There can be no denying it; the last eight months have been a huge learning experience for everyone, no matter who they are. This includes international athletes.
From training and seeing each other nearly every day to having to spend weeks on end stuck at home, the almost overnight upheaval of their daily routine was something none of them had ever been through before.
But for Hollie Pearne-Webb and Susannah Townsend, the absence has also brought about an even greater sense of unity and closeness amongst the women’s team.
As a squad, they particularly focussed on the mental wellbeing of the group during the first lockdown, making sure they were regularly asking each other how they were and not shying away if they were finding things difficult.
This has allowed them to develop an even greater understanding of each other, being able to find out what makes both themselves and their team-mates excel and what can also hold them back.
Speaking about this on a special episode of #InsideTheCircle recorded for Hockey’s In-Haus Weekend, Townsend said: “We based a lot of our meetings on the mental aspect of things and the struggles that some people had. But also to counteract that some people were flying and really enjoying the time away. Every person was different and we had meetings every week called ‘Keeping Connected’.
“I think everyone looked forward to them, being able to catch up and asking ‘how are you?’ which people in the world don’t ask enough anyway. It also allowed us to show our vulnerabilities.
“If you’re struggling in that environment – which everyone did at times – and you’re open about it then others can help you. There’s no hiding behind the camera because you have to answer the question.
“We’ve continued having those conversations more and more since we’ve come back and that’s something we’ve learned; keep checking in and making sure mentally we’re all in as good a place as we are physically.”
This is something both players believe will only aid their quest to secure an Olympic medal at a third straight Games for the women’s team in Tokyo next summer.
After a difficult 2019, both Pearne-Webb and Townsend recalled feeling very positive about the direction the squad was heading in after their FIH Hockey Pro League games against Australia and New Zealand earlier this year.
And even though the current pandemic could have threatened to halt that progress, they believe having another year to prepare for the Games will only make them stronger.
Pearne-Webb said: “In January and February we felt that we had made a massive step up. Mark came in during 2019 and it’s taken both the squad and him a little bit of time to get on the same page but come January and February it had all started to click.
“Everyone started to feel that collective buzz around the team that we were going somewhere. So we were slightly frustrated that that had to stop.
“But at the same time, because we are a young squad in terms of the amount of time we’ve spent together as this group and with Mark coming in, that extra year for our squad will be a benefit to us. I’m really looking forward to this extra 12 months to see where we can go.”
Townsend added: “It's about a feeling within a squad and both Hollie and I have felt it before in previous cycles and we had a similar feeling in January.
“It’s really hard to describe but everyone felt it. It’s something that you almost don’t talk about because you just know it’s right.
“With the initial disappointment it was tough for everyone, especially for us oldies who had to figure out how we’d get through another year, but having said that it will give us a better chance of coming home with the gold medal.”
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