Rio 2016 will be remembered for many amazing moments and the huge number of medals that were won by our GB athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics (Mo Farah, Nicola Adams and Jonnie Peacock, to name a few). However, none stand out more for me than the amazing moment that the GB Hockey Women beat the Netherlands to win gold on that amazing Friday night in August. I wanted to take a chance to reflect on this moment as I view it from 2 perspectives as a hockey player and a Trainee Sport Psychologist.
I have played hockey for many years and I sat there that night not quite believing what I was seeing. As a relatively low profile sport, hockey would often be found being streamed on the internet. However, that night was different, sat in a pub with fellow hockey players and looking around to see every screen showing the match (and the 10 o’clock news being moved!!). The conversations that followed, ‘I didn’t realise how dangerous the sport was’, ‘it was amazing to watch’ ‘don’t you play hockey?’, were just some of the starting points to the discussions I was having. For those who have watched the sport more closely the journey for this team has been a steady one, and has not been without it’s setbacks. But to the many novice hockey supporters watching that night, this team has burst on to the main stage and has now made itself known. I couldn’t wait to get back playing again, watching the social media coming through about this team and the sport was phenomenal and I was reminded why I truly love playing the sport, the skill, the team, the fun, that’s what hockey is all about and GB showed that.
Then my professional thinking came in, what has made this team so successful? How did they get to that amazing achievement that night?
Being a leader – The captain
It is pretty much impossible to talk about this team without discussing the huge role played by Kate Richardson-Walsh. Voted in to the role by her team mates 13 years ago when they were expecting to nominate co-captains and the decision was made to just have Kate due to the overwhelming majority vote. A captain’s leadership on and off the pitch is extremely important. Leading by example on the field and encouraging team mates and implementing the team tactics that are set out by the coaches. The players clearly enlisted a strong leader which ensured that she had an influence over others within the group as she was respected amongst her peers. However, despite the title of captain being given to one individual, there were clearly numerous leaders who played their part throughout the campaign and ensured the team’s success.
Social Media Ban – Staying focused
The world we currently live in is one that is over run with opportunities to inform the world of what you are doing through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. If you follow any of the GB players you will know that they are keen users, however, the moment they all tweeted to say that they would be ‘off the radar’ for the tournament was music to my ears. My role has provided me the opportunity to work with many young athletes and trying to get them to step away from their phones can often be a struggle. But what effect can this have on focus during major competitions. Being focused is linked with commitment; the ability to concentrate and maintain focus on your goals is key in helping you to continually make improvements towards them. Concentration is always having tunnel-vision on optimal performance. To meet your goals and be the best you can be you are required to be 100% concentrated 100% of the time, everything you do off the pitch affects what you can do on it. Therefore, training yourself to make performance-focused decisions off the pitch, no matter when, where or what, can better your game on the field. By coming to the joint decision of removing the ‘distraction’ of social media this ensured that the GB team were focused on their task and the goals they had set for themselves.
The squad – Importance of ‘The 31’
Every player that was interviewed after the success mentioned ‘the 31’. It wasn’t just about those 16 players who were in Rio it was the roles played by the 15 players at home who had pushed the 16 every step of the way. When playing a team sport being cohesive is an important factor in performing successfully. There was a clear belief in this team’s collective ability to perform successfully. It was a large team of 31 that ensured everyone was being pushed to their potential for a spot in the final 16 whilst also working as a collective. Trust is also an important team word and it was evident for this group during the Olympic competition. They believed in one another’s capability and had confidence that everyone could play their part. They had created something special on the pitch, but also in the changing room, in the gym and everywhere else that the team worked as a unit to improve together. The coach had a major impact on the team climate that was created, but it was the individual players and their perceived relationships with each other that made the difference.
What effect does a result like this have?
The gold medal won on that Friday in August had a huge impact throughout hockey and sport in general. When our club returned to the pitch in September the number of players that had been inspired by the team to go out and pick up a stick for the first time or return after a break was clear for all to see. Not only that, they had motivated 1000’s of women up and down the country to get active again. As a Trainee Sport Psychologist examples of success such as this one and the progress that they made on and off the pitch as individuals and as a collective provides amazing role models for athletes of all ages and ability levels. Set yourself a goal, ensure you understand the steps you need to take and the decisions and sacrifices you may have to make along the way and give yourself the best chance to go out and achieve something as amazing as these players did. With the right people around you who knows what amazing things you can achieve.