Golden cou­ple in­spir­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

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

PICTURES: The Perse School & Stu­[email protected] Pho­tog­ra­phy

Top tu­ition: Kate shows a young­ster the proper way to hold her stick

Mo­ti­va­tion: He­len hands the kids a les­son about team

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