Kiwi Adventures 2015: Weeks 1 and 2

Kiwi Adventure 1

This entry comes from New Zealand… It’s a pretty spectacular place and as well as being very well-looked after by my brilliant adoptive Kiwi family, I’m doing my best to make the most of being here. Rather than my usual ramblings about sport and whatever else gets my ideas flowing, I thought I’d write a bit of a blog-postcard about my travels.

After a few days of waking up outrageously early, acclimatizing to NZ’s wind and rain, and a bit of training with the Central NHL team, I’ve settled in nicely for this year’s Kiwi adventure. The first game was on Saturday and we started with a great 3-2 victory… although only a few days after a 38-hour 4-flight journey my body did not feel like it was winning. We then had a fund-raising dinner and I was definitely more nervous about taking the stage for a Q&A with an All Black and two of the greatest ever Blacksticks players than I will be for any of the hockey games!

I road-tripped down to Wellington on Monday – the furthest South I’ve ever ventured. The roads here are a little different to the motorways back home. ‘State Highway 1’, which as its name suggests is a reasonably significant route, is over 1000 kilometers long in the North Island alone. It’s mostly single carriageway, with occasional passing lanes to let you overtake the truck you’ve been stuck behind for miles on end. A bit of a contrast to the good old M25…
I spent most of the day in the ‘Te Papa’ Museum of New Zealand. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to free-to-access museums in London, but this museum was right up there. Exhibitions on the World War I ANZAC campaign in Gallipolli, Maori history/culture and colonial emigration kept me entertained for a good few hours. I finished my day with a trip to a lookout point on Mount Victoria for some 360° views across the city and the Cook Strait, and a toe-dip in the ocean at Oriental Bay – not as cold as I feared.

“Do one thing that scares you every day…”

A couple of days later, I went to the Mokai Gravity Canyon with two of my Central team mates. After spotting a website promotion, we decided to forsake our dignity to get the experience for half price by wearing onesies – luckily Georgia’s outfit made Pip and I look almost normal. A technical glitch meant we couldn’t stick to our original plan to go on the ‘Flying Fox’, a 160kph zipline. Instead, we faced the stomach-dropping option of NZ’s highest bridge swing, which involves a free fall of around 50m. My inner adrenaline junkie tends to make me laugh – ok, giggle – in the face of danger and I’m pleased to say the other two embraced the idea of doing something that scares you every day.

One day of excitement in the great outdoors wasn’t enough for me, so I set off at 6.30am yesterday for half a day of white water rafting. The amount of rainfall meant that the river level was right on the safety limit for rafting. This led to a bit of standing around until the guides decided we were safe to navigate the Grade 5 rapids. Our guide told us the Rangitikei is a technical river, “which basically means there’s lots of rocks.” He also mentioned about five different spots where people had drowned whilst rafting, including an instructor. Good to know.
Most of my fellow rafters seemed to be “proper travelers”, bus-touring and backpacking around NZ. Thankfully, a Mancunian-Aussie, a Kiwi PE teacher and a Belgian Catholic priest let me join their gang for the morning. I don’t tick many boxes when it comes to organized religion, but if we had hit a big rock/capsized/become Rangitikei River horror story no.6 for our instructor to tell his next crew, I figured at least pity might be taken on our whole raft. Having said that, I later saw Father Louis drinking a pint in the lodge wearing full on cassock and collar so…

I’m already looking forward to game two this weekend in Taupo (the location of my skydive last year). After that, more travels and catching up with friends.
Until the next adventure!

 

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Talking a Good Game (Part II): The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Coaches

It’s taken me five years, but last month I finally managed to complete my Level 2 coaching qualification. While I haven’t yet coached to anywhere near the level I’ve played, I always try to use my playing experience to improve my coaching skills. Just as every player is different, every coach is different – and that’s a good thing. However, I believe that to be a great coach you must be a great communicator.

