Published on: 29 January 2021. Written by: Suzanne Baum
From superstitious tendencies to supporting the next generation of sportswomen, we talk to four of GB Women’s Hockey’s leading female hockey players about life on and off the field.
When it comes to women’s hockey, being a part of the GB team is a dream come true. And as all four players agree, the game is not just about reaching an individual goal but being part of a team where the highs and the lows are achieved together.
These women are inspiring role models when it comes to encouraging people to improve their health and wellbeing. They are also on a mission to support women in sport as much as possible.
Here, 2016 British Olympic gold medallists Alex Danson – who is Vitality’s newest Performance Champion – Giselle Ansley and Shona McCallin, together with Hannah Martin – who made her international debut a year later – discuss their passion for hockey, personal goals and their collective hope to bring a new generation of girls to the sport.
Always strive to do better, even if you are on a winning streak
‘I think having a good work ethic is what has always pushed me. It was the best life lesson my parents taught me – that you must always do more than what is expected of you. I have taken that motto with me throughout my hockey career and have tried to implement it in everything I do in my life. Even after we won the Rio Olympics, I didn’t take it for granted. We can train up to 35 hours a week to prepare for one game, so, of course, there comes immense relief and satisfaction after such an amazing achievement. It pushes us to stay as on top of our game as we possibly can.’ Alex Danson, 35, forward, 103 caps (retired)
Never stop learning or asking questions
‘Even when I was the only girl playing hockey as a kid, my willingness to learn kept me going. I received a lot of negative remarks from those around me, but that would just encourage me to push harder. You must never stop learning and asking questions about the sport – it’s a vital tool in bettering yourself in the game. And now, everything I do with hockey I push myself to be the very best. Even retired athletes will always say: “Try your best, that’s all you can do.” This mindset helps me so much. If we lose a game, I don’t come off the field feeling deflated – I come off with no regrets, as I know I did my best.’ Shona McCallin, 28, midfielder, 50 caps
Make yourself accessible to others
‘In order to inspire a new generation of girls to the game, as a team, we try to make ourselves as approachable as possible. Kids want to meet players, so it’s important we give our time to them, whether that’s through our coaching projects or giving talks at schools and, more recently, online Zoom sessions. We know what it takes to get to be part of a professional team, so if we can share our love for the game with other young girls and encourage a more personal touch off the pitch, it will help make vital connections. As well as sharing tips on the game, we have lots of funny inside knowledge. So many of us are superstitious – we have to follow a certain format when it comes to match day. Some players may want to touch the ball first, others need to sit in the same seat on the bus. Then, if we win a match, we have to stay in the same changing room positions for the next match as a good luck token!’ Giselle Ansley, 28, defender, 66 caps
Never take anything for granted
‘I still have pinch-me moments. There are so many levels that you go through to get to be a professional hockey player and there are times when I can’t quite believe that I’ve made it into the team. The game challenges you on so many levels, from your speed and agility to your skill and toughness, and, of course, having good mental health is as vital as physical health. We are so lucky that we are surrounded by the best coaches and have access to physios and other health professionals.’ Hannah Martin, 26, midfielder, 37 caps
Face your challenges by breaking them up into small steps
‘As an athlete, dealing with knockbacks is all part of the job. I have personally faced many challenges – losing games and injuries are, of course, the main two. When I had my head injury and was forced to retire from the game, my world could have come crashing down when my career ended. Instead of looking at the big picture, I concentrated on identifying small wins each day. It’s a good coping skill to have as it keeps you looking at the positives, rather than negatives. Always focus on achieving the small steps in front of you is what I tell my players when they are facing any hardships. Yes, my career ending so suddenly was a massive defeat, but I loved every minute of it and did my best, which helped me cope mentally.’ Alex Danson
You can never have a perfect game
‘There are always ways to better yourself, even if you win a game. You can never rest on your laurels. Being on a learning curve means you are always looking to improve yourself and your game. I feel so lucky that I am living in a time when more girls are getting noticed in sport, and I feel this is such an important lesson. That’s why all of us are doing everything we can to inspire women to follow us in their dreams and make sport accessible to everyone.’ Hannah Martin, 26, midfielder, Surbiton
Learn more about how Vitality is supporting women in sport here.
For more insights into the lives of inspiring sports women, check out our article on the Things you only know if you’re Heather Knight, England women’s cricket captain, here.
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