The success of the GB team in recent Olympic tournaments – bronze at London 2012 and Tokyo 2020, gold at Rio 2016 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022 – has raised awareness of the sport and it’s fair to say that participation levels in the women’s and girl’s games are in a very healthy state.
Salisbury Hockey Club offers a welcoming environment for anyone interested in playing hockey. It caters for all levels of player and runs both weekly training sessions and match squads for a wide range of abilities across both men’s and women’s sections.
The club works to balance two main aims: one the one hand, the club wants everyone to have fun and enjoy playing hockey, whatever their age, skill level or ambition. On the hand, the club works to actively deliver the best results on the pitch.
Balancing these aims is the work of the club’s volunteer committee members, coaches and squad captains who work together week-on-week to make sure every player is given as much opportunity as possible to find the highest level of potential they want to achieve.
We spoke to the ladies club co-captains, Laura Valjak (representing 3s, 4s, 5s and development squads), and Louise Davidson (1s and 2s squads).
Together, they work with the men’s captain, Andy Renshaw, to deliver on the club’s goals and aims.
What does co-captain do?
Laura: “We sit on the Salisbury Hockey Club committee and act as a representative of the squads we support. For me, that’s the Ladies 3-5 XIs and development side, and for my co-captain, Louise, that will be for the 1s and 2s.
“Part of this involves asking questions, offering feedback and passing on concerns from players and captains as the season progresses. Issues might include training needs and selections, for example.
“The committee is there to keep the club running smoothly and that all players feel part of what the club is trying to achieve.
“We have a couple of big events, such as trials and season kick-off that fall on the club captains to organise, and we coordinate selections and player review with the selections panel through the year.
“Louise is particularly great at making sure we have our social calendar in order and rallying us all to sort out those big events (Christmas, end of season dinner, fundraising).
When did you first get involved with the team?
Laura: “I joined the club in 2015, after a 15-year break. I played at school from age nine up to the age of 18. My highlight was going to South Africa at 18 for a hockey tour with my school. Not long after that, I had to stop playing because of ankle issues.
“I was encouraged by a parent on the sidelines while watching my then 10-year-old son. Now nearly 18, he plays in the Men’s 2nd XI and I have made it as far as the Ladies 3rd XI.
“Soon after joining, I was selected for the 5s, then 4s and I have been in the 3s for the last couple of seasons. I very much doubt I’ll creep any higher than that, it’s all downhill from here…
Louise: “I joined when I was about 15 after being invited by a teacher at school as their team needed a goalie. I began in the 3rd XI and by 17 had worked my way up to the 1st XI.
“Outside of Salisbury, I have played for Southampton, right up to Liverpool and have always felt so welcome (as a goalie I particularly feel welcome as we’re a relatively rare breed).”
What were your ambitions for the season?
Laura: “The aim of each squad is to field the strongest teams we can and to be as successful as possible. Ultimately, the aim would be to reach promotion in each of the leagues our teams compete in.
“It is also really important to recognise that hockey is our hobby. We aren’t professionals and give up a lot of time and money to play. That being said, many of the players have played together for years. Hockey is our social time, time to de-‘gunge’ from work, family etc…
“For the mums on the team it is time to claim back a little bit of our identity. After not being able to play consistent hockey through interrupted seasons due to COVID-19 over the last two years, it has been lovely to be able have some ‘normality’.
“When reflecting on ambitions for the Ladies 1st team, captain Jenna Whittle said: ‘Our ambitions are to compete in the league, give our opposition a good competitive game (with a friendly and welcoming attitude), and play well for each other – finishing in the top three would be amazing and achievable.’
“We pride ourselves on being a welcoming and friendly club, whether that be to new players, opposition, spectators, or umpires and coaching staff alike – maintaining this atmosphere is an overarching standard we seek to achieve every season.”
Do you have a tactical style or philosophy?
Laura: “One thing Salisbury Hockey Club does have is heart – every player across every team turns out because we love the game and give it our all from the first to the final whistle.”
Louise: “We play hard for one another because of the bond we have, we want our team to do well because we are all friends and family. We are motivated not to let our team down.”
Laura: “We have always been extremely lucky in the ladies section to have some great coaching staff from our men’s section. We have also recently welcomed our new head coach, (former Team GB head coach) Jon Royce, who is bringing more of the tactical awareness side to the ladies game. Namely, ‘pressing’, ‘set pieces’, and recognising and pushing talented individuals to ensure that they have the best possible opportunities for success.
