Why it’s important to remember your roots as a player
Ireally enjoyed reading both Helen Richardson-Walsh and Simon Orchard’s articles in last week’s The Hockey Paper. As well as providing interesting insight into how two brilliant, successful players started out, they provided an important reminder about never forgetting where you’ve come from.
I recently helped out a university student with his dissertation. He is hoping to show that it is harder for sportspeople from Jersey to make it at elite level. I’m not sure if I did much to help him prove his theory.
I accept that expense, logistics and access to club hockey can make growing up somewhere remote a disadvantage. However, in terms of what I learnt to handle and how I approached the opportunities I had, I think it helped. The 14-year-old version of me was independent, focused and determined – and because I had limited chances to play in the mainland, I can honestly say I never took a training session for granted.
It’s a long and demanding journey between first picking up a stick and pulling on an international shirt or stepping onto an Olympic podium. International players and even strong club players don’t magically appear. Becoming a good or maybe even a great player is partly shaped by how you start out.
For Simon, a double World Champion and Olympic medalist, this meant learning something from every coach he worked with and the importance of remembering to enjoy the journey.
Helen describes herself practising basic skills and learning about attention to detail as a youngster. These are major factors that define her as an Olympic champion and one of Britain’s greatest ever players.
As a kid, Luciana Aymar practised dribbling golf, tennis and snooker balls. She used weighted sticks of different lengths and put thousands of hours into honing her skills. Is it a coincidence she is arguably the best female player in history?
For me, remembering where it all began is what can allow a top player to truly inspire the next generation. Gold medal selfies and talking about what it’s like to step onto the pitch for the Olympic final might be inspiring, but I’m not sure they are particularly relatable for most kids in a school assembly or at a community coaching session.
Being able to tap into how you felt when you were new to the game or trying to go up the performance ladder is the key to making a lasting impression. This doesn’t mean don’t talk about your later successes, it just means conveying these experiences in a way that makes sense to your audience.
Having a chance to hold a gold medal might make a kid realise, “That’s what I want to do!” but to increase the chances of this actually becoming a reality – or simply for that child to reach their potential as a club or social player – inspiration must be about what they can do towards that goal now.
This is why I believe talking to kids about handling setbacks is really important. Kids have to deal with injuries, selection, losing and criticism too.
Not being picked for the school A team might be their equivalent to missing out on Olympic selection. It’s a mistake to tell a child that hard work and dedication mean everything always works out perfectly.
Interestingly, when I spoke to Helen about this she explained that it had somehow been easier to emphasise the idea of striving to be the best you can over the end result when she was wearing a bronze medal rather than a gold one. Perhaps it’s harder for people to understand that a ‘perfect result’ often emerges from the most challenging journeys?
Essentially, genuine inspiration is about empathy. As well as telling your story, it’s about making the effort to connect and listen – maybe even be open to a child inspiring you back! You connect with people when they feel like you’re trying to see things through their eyes, not gold-tinted glasses.
So well done and thank you, Helen and Simon. Top players remembering their roots, the tiny details and important people who influenced their early journeys are priceless lessons to any aspiring youngster – and maybe everyone else too.
A perfect result often emerges from the most challenging of journeys
Inspiring: Luciana Aymar (centre) goes back to her roots