Richard­son-Walsh: Is suc­cess down to coach­ing, or luck?

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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