Shona McCallin revealed she played without pressure in the 2016 Olympic Games gold medal match thanks to Great Britain’s relentless focus on building a strong mentality.
McCallin, who announced her retirement from international hockey last month, was part of the squad that won an historic gold in Rio, with Maddie Hinch the hero as Great Britain beat the Netherlands 3-2 on penalties.
But despite the magnitude of the occasion, McCallin admitted she felt freed by the knowledge that her side had done all they possibly could.
“I felt no pressure because I knew we had prepared as best as we could do,” said McCallin.
“The ability to just see it as just another game, that was the end product of a process that we had followed for a year and a half.
“We looked at it that it was a hockey match, which we had all done hundreds of times, against a team who we had played many times and beaten in the last year.
“It was the same rules, the same kit, the same pitch. It was nothing bigger than a match and we knew we were the most prepared we could be.
“I wasn’t nervous going into it at all, I felt confident and prepared and shared it with the team heading into that match.”
McCallin was speaking to young athletes at a mind health workshop run by SportsAid, which also saw the Prince and Princess of Wales in attendance as the next generation of sports stars learned about the importance of mental resilience.
McCallin emphasised the importance of working on the mental side of sport alongside technical and physical training while lauding the progress that has been made in discussion around mental health in recent years.
“We train our physical capabilities, our speed, our stamina, our agility, but only recently have people begun to train their mental skills,” she said.
“I have experienced elite level sport for the best part of eight to nine years and I believe that at the top of the sport, the difference between a great and a world class performer is the mental side.
“Everybody when you step into your arena, skillsets are fairly similar at an elite level.
The difference that sets people apart is the ability to deal with the mental pressure, to do those skills under fatigue, after a mistake, after two mistakes.
“It is the mental skills that are so important and to train those is so important. For the last eight to nine years, I have developed those skills and continuously worked on them in order to have the most robust mindset.
“What is really great is over the last couple of years, the conversations have started to flow a bit more about mental health.
“I am so glad SportsAid has put on these opportunities for younger athletes. What would have helped me as a junior athlete was being introduced to these skills when I was 13 or 14. I was my biggest critic, I was so harsh on myself.”
SportsAid is seeking support from individuals and organisations to allow the charity to invest further in its mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Please contact Serena Castiglione, Head of Fundraising at SportsAid, on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to help provide talented young athletes, as well as their families, with the support and advice they need at a key time in their development.