One of the most exciting things about the summer Olympics is the sheer spread of sports. Yes there’s rowing, swimming and the 100 metre sprint, but there’s also mountain biking, archery and weightlifting. In London 2012 we found ourselves spending hours watching Peter Wilson compete in the double trap shooting, but in Rio 2016 there was one sport that got our adrenaline pumping and our competitive spirit racing more than any other – women’s hockey. (Did you see those penalties?). But while lots of us played it at school, how much do you actually know about the stick-smashing sport? We spoke to Gareth Weaver-Tyler, who is not only an England U21, GB U23 and GB Development coach, but also the Performance Coach at Durham University.
‘Like most kids in the North East, I played football for the under 8s, under 10s and under 12s,’ Gareth explains, ‘and realised that I wasn’t very good at it, but when I moved to hockey it just clicked. You don’t have to be one type of person to be a good hockey player, because there are lots of different positions and very different ways of playing. I’m fortunate to have coached players like Lily Owsley who is fantastically quick, very athletic and can run round people, but you can be like Crista Cullen or Kate Richardson-Walsh, who aren’t very quick but are physically strong and able to make big tackles, and goalkeepers come in all shapes and sizes – the German goalkeeper is very tall and then you’ve got little Maddie Hinch who is so ballistic.’
Despite showing an initial flair for the sport and playing for various teams in the Isle of Wight where he grew up, Gareth eventually had to make a decision between being ‘an average player’ (as he describes it) or coaching the sport and soon found himself studying Coaching Science at Liverpool John Moores University. Fortunately he was pretty good at it. At just 34, Gareth has now coached several international teams, led a team to a bronze medal at the EuroHockey Championships and is about to attend his second Junior World Cup. He has also coached a number of the girls who led Team GB to victory on 19 August. As well as Giselle Ansley and Shona McCallin (who scored a penalty in the final), he trained Lily Owsley, who made her debut in Rio at just 21 and scored a number of crucial goals. ‘I actually dropped her for a Four Nations tournament because she needed to improve her core skills,’ he laughs.
Gareth is now hoping that Team GB’s success will trigger a surge of interest in the sport. ‘There’s still a misconception that hockey is boring, muddy and slow with lots of school teachers shouting at you,’ he says, ‘but the Olympic final is a prime example of how fast the game is now. Our rules change every year and we’re continually trying to make the game more attractive, quicker and get more people to watch. Everybody is playing on astro turf or water-based pitches. It’s a very quick game, very dynamic, with lots of movement – regardless of the level, it’s a great way to keep fit.’
With Team GB’s hockey stars now taking centre stage, showing off their medals on primetime TV (Gareth couldn’t quite believe his childhood friend Alex Danson was on Sunday Brunch) and inspiring a new generation of players, there’s never been a better time to get into hockey.
‘You don’t have to commit every hour of every day like I do,’ Gareth adds, ‘go once a week, pick up a hockey stick and play a little bit of casual hockey or maybe get involved with a third or fourth team with minimal commitment. You might just get the bug.’
For more information about joining a local hockey team or getting involved with the casual Back To Hockey initiative visit www.englandhockey.co.uk
NORTH EAST HOCKEY CLUBS
If you feel inspired to don your shin pads and dig out your old hockey stick, there are a number of teams in the North East playing at various levels of hockey who are always keen to recruit new members. To join, get in touch with the team captains and attend your first training session.
GATESHEAD HOCKEY CLUB
MORPETH HOCKEY CLUB
DURHAM CITY HOCKEY CLUB
WHITLEY BAY & TYNEMOUTH HOCKEY CLUB