I was stuck on three international caps for three years before the centralised system started in 2009. Danny Kerry, the coach, said that I could have a good career if I stayed in the programme, but it could also be short lived.
I didn’t hesitate. That was eight years ago and I played in every game from there on in, barring the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Not to say that it has been all plain sailing. It has been a rocky road and I have certainly seen the brutal side of elite sport.
I first started playing hockey at Hinchingbrooke School in Cambridgeshire, aged 12. I was keen on football as well, but girls weren’t allowed to play.
My coach said I should join a hockey-specific club, as the chances of carrying on playing at school were relatively slim. I soon joined St Ives and absolutely loved it. There wasn’t a junior girls’ team then so I played with the boys for a season and quickly progressed into the ladies’ teams when I was 14.
I worked my way up surrounded by lots of great players, who made it fun and who always looked out for me. I was the youngest by five years and with all the games and training, it was a commitment for my parents as we lived quite a long way from the club. Looking back now I was so fortunate that I was able to play so regularly.
During these early days at St Ives, I went, as a 13-year-old, to an England Under-16 trial at Lilleshall. I hated it and didn’t know anyone. We had to share a room and I remember my Dad going up to someone asking if I could room with them. I was a shy child and it was my worst nightmare. It was my first introduction to Lilleshall and sure enough I didn’t get picked.
But I kept plugging away, and always enjoyed listening to coaches and those around me.
I always aspired to play for my country but probably in a really quiet manner.
My last year at Under-18 level was the first time I was involved. I went to a state school – which was quite unusual for a junior international – and I remember going to
Millfield School for an intimidating training weekend. All I wanted was to have fun running after a ball.
Loughborough University had the best student team and I got offered a place doing sports science and had the time of my life.
However, I decided to knuckle down and get fit. I spoke to the strength and conditioning coaches and asked to tag along with some England players who were based there. It may have been a strange thing to do, but I literally followed them round the gym.
I also went to Bisham with Crista Cullen on a Thursday. I wasn’t a funded athlete and she was, so I used to just feed her balls. But I wanted to be there and feel part of the set-up.
I then captained the England Under-21’s at the Junior World Cup in Chile, which was a disastrous tournament for us. Danny was watching and we knew he was scouting players to take up to the senior squad for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Some of my house-mates got selected and I remember taking them to the airport to wave them off to Australia!
But I picked myself up again and got fitter and stronger. I was on the Great Britain and England radar and was aware that you had to take your opportunity.
I’m really glad I did.
This article originally appeared in The Hockey Paper on Wednesday 16th November 2016
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