The Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup 2018 is in full flow with over 100,000 fans expected to visit the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre throughout the tournament. The demand for tickets is further proof of the growing popularity of the sport across the nation following the London 2012 Olympic Games and Team GB’s gold medal success in Rio four years later. Participation figures make for particularly pleasant reading too as they show the number of young girls playing hockey has doubled since the eve of London 2012 as well as a massive influx of club members.
Be the difference, create history and inspire the future. The ethos of the women’s hockey squad was widely publicised after they captivated the nation with a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out victory over the Netherlands which saw them crowned Olympic champions. The conclusion of the Games brought unprecedented media coverage for the team and the players used this momentum to help grow the sport by getting out into their local communities and visiting local clubs and schools.
“Since Rio I’ve probably given about 200 presentations on the journey, so I know it inside and out!” said Olympic gold medallist Shona McCallin. “It was discussed as a group of players back in about 2014 where what we did off the pitch was going to be just as important as what we did on it. We’re all really passionate about getting hockey out there and getting it into schools and clubs more, and on TV, and since Rio, it’s been about trying to get England and Great Britain to be a nation where hockey matters.
“That’s what the governing body wants and that’s what we want as players so it’s really important for us to get out and meet the future as that’s essentially what they are. It helps as there is a lot of us so we’re able to spread the load. We all chip in and go to appearances at schools, clubs and wherever that may be. Ultimately we enjoy meeting the future and those we inspire because when I was young, and when I met hockey players like Jane Sixsmith, I thought it was amazing and I loved it as a junior.”
SportsAid alumna Shona unfortunately didn’t compete at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games earlier this year and has also been ruled out of the World Cup due to sustaining concussion on a tour of Argentina in February. The 26-year-old has praised her team-mates and the support staff at Bisham Abbey and the English Institute of Sport for their help with her recovery. Emily Defroand, another former beneficiary of the charity’s support, revealed the closeness within the set-up.
“We train day in and day out with each other so we have that bond,” said Emily. “We see each other at our best and at our worst, and there’s a real team unity every day. We’re in a very fortunate position to be able to do what we do, to be hockey players full-time, but there is a really strong togetherness that we have as a team. We all have the same values and the same vision as ultimately we want to make England and Great Britain hockey the biggest success that we can.”
Emily, 24, enjoyed her first multi-sport event when she was selected by Team England for the Gold Coast. She helped the team bring home a bronze medal, creating memories she says she’ll ‘cherish for a long time’, and has adopted a key role in England Hockey’s promotion of the World Cup with her mum Gill through the #BehindEveryGreatPlayer campaign. The initiative celebrates how relatives are pivotal in supporting and nurturing children to unlock their potential – both as players and people.
“For me, it was my mum,” said Emily. “I got into the sport through going to watch her play when I was about seven years old and she turned into my team-mate a few years later. She even managed and coached some of my club teams! I look back on that time fondly and that’s what sport is all about. It’s those people who have such a big impact on your journey that make it such a privilege to be able to do what we do now, and without their support I don’t think that would have been possible.”
Shona added: “My mum was the one who got me into hockey too so I guess without her I wouldn’t be where I am today. She was essentially my taxi driver until I was 17! My family have been a real kind of rock for me throughout my career. It’s great as they all get it, understand it, support me and keep me grounded. It’s just always nice to go back home and talk to them and remember your roots. Sport can be a really challenging environment and it just brings you back down to reality.”
SportsAid has a strong presence in England Hockey’s World Cup squad with 16 previous recipients of the charity’s support having been selected. Shona and Emily, who is also missing the World Cup, both felt the impact of SportsAid early on in their careers as they looked to establish themselves at senior level. Shona received her awards from Eversheds while Emily was helped by the Royal Bank of Canada, and it was the recognition, in addition to the finance, which was so important to them both.
“SportsAid was fundamental really in my journey to becoming an elite hockey player,” said Emily. “I remember it so clearly when I first got the letter confirming that I’d been given an award and actually, it didn’t just help with a few things, it helped with travel, my kit costs, it helped with so much. It takes a big weight off of your shoulders at that age so that you can just focus on playing hockey and enjoying it and not having that financial barrier. I’ll be eternally grateful for SportsAid’s support.”
Shona recalled: “I had SportsAid support for a couple of years through Eversheds, and like Emily said, I was really, really grateful. At that age it’s difficult to have school and international hockey and a job so that finance was crucial, especially because where I live is quite remote. The fuel costs were always sky high to get to training twice a week. Most of the money went on that. It helped us massively and stopped finance being a barrier and preventing me from training to reach my potential.”