I spend much of July and August working on summer hockey camps. This means I have to figure out very quickly how to communicate effectively with loads of different kids, often several days or weeks in a row. Sessions need to be safe, fun and understandable. The way I communicate can have a major impact on my ability to build rapport, and of course this isn’t just about what I say, but how I say it: my words, body language and demonstrations must all be chosen and adapted as appropriate to the group of players on any given day.

Broadly speaking, the same threads run through communication when coaching adults. Your tone may change and you might convey more sophisticated messages, but generally, the objectives for a coach are similar: create a learning environment, provide feedback, and make things safe and fun. Winning can be important too, but often that’s a by-product of those objectives: get the processes right and the outcome takes care of itself. One of my biggest priorities when I’m coaching is to be consistent and energetic at every session. As a player, I respond best to coaches who have these qualities –it’s easier to understand their expectations, trust their feedback and be open and honest in both directions.

On the field, I believe that an enjoyable environment tends to generate a steeper curve of improvement. That doesn’t mean every session will be fun, and it certainly doesn’t mean that training will be easy. However, as I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, I think often having fun = playing better. Players motivated to push themselves – whether through hard work, concentration or repetitions – are likely to make more effective, robust progress. In terms of communication, that means rewarding improvement, giving constructive criticism and sometimes allowing the players to work out the answers for themselves… and knowing when each of these things may be required.

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen we would have two mouths and one ear”
Mark Twain

Game day brings further challenges. Depending on the situation, a coach has to judge when to motivate or pacify, praise or criticise, stay calm or get riled up. Often, coaches are dealing with similar expectations, frustrations and anxieties as players, so communicating during competition needs real perceptiveness and an ability to detach oneself from the often emotionally-charged environment.

Of course, the role of a coach extends far beyond the field. The biggest communication challenges may relate to selection, disciplinary problems and dealing with poor performances or results. The approach taken in these scenarios can make or break player-coach relationships, the dynamics of a squad and even the psychological or emotional well-being of a player in the longer term. It’s important to recognise that these situations (and the weight of responsibility they create) can be emotionally draining for a coach too, but I honestly can’t emphasise enough how important – and how impactful – sensitive, intelligent communication can be at these times. I won’t pretend I’ve had to make any huge decisions as a coach, but even in dealing with less significant issues – an under-confident player, a disruptive child or an out-of-form team mate – my good and bad experiences as a player have definitely shaped my awareness of how the style, method and content of coaching communications can have a positive or damaging effect.

As I’ve talked about previously, I believe that while technology, statistics and equipment can be important, the ‘human’ parts of sport tend to elicit the greatest mental and emotional responses from us as players and supporters. Coaching, too, is about people: reading people, understanding people and figuring out what makes people tick. The best coaches may be tactically astute and experts in technique, but often ‘people skills’ are the essential key that can unlock the more sport-specific capabilities of a coach. I’ll finish where I started: to be a great coach, you have to be a great communicator.

 

Click here if you missed ‘Talking a Good Game (Part I): How Players Communicate’

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Talking a Good Game (Part I): How Players Communicate

Talking a Good Game

As the “Pomicide” unfolded in the fourth Ashes test yesterday, cricket journalists must have been hastily searching their thesauruses for synonyms for ‘unbelievable’. There’s always a lot to discuss in cricket – maybe it’s the amount of statistics or the brilliant banter between the pundits, or maybe it’s just because it gives us Brits an excuse to discuss the weather. Stuart Broad’s bowling was the obvious talking point yesterday, but I also read an article about how the lack of sledging in this Ashes series may be contributing to the quality and entertainment of the cricket itself. This got me thinking about how the things that are said on, off and around the sports field can affect sports performance.

