Club Matters Meets: Kate & Helen Richardson-Walsh

We caught up with Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh for this month’s ‘Club Matters Meets’. Kate and Helen were part of the Olympic gold medal winning hockey team at Rio 2016 and the Olympic bronze medal team at London 2012. Following their retirement from the GB team, Kate and Helen sat down with us to chat about their memories from their first sports clubs, the volunteers that had an impact on them growing up and their plans to volunteer in the future.

Club Matters: How old where you when you joined your first Hockey club and what was it called?

HRW: I joined West Bridgford Hockey Club, which was actually a men’s club at the time, when I was 7 years old. That was way back now, I think in 1989.

KRW: My first club was Didsbury Hockey Club. I remember my mum played there and they didn’t have a junior section, so I had to wait until I was 13 to join. Then I played on the second team for my first season and absolutely loved it. 

Club Matters: What do you remember about the club?

HRW: I guess there are two elements that I remember. Firstly, as a junior at the club, every Sunday morning, whatever the weather we would always go down to play. I just remember there being loads of children. There was the inspiration from the GB men’s team winning the gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games, so there were loads more kids turning to hockey. I can also remember a few adult faces that I saw every week, whatever the weather they were there. It was a really friendly, family atmosphere. As I got a bit older, around 12-13, I started playing in some of the teams and playing with the adult men. I remember coming back from fixtures and going into the clubhouse and smelling the stale beer. The whole clubhouse was socialising after the matches. One by one each team would come back and retell the stories of that game and that day. It was an environment that was really welcoming but very unique as well.

KRW: My memories of Didsbury Club were growing up there really. My dad played cricket at the cricket club and my mum played hockey there. We would spend all of our Christmas Eves there, all of our weekends, all summer with my dad for the cricket and in the winter with my mum for the hockey. We really feel like we grew up at the club. It was a real family atmosphere. What I remember most fondly about the hockey team in particular, was that it had every kind of woman and that being really normal. All different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, backgrounds, religious views and sexualities. Just different in every way. I didn’t realise till I was older how lucky I was to grow up around those incredible women and to have those role models around me every weekend. For a young teenager so much is going on in your life with school and your bodies, your life and views on the world. I just felt like it was such a safe space for me to be, a comfortable space where I could just be myself and start to gain a bit of confidence because I was so shy. I have really fond memories of being around the club.

Club Matters How important was this grassroots introduction to sport in your personal development and in becoming a professional athlete?

HRW: I think it was massively important. In terms of becoming a professional athlete, it gave me the best grounding I could have possibly hoped for, in terms of my technique, my skills and my ability to play the game. Beyond that, just growing as a person and an individual. Being able to converse with much older men and other people’s parents and being able to work as a team, the social element, there’s just so many different ways it helped me grow, not just as a hockey player but as a human being and a person. It really gave me a good grounding into the world as a professional athlete, but also into the world in general. I think also being pushed out of your comfort zone is one of the key things it gave us both.

KRW: A lot of the stuff I gained from my first club was to do with my personal development. I was really shy. I had done lots of individual sports, but hockey was the first time I had played a team sport and been around a team all the time. Being in that team environment you have to learn very quickly to interact with people who are different to you, that you have differences in opinion with, difference in ages and just different in every way and you have to learn to cope with that as a young person. That really helped my confidence over the years. It took a while, but it made me feel confident in social situations. As I grew up and developed through the club system, I learned to love the discipline of training. Being able to look up to inspirational players and to train with them as I grew up, I thought “right this is what I have to do to be the best that I can be, I want to be like them, so I am going to do whatever it takes.” I think also it taught us to cope with failure. Coming back to the club and dealing with that loss, or you’ve not been promoted, or maybe relegated or just yourself not having a good game or not being selected for the team. You just learnt to get on with it.

HRW: Yeah you just get on with it. It’s normal. You learn how to cope with those little failures along the way.

Club Matters: Is there a particular volunteer from anywhere along your incredible journey that made a real impact in your life? Is there anything you would like to say to them?

HRW: So many, it’s hard to pick out any individuals. I have been lucky enough to go back to my first club, West Bridgford, after I won Olympic medals and share that with the club. It was really lovely, and they welcomed me back in such a nice way, so I have had the opportunity to thank them already. Bob Douglas is ‘Mr West Bridgford Monarchs Hockey Club’. He used to be there every Sunday, running everything, coordinating all the other coaches, making sure the children are safe and learning good stuff.

KRW: I’m really struggling to pick out one person, it was always a bit of a team effort. Over the years, it’s the people who are looking after the grounds, who are behind the bar, who are making the food, the match teas and obviously the people who are coaching you. People like ‘the double D’s’, that we used to call them at Reading Hockey Club, Denise and Debbie, who used to do the food for us. Those are the people who are the heart and the soul of the club. They know everybody in the club, they interact with everyone, both the home and away sides. It wouldn’t survive without the time that they give, and they give their time because of their love for the sport and the people in the club. We try and say thank you to all the volunteers as much as possible, such as the ‘Hockey Makers’ who do the international competitions that we run here in the UK. Those competitions and events couldn’t run without all the volunteers. We are so lucky, particularly from our perspective in hockey, there are just so many people that love the game and want to put back into the sport.

HRW: When I was growing up, early teens, my mum suddenly wasn’t able to drive for medical reasons. As a result, there were a few people from my club that would always come and pick me up. I remember, in particular Di Sully really helped me to get to training. I think it was a half an hour drive and she was just so helpful. There are so many people like that and none of us can do it without that kind of help. We are both extremely grateful to all those people who helped us and to all those people who continue to do it at hundreds of clubs around the country, willingly for the good of the sport and for the good of the people.

Club Matters: Do you plan on volunteering your time and giving back to the sport that made you the women you are today?

HRW: We already are. We try and go into as many clubs as we can. We were at Westbury Hockey Club in Bristol recently. We try and volunteer our time as often as possible, whether it’s opening pitches or giving coaching sessions. We really appreciate what everyone has done for us and we know we wouldn’t be here without those people. We want to give back as much as we can.

KRW: It was definitely part of our vision in the lead up to Rio 2016 to inspire the future. Every one of the thirty-one members of that team were, and are continuing to, go out into clubs and schools and everywhere they possibly can to say thank you to those volunteers and to give back that time that has been given to us. There’s lots of fantastic work going on from all the senior international players and long may it continue.

HRW: I think it’s important to appreciate the roles that are more behind the scenes, as well. There are a lot of people that sit on committees, something which we have both done and will continue to do. Being part of the sport behind the scenes, not necessarily what can be seen, there’s so much work that goes on. Any time that we can give back to the sport, we give gladly.

Club Matters: Is there any message you’d like to give to the volunteers who help run thousands of sports clubs up and down the country?

HRW: Just a massive thank you! We have both benefitted from all your support. Everyone is so grateful for what you do. Not just at your local club, but the wider community and across the country. It makes the sport what it is. Just a massive, massive thank you.

KRW: To reiterate what Helen said, thank you! You are developing really good people who are going out into society and really making a difference. You are all role models to hundreds of thousands of people. You are passing on that volunteering baton, so thank you very much for all of your ridiculous hard work, time and commitment and the love for the sports that you are involved in.