Have the achievements of the GB ladies hockey team led to an increase in interest?
Laura: “There has been far more awareness of grassroots hockey since the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. England Hockey has become far more visible and supports many more charities and grassroots hockey clubs with bursaries and endorsements to help improve facilities and give people an opportunity to try and get back into hockey or pick up a stick for the first time.
“Local schools are also playing more hockey, which is great for the game.
“We have seen a huge increase in interest in hockey with both children and adults. The GB hockey ladies are fantastic ambassadors for the sport and we are extremely grateful to have had several of them engaged with our club, inspiring our players.
“In 2017, Olympic gold medallist, Alex Danson, visited the club and led a training session followed by a Q&A session with our juniors.
“The following year, the club welcomed Olympic gold medallists Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, who led a training session followed by a Q&A with our adult section.
“More recently, our Ladies 1st XI had the support of Commonwealth gold medallist, Anna Toman, on the sidelines for one of their games. One of our youngsters is even acting as a mascot for a GB game next year.”
What plans are their going forward?
Laura: “Financially, our plans include funding a new Astro, to seek and encourage local sponsorship and further enhance player development and youth training, while balancing players’ enjoyment of the game alongside encouraging a strong competitive spirit. Something for everyone.”
Louise: “The pitch at the Salisbury & South Wilts Sports Club, is coming to the end of its life and is due for replacement.
“To make sure we can continue to provide a high-quality facility, not just for our hockey players, but all the local clubs and organisations who use the pitch throughout the year.
“We are working actively on fundraising to be able to meet the significant financial commitment needed within the next two to three years. We are seeking major sponsors, and contributors at any level, towards those fundraising efforts.
“A number of small local businesses very generously contributed prizes and gifts to the club’s Christmas fundraising raffle back in December. “
What has changed at a local level over the last few years?
Laura: “As you can see with regards our pipeline of talent and the growing interest in becoming a member of the club, we’ve definitely noticed an increasing interest.
Hockey is a high-tempo and skilful sport and it is now being broadcast far more [BT Sport, for example], which makes it more accessible.
“Rules evolve over time, bringing with it a faster pace and movement. One example is the ‘aerial ball’, which is something that’s come in more in recent years (when a ball is lifted – in a controlled manner – and passed over the players on the field to its destination.
“Where something like that was once preserved for the national/international teams, it’s coming into local play more and more. It’s a skill that really opens up the pitch, allows passes that otherwise would not have been possible, all increasing the tempo and excitement.
“Another example a few years back was the removal of a short corner – instead of now being taken from the back corner of the pitch, you now take this from the 25 yard line, which gives more advantage to the attacking team. And, the offside rule went out many years ago.”
Is there a lot of interest in the sport?
Laura: “We see lots of regular interest, which is really encouraging. I’d say our pipeline of young talent is healthy. We often have waiting lists for the junior training sessions, but we do everything possible to invite and welcome everyone to join who wants to.
“We regularly field new enquiries from young and old, looking to either pick up a stick for the first time, get back to it after a number of years away, or from those who move to the area keen to train and compete with Salisbury.
“It’s also an incredibly social and family-orientated club, and we are made up of both players and members who have lived in and around the Salisbury area for years, as well as those who moved to the area slightly more recently. Some of our players travel significant distances each week to be part of the club.
“We have lots of players who have been with the club for years – from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and a number of those players who are still actively competing within one of the league squads.
“Our women’s 1st XI squad captain this year is Jenna Whittle, whose mother Jane Tait currently plays in the 5th XI and has been with the club since around the mid-70s.”
What advice would you give for a woman or young woman looking to either get into the game or progress their own game?
Louise: “If you’ve never played before, head down to your local club and give it a go. Hockey players are a lovely bunch of people and will make sure you feel so welcome.
“Also, if you can get to London to watch some international games, I would highly recommend it. I’ve been multiple times and have got tickets to see GB vs USA in thesummer. It’s a great way to watch those at the top of the game and to learn from the best.
“I was lucky enough to be in the crowds when England won the Commonwealth gold last year. The atmosphere was incredible and it got me itching for our season to start again.
Louise: “SHC is a friendly, welcoming club open to players of any age and any ability. We welcome new players at any time of the year.
“If you would like any more information about SHC, or hockey in general, then please contact Laura and me on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be more than happy to chat further.”
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