In this blog, I’m going to look specifically at communication between players. There’s no doubt that communication within and between teams has the potential to significantly influence training, mindset, confidence and ultimately, performance. Sledging – where, players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player” (thanks, Wikipedia) – is probably as old as cricket itself. Sometimes it’s good-natured, sometimes it’s simply verbal abuse which has led to inevitable discussions about its place in the game. However, in general, sledging illustrates how language can be used as an attempt to directly influence or unsettle a player’s performance. It’s safe to say this happens in most team sports – who hasn’t heard (or made!) a sly remark between players in football or hockey? Sometimes one comment can be enough to sidetrack an experienced professional completely – remember Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt after an alleged insult from Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final?

In individual sports, a war of words often precedes the physical battle. One of the best examples of this is ‘trash talk’ in boxing – weeks are spent trading insults before a single punch is thrown. Of course, often these exchanges are encouraged by the media in their attempts to build excitement about the event. Even in sprinting and tennis, where there isn’t direct contact between athletes during the competition, interviewers often try to stir up rivalries or antagonisms. In F1, there is the added dynamic of competition within teams. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg aren’t just driving against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’ Valerie Bottas – they seem to be engaged in a constant battle with one another both behind the wheel and on the team radio. They may be teammates, but at the moment they are also one another’s greatest rivals.

Communications within a team can have a huge impact on building a successful dynamic. In my experience of both international and club hockey, this has been a regularly revisited aspect of our attempts to create an effective performance environment. It’s always going to be difficult to find ways of communicating that suit everyone in a squad of 11, 16 or perhaps even 30-odd players. One person may prefer direct criticism, while another prefers it to be sugar-coated. One player might yell, while another prefers to discuss something quietly after the game. When you add in pressure, fatigue and the ‘heat of the moment’, it becomes almost impossible to get this right for everyone 100% of the time. My own attitude towards communication is that some things are negotiable, but others aren’t. If I’m not working hard enough, I fully expect to be yelled at (hopefully this doesn’t happen too often!). If I miss an open goal, most of the time I probably don’t need a teammate to give me aggressive verbal feedback about it.

Something that’s often forgotten is that it isn’t just about how players talk, it’s also about how they listen. Most people have a default way of saying something in a given situation: a player makes a mistake – teammate A shouts criticism at them, teammate B has a quiet word at the next break in play. We also tend to have a default way of hearing that feedback. Some people will perceive yelling as a personal insult and go into their shells, others will find it motivating and use it to spur them on. Ultimately, we can’t expect people to change the way they talk to us on the field unless we are also prepared to try and be flexible with how we listen.

Sometimes it’s also about what isn’t said. Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole forged a successful striking partnership for Manchester United when they didn’t actually talk to one another. Perhaps this Ashes series is better with the players focusing on cricket rather than on sledging. Alyson Annan, one of the greatest ever hockey players, used to practise taking penalty strokes, “with teammates throwing water at her and yelling in her ear, so she could perform the skill regardless of any distraction” (p128, ‘Beyond the Limits’). In the 1996 Olympic final, she stepped up to take a stroke in total silence – the one scenario she hadn’t anticipated. She scored and Australia won. I suppose in the end, the best players write their stories in their own words.

 
Next time… I’ll be exploring communication between coaches and players.
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“There’s No ‘I’ in Team”… Or is there?

Laura Bassett

Poor Laura Bassett. In a cruel twist of fate, last night England’s football Lionesses were knocked out of the World Cup semi-finals by the unluckiest of misdirected touches by one of their best performers in the tournament. Unlike for penalty-misser Gareth Southgate in Euro ’96 and red-carded David Beckham in France ’98, the public response has so far been one of support and sympathy rather than vilification and blame. This might be of some vague consolation to her, but Bassett will probably always feel – however inaccurately – that losing this match was “all her fault”. Football may be a team sport, but our memories and perceptions of games are so often related to individual players.

 

Successful teams can be defined by many factors: camaraderie, work ethic, each individual knowing and performing their role, good communication, tactical awareness, ability to cope with pressure… and many other ‘one percenters’ that combine towards that perfect performance. But even within a team that wins or performs well consistently, a whole matrix of other factors may need to be acknowledged and managed in order to maintain equilibrium and to provide support for individuals who aren’t having such an easy time.

