Wily Bleby is the go-to man for our rook­ies

The Hockey Paper - - FEATURE -

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

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