Golden couple inspiring the next generation
The university town of Cambridge went hockey mad as 3,000 children and 200 adult hockey fans met Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh and bombarded the Rio Olympic gold medallists with questions about hockey, life…and their favourite biscuits. Sarah Juggins joined hockey’s golden couple as they continued in their quest to inspire more people into the sport
FOUR school assemblies, six coaching sessions, a hockey hub launched, 3,000 children inspired and a roomful of hockey-mad adults entertained during a lively question and answer session. It was just another 14-hour day in the lives of two of our Olympic stars.
Helen and Kate RichardsonWalsh arrived in Cambridge just before 9am on Friday and embarked on a schedule that allowed just one 20 minute break. They even found themselves changing for the evening’s charity dinner in the toilet cubicles 15 minutes before the start of the event.
But this is all part of their vowed intent to inspire as many people, young girls in particular, to take up sport – hockey preferably – but activity definitely.
“There is a lot of pressure on young girls to be perfect,” says Kate. “There is pressure to have the right phone, to have the right hair, to look the right way, to have the right friends. Hockey has given us the space to be comfortable with who we are as people – we are all completely different – and that is something I want all girls to have access to.”
While the youngsters loved the hockey coaching sessions, the abiding memory for many will be the talks that Helen and Kate gave during their visits to each school. For Helen, doing the rounds in a number of primary schools around the city, the key message was focused around her missed penalty shuttle attempt in the Olympic final, which she followed up with a courageous, successful, penalty flick just minutes later. The message: “Don’t allow one failure to stop you achieving your dream.”
Kate, meanwhile, was addressing audiences at The Perse School. For her, it was all about being the best you can be. “This is not about being a great hockey player, this is about being the very best you can be, in whatever walk of life you choose. Doctors, teachers, gardeners, whatever you want to be, don't let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve your dream.”
Each assembly was followed b a question and answer session, with the children coming up with questions that ranged from the insightful to the downright bizarre. “How do you motivate a team that is losing?”, “Do you have to eat lots of fruit and vegetables?”, “What’s your favourite hotel room?” “What do you feel like just before a game?”
This last question caused the
former Great Britain captain to take a gulp and compose herself as she recalled with spine-tingling words the enormous emotion she felt as she led her team down the tunnel and onto the pitch. “It is the thing I will miss the most,” she says. “Looking each of your teammates in the eye before walking out onto the pitch, that is an electric moment.”
Inspiring young people to get out and play hockey has been the mantra of the Great Britain squad since their Rio success. In truth, it has been at the heart of England Hockey’s vision since London won the bid to host 2012, and it is some- thing the team has got right behind.
England Hockey chief executive Sally Munday revealed that in the three-month period between September and December, the squad of 31 athletes had made an average 78 visits to schools, clubs or corporate businesses. It was a point Kate reiterated: “Today, Helen and I have seen about 3,000 kids, so if you times that by 31, just think how many kids you can reach.
“That was something that was very important to both this squad and the London squad. We take our responsibility to inspire a generation very seriously. As UK-funded athletes we have to log all our visits and we have out-done every other sport. I don’t like picking out individuals but Alex Danson has been to see a ridiculous number of people. She is quite a phenomenal character in terms of how many young people she has got in front of and inspired.”
As another 120 children poured out of The Perse School assembly hall clutching signed kit and autographs, the buzz around the place was tremendous. Senior deputy headteacher and former international Dan Cross said: “I was in that assembly hall and Kate had the entire audience mesmerised. Her message is so strong that everyone, from the 11-year-old at the front to the 46-year-old at the back can feel inspired to achieve something.”
Role model: Kate Richardson-Walsh with her gold medal and the primary school children
Top tuition: Kate shows a youngster the proper way to hold her stick
Motivation: Helen hands the kids a lesson about team