 

These issues may include things like injury and a lack of form or self-confidence. However, my own most difficult sporting experiences have been related to non-selection. Just missing out on two Olympics (wrongly, I believe – but I would say that!) has given me a lot of experience in dealing with inner conflict in this area. Maybe one day I’ll build the confidence to try and write about what this really feels like and how I’ve dealt with it. Some aspects of my experiences make me extremely proud, some make me feel a bit ashamed – but I always tried my best to put the team first, because I wanted to be able to look back with no regrets. I went through pretty much every emotion before, during and after Beijing 2008 and London 2012. I cried when the girls lost, I cried when the girls won. I’ve been simultaneously delighted for the team and devastated for myself. I’ve been absolutely gutted about a result whilst thinking ‘I told you so’ inside. I’ve done the most horrific, seemingly pointless running sessions, whilst being glad to finally have something else (needing oxygen) at the forefront of my mind than how unhappy I felt. I’ve been proud to be a tiny part of the team that won an Olympic medal, whilst also feeling like I wasn’t any part of it at all. Mixed feelings doesn’t really cover it, does it?!

 

Of course, ‘the I in team’ isn’t always a bad thing. Individuals often make headlines in team sports for positive reasons too. The goal scoring hero, the inspirational captain, the big name player, the kid who has a tough upbringing and makes it to the top… whilst as sports fans we usually hold teamwork in extremely high regard, we also love to pick out individuals. That’s one of the reasons why we score footballers out of ten individually, we have a bottomless pit of stats on every cricketer and we give out Player of the Season awards.

 

I always find team performances within typically ‘individual sports’ intriguing to watch. The sprint relays in athletics and the magic of the Ryder Cup put an interesting new slant on the ability of sportspeople to compete when their performance affects the success of others too. Rowing and kayaking crews’ success aren’t just determined by who can sit on a machine and crank out a few hundred metres the fastest – it’s also about how well those two, four or eight individuals can climb into a boat and transform themselves into a team. Bradley Wiggins may be a Tour De France champion, but he would never have won it on his own. Even the sportspeople out there who do generally compete alone in battles against another player or the clock – tennis players, triathletes, boxers – are often the first to acknowledge the ‘team’ behind them when they achieve success.

 

On a personal level, I have always preferred playing team sports because I take the greatest joy from sharing my experiences with others. That doesn’t mean I feel any less brilliant if I score the winning goal, or any less terrible if I make the crucial mistake that leads to a defeat. It also means that I have always had the help or hindrance of subjective judgment from coaches as well as more objective statistics when it comes to selection. If I’ve learnt one thing from my own experiences, it’s to acknowledge their impact, but to try not to allow one particular success or failure to define me as a hockey player – and just as importantly, as a person. I hope that in time, Laura Bassett manages to look at things in this way too.

 

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[Photo credit: The Telegraph]

The Not-So-Easy Life of a Hockey WAG (Part II)

the no.1 fan

A year on from my World Cup adventures in The Hague, I’m getting ready for another fortnight of nerves and excitement in my capacity as a hockey WAG. This time around, I’m not able to travel over to watch in the stadium and to be quite honest, I’m not actually sure if this is better or worse. A few quiet days at home since the boys went to Belgium has given me some time to consider the pros and cons of cheering the boys on from here instead.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first…
It just doesn’t feel like I’m supporting properly if I’m not actually there. Having said that, I’ll be honest – I’m not really much of a cheerleader. I’ll probably make more noise watching in my own living room than I would in the stadium, so I don’t expect my vocal support will be overly missed.

I’ll miss the camaraderie of supporting alongside the parents and families of the lads… I’m sure I’ll be able to coerce a few friends and fellow WAGs into watching the games together on TV, but I’ll miss being part of the regular supporters gang and of course hanging around to see the boys after each game like a starstruck teenager at a pop concert. Don’t worry, the hero worship stops pretty abruptly when they start filtering out in dodgy-looking lycra recovery leggings (or worse, un-showered).

