Faulkner's long term outlook

By Sarah Juggins

There was huge success on the pitch for David Faulkner as he played his part in the Seoul 1988 winning team and he has gone on to enjoy further success in hockey and now football off of it.

In 2005 Faulkner was appointed Performance Director for the reinvented England Hockey and, during his time in role, he oversaw a slow recovery that culminated with a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Now Head of Women’s Performance at the Football Association, Faulkner is calling on much of what he learnt at the helm of high performance hockey to help the growing numbers of professional female football players to develop both their on-pitch performance and their off-field preparation for a life beyond the pitch.

“Women’s football is slightly different to hockey. There are 250 professional female footballers playing in the Super League this year but I am focusing on performance and some of the things I led on as Performance Director for hockey. 

"The players have to understand what a full-time sports career looks like, while remembering it is a dual career. These players have to prepare for life after sport. That is what we did with hockey and that is one of the rewarding thing from my time at England Hockey. 

"It wasn’t necessarily about the 30 per cent who made it into the senior team: it was making sure the 70 per cent who didn’t make it had an option with their careers so they had a great opportunity in their second career. We had to make sure that we got the balance right.”

The balance between work and hockey was very different in 1988. As Faulkner recalls: “The gold medal in 1988 wasn’t due to the system. It was a case of 16 blokes in the right place, with an inspirational leader who allowed nothing to get in the way of the direction of the team.”

That dedication to victory took the form of early starts, late finishes and huge sacrifices on the part of families and employers. “For the players it was a choice,” says Faulkner. “The sacrifice was made by the people who supported us.”

That choice saw the team combining work and training in an almost unimaginable way. Faulkner would be at work at 6am, leaving his business premises in Portsmouth at midday and driving to Bisham Abbey or Lilleshall. Training would take place every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2pm until 8pm. 

Then the players would drive home – wherever home was in the UK. They would meet again on Friday evening and train all weekend. When they weren’t training with the squad, they were training alone or in small groups. 

Even 30 years on, there is no mistaking the joy in Faulkner’s voice as he recalls that period. “Culturally it was fantastic. Roger Self (team manager) would drop in and test us. The resilience in that group was built up because we knew that everyone was training even when we weren’t together. 

"Roger might get us doing shuttle runs and every time we did them, we all improved on our previous performance. That resilience in the group and the winning mentality was essential in Seoul. That preparation period emotionally defined how we approached the Olympic Games.”

Faulkner took the search for resilience into his role with England Hockey. He realised that following the success in Seoul, the national governing body hadn’t been prepared for capitalising on the success. There was no talent identification system, no sports science or nutritional support. 

A long term strategy was needed and, four years after his appointment, England men delivered a gold medal at the European Championships and seven years later the Great Britain women’s team delivered a bronze medal at the London 2012 Games. 

Looking to the long term and not cutting corners in the search for success is the mantra in which Faulkner still believes. He cites Belgium men as a great example of taking a clear, long term strategy and watching it reap rewards: “10 years ago who would have thought that Argentina would be playing Belgium in an Olympic Final.” 

And he has this advice for any young player looking to make it to the top – whether in hockey or any other sport. “The challenge is to avoid the temptation to short cut to success. The talented think it is a lot easier than it is. The danger is that you don’t do the basics, physically, technically, socially and tactically. 

"If you short cut any of these basics, you will have no chance of getting to the top. Get the process right, make the experience a positive one and the outcome will look after itself.”

It's not too late to secure your seat for the Toshiba Anniversary International as Great Britain take on Belgium on 3 October. Click here for more information.