How do elite sports players make it to the top of the game? What is it that sets them apart from everyone else? How do they prepare, physically and mentally, to ensure that when they get out on the pitch, they're at the peak of their powers?
We took these subjects to Olympic Gold Medalist and Pitchero Athlete Ambassador Kate Richardson-Walsh, to see what advice grassroots sports players could take from those at the elite end of sport.
What’s your process for identifying where you want to improve as a player? And how do you go about improving those areas of your game?
I think hockey can be daunting in terms of all the different and various skills it contains. Sometimes you can get weighed down thinking “I need to improve on that, that, that”. But you absolutely can - everyone can improve.
Thank you to @r.j.hockey & @firebrandshockeyclub for inviting me along to coach and meet the stars of the future. So good to see so many brilliant coaches and volunteers. Always a pleasure to share our @gbhockey story! #inspirethefuture
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I think it’s quite important to drill it down to 3 or 4 things that I need to work on over a period of time, and just keep on checking up on them. In the National team, every player had a quarterly review where they had these 3 or 4 things you needed to work on.
Particularly for grassroots and club players, I think it’s important to have a think yourself and then talk to your coach or your team mates. Getting that bit of honest feedback really helps.
Do you have any specific pre-match preparations or methods for getting focused for a game?
It took me ages to find the sweet spot where I felt like it was automatic to mentally getting in the right place for a game.
When I was younger I used to think I needed to be fired up, but then I’d be over-fired up or too aggressive or too tight and tense.
Just find a way that works for you. For me, I’d listen to my music on the way to the game. I’d be chatting to people before a game, and I’d sit next to people in the changing room who I knew wanted to chat.
Because it’s a team sport, it’s about getting yourself prepared, but also how that works in the team.
Do you change anything when it comes to high pressure games to help you deal with the added pressure?
No, that’s one of the most important things - never to change anything.
Not only might it affect you, but you subconsciously look around like “she’s never done that before, why is she doing that? Should I be doing that?”
Your brain is good at conjuring stories up. You should stay with what you know I think.
How do you work through big moments in games and ensure you stay focused on performing?
Well, it got it wrong lots of times that’s for sure!
I’m quite an emotional person, so in these moments my emotions become more obvious, so I had to really keep an eye on that.
The best thing I found to do was to focus on a task, thinking what’s the very next thing I have to do and talking to teammates about it.
That helps me to focus, rather than thinking “there are 10 minutes to go and we need 2 goals ” which I can’t necessarily control in that moment. But you can think about passing the ball really accurately.
If you suffer a loss in a big match or put in a performance that you’re personally disappointed with, how do you mentally recover from those setbacks?
It’s really hard. I just needed to give myself a bit of time to go through what happened in the game, what could I have done better. Really try not to beat yourself up about it.
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Think about what you can do between the loss of this match and the next one.
On the flip side of that, when you achieve something amazing personally or as part of your team, how do you remain motivated to keep being the best?
That is one of the hardest things actually.
It’s only in the last period of my career we really started to win important games and medals. I think it’s really important to understand what got you to that point and the people that helped you get to that point.
No words needed pic.twitter.com/WMaWMlAsRA— Dan King (@DanKing_1974) August 19, 2016
I felt like I owed a lot of people my 100% commitment. It was such a special environment to be a part of that central programme in particular that I felt I owed it to those teammates to say “ok, I’m going to give everything again”.
Are these qualities something you can ‘teach’ or instil in a player, or are these things just innate in elite sports players and that’s what makes them the best?
I think it’s really different person to person.
It’s a little bit to do with how you are brought up, and the support network you’ve got around you, and how honest they are with you.
When you’ve got people around who tell you you’re getting too big for your boots or you’re drifting off a little bit back to what you need to be doing.
I think these are quite difficult conversations to have, but if you have those people in your life you need to cherish them. They are the important ones.
Now on captaincy. What would you say the most significant characteristics of a good captain are? Did you have any specific role models for captaincy you learned from before you started doing it?
When I first started captaining I was 23, and I didn’t really understand the role. So I looked to copy the captain I had before which was Sue Chandler.
I really like her style. She was very level headed. She was a very good point of contact for players and sat really well between the players and the coaching staff. She always had the right words at the right time.
For the first year or so I stuck with that, but I realised it really wasn’t me, it was fitting well with me. So I sat down with the Sports Director and asked me what sort of captain I want to be.
I don’t think I fully understood what I was doing until we got the central programme. That time together helped me understand what type of captain I could be using my strengths.
During the Rio cycle, I realised the power of using the people around you and their strengths. It’s that delegation to the group, using their strengths to inspire the whole group to be the very best they can and giving everyone the opportunity to be the very best they can.
Do you have any tips for captains on inspiring your team mates? Any specific methods for recovering from a bad first half or pumping players up for a high pressure game for example?
It’s at training where most of the work is done. Firstly, you can be a good trainer, which is something I learned as I got older. Learning by example, putting the effort in training, if you demand that of yourself then you can demand of your teammates.
That builds trust when it comes to game day.
More insight into Pitchero's Olympic Athlete Ambassador