Peter Westbrook, Jane Sixsmith, Tim Barlow, Jerome Goudie, Danny Kerry, Karen Brown, Craig Parnham and David Ralph. Spot the link? Well, they are coaches who have played a vital hand in Laura Unsworth’s hockey journey and career as one of the sport’s greatest players and, if you didn’t already know, Great Britain’s most decorated hockey athlete of all time.
The band of eight have also won the 2022 Coaching Chain award and will receive their accolade at this year’s UK Coaching Awards on Dec 6. Unsworth’s ‘coaching chai’n has been recognised for their impact on her journey to success, from the moment she picked up a hockey stick to when she won gold at the Rio Olympic Games.
UK Coaching says the award “signifies and celebrates the importance of progressive person-centred coaching and the continuous dedicated support and time invested in athletes throughout their careers.”
Unsworth’s hockey journey began in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, where she met coach Peter Westbrook. He helped encourage her and her teammates to fall in love with the sport in a friendly and fun environment. At Sutton Coldfield, Unsworth then linked up with Olympic Games bronze medallist and hockey idol, Jane Sixsmith.
Her success in the sport had inspired Unsworth to play hockey, and to be coached by her was ‘a dream come true’. That experience, and the later chance to play alongside her, ensures that to this day, Sixsmith remains a key and supportive mentor in her career.
Unsworth ascended through the Midlands Hockey system and was fast-tracked into Tim Barlow’s Development Coaching Centre. Barlow was impressed by her hunger and ability to read a game. At Loughborough University, head coach Jerome Goudie introduced Unsworth to the hard work required to reach the very top. On Goudie’s hockey programme, Unsworth’s technical and physical skills developed significantly.
Craig Parnham started coaching Unsworth in 2007 when he was head coach of the England under-21 team. After seeing her passion and enjoyment for the sport, Parnham knew she would have a long career. He recalls: “I remember coaching Laura as a junior player, she was always a great reader of the game and had the ability to remain calm under pressure. She was a great character to have in the team as she worked hard but also knew how to have fun and enjoy the moment.”
Unsworth moved swiftly through the ranks and into the England and Great Britain senior teams, where she linked up with Danny Kerry left. As part of England’s young and hungry squad, Unsworth became a catalyst for their transformation into the new faces of English and British hockey.
“Laura very rarely achieved the accolades of the media who often fixated on goal-scorers and goalkeepers,” says Kerry.
“Laura was selected for every team she was available for and was one of the first names on the sheet.
“Laura was a huge competitor who read the game incredibly well and always drove the performance of the team.”
She faced a baptism of fire at the 2009 Sydney Champions Trophy, where she doubted her own ability and even said to England and Great Britain coach Karen Brown. “Will I ever be good enough to play international hockey?”
Brown knew at that moment that Unsworth didn’t just want to compete at the highest level, she wanted to win at the highest level.
“I am delighted she is finally getting the recognition that she deserves for her incredible career,” enthused Brown.
“Statistically the greatest hockey Olympian ever produced in GB, three medals in three games. Not bad for someone who initially thought she couldn’t cut it at the very top.
“The media has described her as one of our most underestimated players, which I thought was wrong as she was never underestimated by anyone who knew the game.”
Unsworth reached the pinnacle of hockey when she claimed gold at the Rio Olympic Games. England Hockey Coach David Ralph continues to inspire her to improve and adapt her game, challenging and supporting her to continue to work hard and strive to achieve her very best.