The transition from elite sport into the big, wide world is inevitable, yet daunting.
No matter how much you plan for the transition, it will always be a challenge like no other.
Unfortunately, I experienced this far sooner than I thought would be the case.
My retirement from international hockey in June 2021 was premature. At the age of 26, I believed that I had yet to hit my ‘peak’ on the hockey pitch and had a lot more to give.
But with a career blighted by injuries, including a serious back injury sustained in January, I made the difficult decision to retire from international hockey for the benefit of the long-term health of my body.
Looking back on my career, it is natural to have a lot of questions; a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could have been’. But I still look back on my time as a Great Britain and England Hockey Player with real pride.
From the minute I joined the Great Britain Hockey centralised programme in January 2017, I knew how lucky I was to live my dream, playing the sport that I loved, every single day.
But I was also aware of the reality (and brutality) that elite sport doesn’t last forever and that my international career could come to an end at any point.
Throughout my time on the Great Britain Hockey centralised programme, I worked closely with the Performance Lifestyle Adviser, Emma Mitchell – an individual who had a huge impact on me as an elite athlete but also as a person.
When our training schedule allowed, and with Emma’s advice and guidance, I used our ‘rest days’ during a centralised training block or ‘free time’ during a more prolonged break after the major tournaments, to gain some work experience. Whether that be in a sports agency in London, working remotely as a social media manager for a Premier League Football Club or working within different sectors such as PR, marketing and charity – I tried to build up as much work experience, in a variety of environments, as I could.
I used my time to continue learning and developing an understanding of the industries I had an interest in. I built on my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees through educational courses in journalism and media. I grew my network with leading figures in their respective fields as part of the Women’s Sport Trust ‘Unlocked’ programme. I even began my own podcast called ‘Cuppa & a Natter’ with guests including the likes of Clare Balding, Dame Katherine Grainger, Dame Sarah Storey and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Like any athlete, I loved training and competing every day but building my identity away from the hockey pitch was still important to me.
And whether I was aware of it at the time or not, all of the experiences I had gained throughout my international career became invaluable – admittedly sooner than I had expected.
At the end of June, I was lucky enough to be offered a job within the Communications team at West Ham United Football Club – a club very close to mine and my family’s heart. I am now four months into this new chapter of my life and I don’t think I have stopped smiling… it has obviously helped how well both the Men and Women’s teams are doing so far this season!
The stresses and pressures of my daily life have not diminished, they have just changed. I am part of a new team and a new culture. I am aware that my successes on the hockey pitch won’t automatically mean that I will be a success at West Ham. I need to earn the respect of my colleagues and build new relationships with people from different backgrounds to mine. I also realise that I ask a lot of questions – but I guess that is the athlete in me with a deep desire to learn, improve and always give of my best!
Even though my day to day life looks and feels completely different, I am still immensely proud of my journey. If someone was to ask me at the beginning of this year how 2021 would go for me, I would have never in a million years predicted what has happened. Watching my teammates play in the European Championships just days before I was to announce my retirement from international hockey, and then watching the team play in the pinnacle of our sport at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, from my desk at London Stadium were both surreal experiences.
And looking back on it all, I can smile to myself at how life changing this year has been, in every way. But now I realise that the daunting thought of life after performance sport is just another exciting chapter in this unwritten book!