at least with the Flame? And with that temptation the next thing we knew, Gunny, Neil and I were surrounded by the GB hockey squad holding both the Olympic torch and the Olympic Flame.

A few of the girls asked if they could hold the actual flame, or the lantern at least, including my absolute hero Helen Richardson [Walsh]. I remember giving her strict instructions to hold both the top handle and secure the bottom of the lantern as previously when I had given it to Ben Fogle at the Eden Project, he was waving it around and we were unsure how stable the flame was at the time. So sorry Helen for being so strict!! I didn’t want that flame to go out on my watch, and only a privileged few got to hold the actual Olympic lantern.

I have been lucky to continue to meet the hockey girls along their journey. And they are girls that will help anyone who is passionate about their sport. When I was at a particularly rough crossroads with hockey, Helen Richardson-Walsh provided these wise words. “If it wasn’t for people like you, who give their time, energy and passion to our sport, players like me would never have the opportunities to achieve success” that statement stays with me and will always inspire me to continue to be the best I can be. It picked me up from a dark place and saved me from somewhere I didn’t want to venture. The kindness of a stranger can be an immense gift, a re-motivation and a huge inspiration. A gift I shall always try to pay forward and pass on to everyone I coach and play with.

Supporting each match has become easier with a large number of tournaments being broadcast to watch, however the real buzz is being present, live, living the games, feeling the atmosphere and celebrating or consoling with other fans of our sport. I was there for the Bronze medal match in London, I was at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships for the highs. I was also at the Hockey Champions trophy and watching the World cup for the lows. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn!

 The ultimate gift of Gold in the Rio Olympics 2016 was the reward for pain, devastation, hard work, blood, sweat and tears. The road wasn’t always easy, the road often had many pathways, but in the end, you create your own path.

It will be sad to see Kate leave the squad (I’m still keeping fingers crossed Helen will still play!) – When I was captain at Stevenage HC, having taken over the role with seven games to go, in a particularly turbulent season, deep in the relegation zone of the league, I reached out to Kate, Helen and Alex on Twitter to ask if they had any advise on how to avoid relegation. Kate’s response was simple, and is now engraved on the back of my end of season gift from the team that was saved that year.

Play each game like it’s your first, and each second like it’s your last.” And what a last second to for you to play!

  

Thank you for all you have done. We love you and wish you all the best for your future, may it be coaching with me! Haha! 

 

Posted in eurohockey, Field Hockey, Hockey, Role model, sport, Women in Sport

Winners are Grinners!

I wanted to write a very very quick post to congratulate the England Hockey Ladies on winning the coveted award for the Vitality Team of the Year Award at the 2015 Sunday Times and Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards. #SWOTY2015

This is a team that have come back from the depths of despair, after finishing 11th in the World Cup 2014 At The Hague, beating Belgium in a penalty shootouts to avoid last place in the tournament.  As a devoted supporter of this team, I was as disappointed as everyone else. Seeing a team I believed in struggle to secure any results was heart breaking. Knowing players that I have watched and supported for years were excluded from the squad and others not playing to their full potential was frustrating. This squad seemed to be missing some of the flair I had witnessed at the London 2012 Olympic Games and tournaments thereafter.

The Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Valencia, June 2015, brought about a change in the squad, new management, new players and it was like witnessing a completely different side. Their endless training, mental and physical preparation, guts and determination secured them the top spot, beating China 2-0 in the final. On top form, England entered the Euro-league championship in August with one dream in mind.

I was lucky enough to attend most of this tournament, held at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, to watch a number of the girls games and I saw a fire and momentum I hadn’t seen in this team for a long time. It was exhilarating, they were exciting to watch, inspiring generations to pick up a stick and go play their beloved sport. They had the whole hockey family behind them and they were not going to let any single one of them down.  Even after exhausting matches, the girls gave their time to remain at the pitch to meet their fans, speaking to every single person, thanking them for their support, signing sticks and paraphernalia.

In a tense and exciting final game, the England hockey ladies showed their salt. This was their opportunity to shine. They were 2-0 down with about ten minutes to go and they made the most dramatic comeback , playing World and Olympic champions the Netherlands, to equalise forcing the game into an agonising penalty shoot out.

I unfortunately was at work and not pitch side for the final game, but managed to steal the TV from a room full of boys watching Top Gear. At first the boys showed little interest in the game, but by the shoot out, they were addicted! Eyes intently glued on the final plays. Shouting at the TV for the girls to win.

The girls showed such character, such a calm nature, one more job to do, and Maddie Hinch, GK for England, had nerves of steal, securing victory for England. Victors for the first time since 1991. #smashedit

Amongst the shortlist with the prestigious winners were, Chelsea Ladies, England Football, and Rowing – Helen Glover & Heather Stanning.

The Chelsea ladies nominated for winning the league and cup double.The England Ladies football team nominated for their performance at the World Cup, sealing them a Bronze medal. Glover & Stanning for retaining their world title after an unbeaten run of 28 races. Each team worthy opponents for the award, however  I was thrilled to see the girls win the award.
On receiving the award, Alex Danson paid tribute to the England Ladies football team, spotting them as inspiration, after watching their performance in the World Cup. The support amongst the international women in sport is phenomenal, and truely inspirational not only to the international superstars, but to us, everyday people, who enjoy the world of sport and aspire to improve every day.