On the plus side…
I’ll save myself a bit of money. To be a fully paid up member of the travelling WAG club, you have to budget for planes, trains, beers and waffles (unavoidable refreshment choices when in Belgium – it’d be rude not to). Sitting on the sofa drinking multiple cups of tea – or something stronger if required to celebrate or commiserate – is cheaper and doesn’t require a pre-planned half time queuing strategy.

I won’t have to worry about wearing a raincoat and sensible shoes. I am at extremely low risk of sunburn or being soaked by a water cannon. If I want to, I can watch the boys play at 3pm on Sunday in my PJs and no one will judge me. I mean, I’ll obviously be wearing my GB shirt and waving a Union Jack throughout, I’m just saying I could…

 
In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter where I watch: if the boys do well, I’ll be just as delighted whichever side of the English Channel I’m sitting on. I’ve watched shootouts in the stadium and on TV and I can honestly say I was just as nervous (or spun in a more positive way, just as confident) both times. My role for the next couple of weeks is to be there in the background, supporting the team and letting the boy concentrate on his hockey safe in the knowledge that I’m watering the garden and keeping the cat alive. Behind every great hockey player is a… great WAG?

 

Good luck to the GB Hockey Boys!
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Why Do We Keep Forgiving Sport?

Why Do We Keep Forgiving Sport?

[*Edited version 11th November 2015*]
Another week, another explosion of shocking back page headlines. Athletics has faced some pretty big doping scandals in the past, but perhaps the latest will prove to be the sport’s biggest challenge yet. The possible scope of Russian drug-taking and corruption within the top levels of track and field governance are yet to be fully understood. New IAAF president Seb Coe certainly has a job on his hands. The reactions of both athletes and fans to negative stories like this range from shock and disbelief to outrage and anger. So why do we keep forgiving sport for its multitude of sins?

I’m a long way from perfect, but I’d like to believe that most of the time I can differentiate between right and wrong. However, when I think about some of the sportspeople I grew up idolising and many of the sports I continue to buy tickets and a Sky Sports subscription to watch, I realise I have sometimes been quick to put my moral compass to one side. My two biggest sporting heroes as a kid were Eric Cantona and Linford Christie. Despite his glittering football career, Cantona might be best known for kung-fu kicking someone in the crowd having been sent off against Crystal Palace in 1995. Christie won Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth sprint titles, but ended his career under the shadow of a positive drugs test for nandrolone. The problem for me is that I can’t really undo Christie’s Olympic gold at Barcelona 1992 as the first sports event I remember watching. I can’t forget the 10-year old me turning my collar up Cantona-style for football practice or attempting to run my 100m races without blinking or breathing, because that’s how Linford did it.

In the wider world of sport, the extent of doping in cycling exploded into the public consciousness a couple of years back. Perhaps we haven’t forgiven Lance Armstrong, but more road bikes and Lycra shorts are flying off the shelves than ever before. Meanwhile, FIFA has clearly been involved in some pretty dodgy dealing (to put it mildly) around World Cup bidding. Rumours abound that the IOC isn’t exactly squeaky clean on the bidding front either. This time last year, Luis Suarez was sent home from the World Cup in disgrace having bitten an opponent – he’s now being touted as one of Barca’s heroes. Almost three years ago, Oscar Pistorius won his sixth Paralympic gold medal – he’s now in jail in South Africa for culpable homicide.

The paragraph above illustrates that it can be all too easy to group sporting ‘sins’ clumsily together. I’m certainly not suggesting that all the examples I’ve cited can be directly compared – and I’m not trying to judge what is or isn’t forgivable. But each in its own way calls into question why we invest so much time, energy, emotion and money into sport given the depth of its darker side. What is this magical hold that sport seems to have over us?

