Richardson-Walsh: Is success down to coaching, or luck?
In the weeks and months following last summer’s gold medal success in Rio, much has been said about the planning, preparation and practising that goes in to such an achievement. Self-awareness psych sessions, ‘Thinking Thursdays’, negating expectations whilst highlighting ‘what-ifs’, peeing into a pot every morning and weighing your porridge, these factors, along with many more, are the details, and getting the details right is what makes the difference.
As a team we were ready for anything, we felt in control and stayed in the moment. As an individual I was physically and mentally prepared for whatever lay ahead. But when I think back across my whole hockey career, I often wonder whether luck also played a part in helping me get to where I am today.
Would I have ‘made it’ wherever I grew up? Or did my Mum’s seemingly insignificant decision to accept a job in Nottingham when I was just seven years old, provide me with an environment that was significantly impactful?
Certainly the pedigree of sporting heritage was strong. Mention Nottingham to anyone during the late ‘80’s and for sure Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest would spring to mind. Although the Reds’ rise to consecutive European glory was almost a decade previous, having Cloughie as the City’s sporting figurehead was most definitely an inspiration, and just over the River Trent was also Meadow Lane, home to Notts County FC, the oldest league football club in the world.
The sound of leather on willow could also be heard in West Bridgford, along with a polite ripple of applause, as was customary with cricket back then, at Trent Bridge, the world’s third oldest Test Match venue. The National Ice Centre, National Watersports Centre, Raleigh Racing, The Nottingham Open (tennis), the list goes on, Nottingham and sport were made for each other.
Having all these iconic sporting venues on my doorstep, along with the successful sporting tradition, must’ve I’m sure, seeped into my psyche. Not only that, it provided some amazing facilities to practice every sport I wanted, and I played them all.
When it came to hockey, Nottingham’s depth was no different; Beeston, Boots, Nottingham and Sherwood to name a few clubs, but my three older brothers and I opted for one just 10 minutes walk from our house. As thousands of children, inspired by Rio hot footed it down to local clubs last September, 28 years earlier I did exactly the same. Wanting to take full advantage of Great Britain’s first Olympic hockey gold medal, West Bridgford HC formed a junior section for the first time, and it was there where the foundation of my hockey ability was laid down.
Anyone that knows my game will appreciate my strengths revolve around the basic skills of hockey, which were honed hour after hour, every Sunday morning come rain, shine or snow, just like every hockey kid nowadays at clubs all over the UK. Every week we’d drill our passing and receiving, in pairs over five metres, 10 metres, 30 metres, forehand-to-forehand, backhand-to-backhand, although there was no low reverse stick hitting as it hadn’t been invented yet!
The one thing that sticks in my mind when looking back though, and for which I’m grateful for, was the attention to detail paid by the coaches. Each pass had to be exactly where my partner wanted it, the general vicinity was never good enough, not only then did I learn the skill, I was also taught discipline, commitment and playing with the necessary care.
As I developed through the ranks, the same discipline was instilled when developing basic skills from my coaches at Midlands training, which also shone through from the most technically proficient of my England teammates who also had the same coaching.
I get the sense though that due to the competition between sports in the UK for participation these days, more emphasis is being placed on having fun, and static drills are being somewhat discouraged. Although I understand this reasoning, I don’t think that these two elements are incompatible as it’s worth noting that fun comes in many forms.
My enjoyment for example came through the satisfaction of learning a skill, improving as a player and being better placed to win! I know this technical foundation gave me the best possible start, but it would be remiss of me to ignore the social education that the great people of West Bridgford HC gave me.
As I approached my teenage years and playing for the seventh team of a men’s hockey club, I quickly learned there was more to playing hockey than hitting a ball around.
Whether the fixture was home or away, every team always returned to the clubhouse on a Saturday afternoon. I can vividly remember being hit by the smell of stale beer as the steamed up doors were opened, seeing BBC’s Final Score showing on the smallest TV in the corner of the room and looking on at the 1st team’s ‘fines’. This club taught me loyalty, respect and teamwork, and because of that, the club, along with their junior section is still thriving.
So, did luck play it’s part? Who knows how different the story might’ve been if I’d lived elsewhere. But I do know that I’m incredibly grateful to the people of Nottingham for everything they did for me and continue to do for others. What’s great about our sport is that there are thousands of volunteers all over the country, caring, supporting and helping the next generation of hockey players to reach whichever level they’re capable, and you’re all utterly incredible.
The one thing that sticks in my mind on looking back is the attention to detail paid by my coaches
Sporting legend: Having Brian Clough, left, as a sporting figurehead growing up in Nottingham was a huge inspiration