Wily Bleby is the go-to man for our rookies
A HANDFUL of youngsters who recently joined the GB men’s and women’s squads in the battle to earn a place in the gold medal hunt at Tokyo 2020 will no doubt be full of nerves and apprehension, writes GRAHAM OTWAY.
But there could be no better man to turn to for advice than Jon Bleby, whose career has spanned two decades both as an international player and, more recently, as one of the game’s top coaches.
Although he had already played in the national squad at both Under-18 and Under-21 levels, he was still just a 17year-old schoolboy when England Hockey invited him to attend a full national training camp at Lilleshall.
And it was to be four years later before he finally earned his first cap as a defender for England, playing against Poland at the Four Nations Cup in Spain.
Looking back, the assistant Great Britain coach told The Hockey Paper: “I was a little bit nervous when I was called up for the training camp, but that’s pretty natural.
“However, at the same time I was looking forward to it as a good chance to test myself against some of the best players in the world.
“My aim was to learn as much as I could by looking at certain players and seeing how they worked on and off the pitch, and trying to pick up new skills and techniques.
“It was a great opportunity working with players better than me.
“The one I really remember was Russell Garcia, who won a gold medal playing for GB in 1988.
“His application to training was amazing. Watching him made me try to have a really good go at learning new things.
“I was only on the verge of the team for four years and, in hindsight, I could say I might have mentally handled that better, but it was tough trying to break into the squad because you have got to overtake good players to do it.
“The best advice I could give to a player joining the squad for the first time now would be to make sure they give everything on and off the field 100 per cent of the time because they are only going to get one crack at breaking into the team.”
Leaving school, Bleby went to Loughborough University to study sports science – and with the backing of such a renowned sports-inspired education establishment, he just built his hockey career patiently.
“There are some tough aspects to the training,” he says. “Take all the running you have to do, but you have got to learn to love it because you are going to be doing an awful lot of it.
“Dressing room behaviour is significantly important as well.
“It’s absolutely crucial because the culture of having a group underpins everything – it’s a glue which sticks the squad together.
“Together, you have to be the best team in the world and behave in the way to be the best possible athletes out there – because someone else will do it if you don’t.”
And Bleby says that with so much hockey played at the highest level these days, players also have to be 100 per cent on top of their whole lifestyle as well as their play on the hockey field.
“The game now is so tight,” he says. “There are no margins and small details on and off the pitch have become so important.
“There’s things like nutrition and getting a good night’s sleep.
“Players have to make the most of all the knowledge about fitness and the game that they now have access to.”
Voice of experience: Top player and coach Jon Bleby