It’s partly down to the fact that we love having something to talk about. There’s something inescapably satisfying about sitting on the sofa / in the pub / at a computer having a moan about how let down we feel, how sad it is, how we can’t believe this has happened. Half the time it’s not even gossip or a debate, everyone is simply regurgitating facts (and ‘facts’!) they have read somewhere, with a little emotion added for good measure. Talking about sport makes us feel more engaged in it. Put simply, talking about the good, bad and ugly of sport is fun.

Then there’s the concept of role models. There is often an expectation that sportspeople at the top of their respective games should be good human beings as well as good performers. I think this expectation creates an interesting debate in itself, but that’s not for now. There’s no doubt in my mind that the visibility of top-level sportspeople makes them role models to at least some degree. Ultimately, the majority of people who play, watch or coach sport want to see the best of the best. Performances on the field can give us something to aspire to and marvel at. That’s why Luis Suarez has been banned for alleged racist comments and for biting three fellow professionals, but is still allowed to play: he’s damn good at football, so people want to watch him.

Competition and the ambitions of people to become the best have created powerful and inspirational displays of physicality and human achievement across the history of sport. But in raising the stakes for performance, money, greed and fame have also become ingrained in the DNA of many sports. Fundamentally, we are all flawed and it stands to reason that sport is no different. My sister rightly pointed out to me that when bad things happen, it isn’t sport that’s in the wrong – it’s the people who play it and run it. However, to me, sport IS people. They inspire us, astonish us and motivate us… as well as sometimes leaving us disappointed and let down. We accept that people aren’t perfect – and therefore I think we accept that sport will never be perfect either.

Greed, corruption, cheating and some generally questionable morality are displayed just as regularly in sport as they are in ‘real life’. However, because sport seems to occupy a unique place in our social consciousness, we cut it a little more slack. Even when our most revered sporting events turn out to be run by a bunch of money-grabbing bad guys, or when our perceptions of what superhuman performance means are threatened, we can’t imagine life without them. I actually think there’s an argument that sport – whether we are watching, playing or talking about it – allows us to escape these same vices and corruptions in other spheres of life. We forgive sport to let us forget other things.

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[From first edit, June 2015]
Sport didn’t exactly cover itself in glory last week. Serena Williams, Stan Wawrinka, Women’s Sport Week and all-conquering Barcelona may beg to differ – but FIFA’s corruption, Sepp Blatter’s resignation and claims of doping in athletics on a BBC Panorama programme stole most of the newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Women’s Sport Week: What Does Equality Really Mean?

Women in sport

I’m going to kick off with a controversial-sounding sentence: I don’t like the existence of Women’s Sport Week. Don’t judge me just yet – I’ll explain what I mean by that in the course of this blog. But fundamentally, I wish it wasn’t happening and hopefully in the not too distant future we might talk about it in the past tense. “Do you remember ‘Women’s Sport Week’? It seems crazy we used to have that…”

If you haven’t yet noticed the extra column inches in the sports pages and the flurry of social media activity focused on sportswomen, perhaps you need a quick introduction to what the week is all about:

 ‘Women’s Sport Week (1-7 June 2015) is an opportunity for everybody to celebrate, raise awareness and increase the profile of women’s sport across the UK.’
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/get-inspired/32916625

Essentially, this is another attempt to bridge the enormous gap between men and women’s sport. I probably should talk about ‘gaps’ in the plural – because there are lots of areas of inequality: media coverage, sponsorship, general perceptions, prize money, participation, the opportunities available in professional sport… and so the list goes on. I have a real internal battle about the increasing work to improve gender equality in sport. My idealistic side is what leads me to say I wish Women’s Sports Week (and other campaigns like it) didn’t exist. I suppose it’s really down to the fact that I wish we didn’t need them.

