The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro were hailed as a triumph for Team GB and rightly so. 366 athletes travelled to Brazil to take part in the games and although this was a decrease from the 542 competitors in London, the medal count actually increased. There were many surprises along the way as you would expect from an Olympic Games, but one medal in particular that stole the nation's hearts, was the Gold medal won by the GB Women's Hockey Team.
Olympic success for Team GB is usually found in the individual events. I think of people like Mo Farah, Max Whitlock, Charlotte Dujardin, Nicola Adams (I will stop there because I could go on all day) and I see a list of immensely talented individuals. None of these athletes won a medal in a team event at the 2016 Olympics but all of them are the Kings or Queens of their own discipline. Team GB, apart from on a bicycle or in a rowing boat, seem to have serious problems when it comes to winning team sport medals.
At Rio 2016, Team GB did not take part in six disciplines and out of those six, five of them were team sports. Basketball, Water Polo, Handball, Volleyball and Football, the latter for obvious reasons, were all missing Team GB on the entry list this time around. It almost seems like the nation has come to accept that we do not excel at these sports and an Olympic games are a place where individual heroes are made for Great Britain, not heroic teams. For me at least, that was what made the women's gold in Hockey so great. It was different. We are a nation that holds a great love for team sports, whether it be Football, Rugby or Cricket and here, at Rio 2016, was a team sport that we could finally get excited about. We were able to stand up in front of the rest of the world and say that we, little old Britain, are the best there is and that felt really quite special.
GB fans can be forgiven for not expecting a gold medal from the women's team in the run up to the games. A disappointing result in the Champions Trophy in June 2016 saw them finish 5th, indicating that they may not be in the best form to improve on the bronze medal they won at London 2012. That didn't matter though and what I, and millions of others around the world witnessed, was a togetherness, a true determination to succeed and a never-say-die attitude, in what was one of the great stories of the games. I saw qualities in those players that I want to see in the England football team at major tournaments. It got me thinking, surely there is a lesson to be learned from the GB Women's Hockey Team.
The first thing that struck me about the team was the varying ages of the players. At one end of the spectrum you had Kate Richardson-Walsh at 36. Along with her there was Lily Owsley at the opposite end of her career aged just 21. Rio 2016 was Kate Richardson-Walsh's fourth Olympic Games and clearly her last chance to win the gold medal. In a career where she has won so many titles, there was something heart warming about seeing her with that gold medal around her neck in Rio. All those years of hard work had paid off. For Lily Owsley this was her first chance at a gold and there will no doubt be many more to come. The combination of the experienced heads desperately fighting for the title that had always eluded them and the fearless nature of the younger players proved to be a winning combination.
Throughout the group games and into the knockout stages it was also clear that GB didn't really have a weak link. The team didn't rely on any one player to score the goals, they all chipped in with important goals at times when it mattered the most. Out of the 15 outfield players that GB had in their squad, eight of them scored at the Olympics with a 9th player, Hollie Webb, scoring in the penalty shoot out to seal the gold medal. At the other end of the pitch, Maddie Hinch, the goalkeeper, had a sensational games and was a huge contributing factor to their success. GB were the only team to win all five group games and conceded just four goals in the process, proving just how solid the defence was every step of the way. These women were focussed and nothing was going to stop them from achieving their goal.
Some neutral spectators may say that GB rode their luck in the final. Either that or that Hinch played out of her skin to deny the onslaught from the Dutch team. I would disagree (of course I would!). The reason being that the Netherlands had only conceded four goals in their seven games in the run up to the final where GB then managed to put three past them. Hinch and the rest of the defence were superb in the final and yet they still conceded three goals. GB would not have won the gold medal if they weren't so clinical in front of the opposition goal. They held their nerve and took their chances when they came along, something that other British teams could learn from.
Many plaudits are heaped upon Hinch and they are well deserved, she was perhaps the star player for GB but there was also 15 other outstanding hockey players out there that all brought their A game. They willed each other on, they ran themselves into the ground and they were impossible to beat. No team scored more goals than GB in the women's hockey tournament. They even won a penalty shoot out, I only hope the FA was watching.
In terms of what can be learnt from this outstanding success, if I was the head of the BOA or UK Sport, or any sporting organisation with a significant stake in British sport, I would be meeting with the players and the coaching staff of the team. I would gather the head of the FA, the RFU, the ECB and anyone else who was interested in actually succeeding and sit them round a table with the hockey team and their coaching staff. I would let those involved with this great achievement tell these heads of team sports how it was done and ask them to share their knowledge and the ideas that they have and investigate if they are transferable to our other sports teams. Maybe this is already being done but it is just not widely publicised. I would like to think that by the governing bodies of different sports working together and sharing ideas that we can bring success to other sports too.
In addition to the above, I hope that the success and the obvious comradery of the Women's Hockey Team in Rio has inspired a generation of girls to get out and have a go at a team sport. It would be a crying shame if we didn't capitalise on the interest that surrounds the sport in this country right now. Hockey is not for everybody but the success of a British women's team will hopefully see participation rise, not only in hockey but in women's Football, Cricket, Rugby and everything else. Individual sports and team sports are a totally different animal and we need to be asking ourselves why we are so much better at the individual sports. The answer for me must be participation. If the GB men's basketball team had seven or eight players as good as Loul Deng then no doubt they would be in the Olympics every time, but having just one star is not enough. The media need to give more coverage to team sports such as hockey because if it is thrown into the public eye, then this will attract more players and also more money by way of sponsorship. Lets face it, with the amount of free to air TV channels there are these days, I am sure one of them could drop some of their terrible programming and televise a few games from the Men's or Women's Hockey League.
I have no doubt that participation in hockey will continue to rise. Success breeds success and the likes of Kate Richardson-Walsh will have inspired thousands of young girls to get out and give hockey a go. Whether they grow up to represent GB or just play socially, there is absolutely no downside to their participation. Defending an Olympic title will be tough, but with the right players and the right attributes amongst them, anything is possible. GB can do it again in Tokyo!
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