I’ve played sport ever since I was a kid – cricket, competitive swimming, and lifesaving. I started playing hockey as a field player at college partly to get out of the hostel (I went to boarding school). I wasn’t an amazing field player but enjoyed it all the same. In my fourth year, our coach asked for volunteers to play in goal…. so I put my hand up. I remember the first time I put the goalkeeping pads on – someone’s mum and the coach both had to help me because I had no idea what I was doing. And that was even before I hit the field.
In my first game as goalkeeper, we lost 14-0 but I absolutely loved it. There is something about being the last line of defense I find both exhilarating and petrifying. You can’t make a mistake as that could result in a goal. You have to be focused all the time. And the team is relying on you to be there to make a save when it counts.
After college, when I returned home to Wellington to go to university, I saw an ad in the newspaper for the Victoria University Hockey Club trials (no social media back then!). I went along and was selected to play in the P1 team. And I’ve never looked back having played for VUWHC since 1999.
It wasn’t until I was 35 did I start taking my sport seriously. Because I have always been naturally good at hockey and sport when I put my name down for the New Zealand 35s for the first time I thought I’d just walk in right into the team. But I didn’t get selected. I was pretty disappointed and embarrassed. So I emailed the coach to ask why he didn’t select me. Reading his feedback made me realise I had to change how I thought about my goalkeeping abilities. I couldn’t just wing it on my natural talents anymore. I needed to take my sport and training seriously. So for the first time in nearly 20 years playing hockey as a goalie, I got a coach. The next year I got selected to play for New Zealand. Even though I’m a goalkeeper I always try to be one of the fittest and fastest in any team I play in. It’s always a personal win when I can outrun the youngsters I play from the forward line.
Goalies need to be fit and fast. I have to be able to cover short distances quickly, be agile enough to change direction at speed, be nimble enough to throw myself on the ground and strong enough get back up again quickly. Usually while trying to figure out what the heck is happening in the circle and where the ball has gone. To stay fit I’ve worked with online trainers, made up my own programmes or worked 1-1 with PTs. I’ve dabbled in Crossfit too. I enjoy variety otherwise I tend to get bored. And if I’m bored, or I don’t feel accountable to someone, it’s super easy to stop exercising. I usually work out at the gym 3-5 times a week depending on my work schedule (as I live in Wellington but commute to Auckland for work).
Hockey specific training is 1-2 sessions a week with a game on the weekend during the season. A typical hockey season for me is Masters from October – March, Club hockey from March-August and NHL starts in June and runs to September. I also have a Goalkeeping Coach who I get sessions with every couple of months. Hockey training usually focuses on the team, not the goalkeeper specifically so it’s great to have someone to help me keep improving. It’s amazing how easy you can randomly pick up bad habits in technique if you’re not paying attention.
I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to sleep. I’ve even been known to get 10 hours of sleep before a big game. This makes a massive difference in my reaction speeds and ability to read a game. And it’s something completely within my control to do. Good nutrition is also a no-brainer for any athlete… it has such a powerful effect on your ability to perform, to think and to recover. Plus the science on the human gut and how food affects everything from moods to preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s is mind-boggling. For sure I love delicious food but there are tonnes of ways to make healthy, nutritious whole foods delicious too.
The biggest key to my success as an athlete is my mental strength. It’s my ability to adapt, be flexible and respond to whatever is thrown at me on or off the field. It’s the confidence and belief I have in myself that’s the difference between me performing at my best or being mediocre. One of the simplest ways I’ve helped shape my mental strength is using a tool called a Reframe. It’s simply when something goes wrong or not as planned, you reframe the situation to look for a positive outcome. No matter how terrible things seem there is always a silver lining. It’s your duty to find it. This technique keeps me in a positive frame of mind.
The story that best exemplifies my mental strength and the Reframe in a time of adversity is from 2016 when I was dropped as the goalkeeper from my Premier 1 team following a great year. I’d been selected to play for New Zealand 35s Masters and I had played Capital NHL the season before. I was absolutely guttered and even though I had been dropped previously this time it hit me hard. I was in good form and had been working really hard at my craft. Also unfortunately by the time I was dropped, there were no other P1 goalkeeper spots available.
That season I played for the Victoria University Hockey Club’s P2 team accepting it could likely impact my chances to make NHL again. Fortunately, in 2016 they opened up Capital NHL trials to players outside of the P1 grade. So I put my name down. I seized the opportunity. Over the three month trial period I pushed myself. I attended every training and game. I focused on improving every time I took the field and sought feedback from the coach. Eventually, my determination paid off as I was selected into the Capital NHL side over five other goalies who trialed.
Being dropped was a painful experience. While I could have dwelled on what happened instead I made the decision to react positively to the situation. I Reframed the situation and found the silver lining in the event being dropped had given me a new sense of drive, of purpose, and had helped solidify in me this was something I wanted (plus the P2s won the grade that year!). I also learned a lot more about myself and what I was capable of in the process. To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only Wellington Hockey Association P2 player to ever be selected for the Capital NHL side.