Sometimes it’s also about context. Tennis is a good example of this. I’m sure it’s true that Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic get more media interest because they are men. But it’s also because for the last decade, these four players in particular have generated amazing performance levels and fierce rivalries in the men’s game. Conversely, in women’s tennis, Serena Williams is just better than everyone else. Maria Sharapova – probably the second best player of this generation – has a 2/17 win/loss record against Serena, and hasn’t actually beaten her since their first two matches in 2004. There just isn’t quite the same drama. And so whilst I do want equality, I also want this to be determined by the quality of the tennis matches played and the battles between contemporary greats. Maybe in the next generation of players, four highly competitive, great tennis women will emerge to help bridge that gap for the right reasons.

It can also be about how easy it is to find and celebrate a female role model. This is of course largely down to the media and who they decide to dedicate those column inches and photographs to. Jessica Ennis-Hill is one of only a few genuine world superstars in British Athletics and competes in a discipline where we have historically been successful with Olympic gold medallists like Denise Lewis and Dame Mary Peters. It probably also helps that she seems to be a down-to-earth woman, she’s attempting a comeback after having her first baby, she doesn’t tend to stir up controversy, and she’s not exactly struggling in the looks department. But hang on – should women have to tick so many boxes to actually be seen in the media? Again, I’m a bit torn on this. I’m glad Ennis-Hill is talked about and regarded as a role model, but I wish I could believe she would be as popular and as famous if she was a bit more ‘bad ass’ and a bit less pretty.

Maybe I’m being narrow-minded to think that what a girl looks like when she plays sport doesn’t affect other women’s perceptions and likelihood to participate themselves. But for me, rosy cheeks, bloody knees and sweating don’t put me off. In my eyes, these things don’t make me less feminine or more masculine, they’re just one little part of a thing I do. Campaigns like ‘This Girl Can’ are trying to break down these barriers and hopefully getting more women involved in exercise will have a knock-on effect in some of the other areas of inequality. Last week, The Telegraph ran a feature on the GB Women’s Hockey team, which was largely based around a glamour photoshoot of several of the players. Whilst it was supposed to be a positive reflection on women’s sport and women’s hockey, this type of article remains a double-edged sword in so many ways. Dressing up to increase the profile, sponsorship and coverage of women’s sport may be important for growth; but it also reinforces the stereotypes that causes so many of these inequalities in the first place. As a friend of mine said,

“Can you imagine Diego Costa being asked to wear make up for a photoshoot and then telling him it will help broaden his appeal?”

It’s particularly difficult when we are pushing for equality on so many fronts. What do we actually want: More girls playing sport at grass roots level? As many column inches written on Arsenal Ladies as on Arsenal men? Top female sports stars to get the same recognition as their male counterparts irrespective of how many sets they play or their level of performance? Girls to take part and embrace getting sweaty, or girls to take part to prove you can do sport and still look classically pretty? Some of the battles we’re fighting don’t completely make sense to me, but that’s because I don’t believe all of them are about ‘equality’ per se.

The whole point is that genuine equality in sport should be about every kind of diversity, not having to push or overemphasise a given demographic. Clearly female sport has a long way to go, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that girls and women are the only ones who suffer from inequality. True ‘sport for all’ would mean that gender, disability, race, sexuality, religion, body image, age and culture don’t negatively influence anyone’s access to or experience of sport, or the way that is perceived by other people.

Of course, this is all going to be pretty difficult to achieve. Before the haters tell me this isn’t a reason not to try, I’m not saying Women’s Sport Week isn’t necessary at the moment and that our attempts to find equality aren’t important – they clearly are. I accept that sometimes unfairness, prejudice and bias are broken down only by these same qualities being applied in the opposite direction. I’ll enjoy seeing a few more successful, talented and inspirational women receive some well-deserved and important media attention this week. I’m just looking forward to a day when we don’t need to have a special week for women’s sport – because in the end, we are just running around, sweating, puffing, throwing, jumping, winning, losing and taking part too.

 

 

Click here to learn about Women’s Sport Week 2015 and how you can get involved: https://www.womeninsport.org/wsw2015/