Make this the year you grab a stick and get playing, says Team GB hockey medallist Alex Danson
Team GB hockey superstar Alex Danson, 27, helped the women's team battle to bronze during the London 2012 Olympics when they clinched British hockey its first Olympic medal in 20 years.
That performance inspired women across the country to pick up their hockey sticks for the first time in many years. So when we told Alex about our Keep the Momentum campaign she was delighted.
‘Great!' she said. 'Try a new sport, and hockey is a great one!’
All fired up, Alex talked us through some great ways to get involved, ‘One is called Back to Hockey. It’s a women-specific game and is a great way to meet new people, have a great workout, learn a new game and gain skills.’
Maybe watching Alex and the team smash their way to victory at the Olympics fired you up - but also left you a little nervous about the pace and violence of the game. Team GB Captain Kate Walsh ended the tournament playing with a metal plate in her jaw after being hit in the face with a hockey stick in the opening match.
But there are ways to play a less intense version. Alex suggests, ‘If you thought “Blimey that was quick”, you should try Rush Hockey instead. It’s a five-a-side game, on a smaller pitch. There’s a slightly bigger ball, but not as hard, so it doesn’t hurt if you get hit.’
Rush Hockey doesn't require the commitment of weekly training either, but you can still enjoy competing in weekend matches. Alex believes it's a great introduction to the competitive game.
‘If you’re really fit and like running around then get yourself in mid-field. If you want to be up there scoring goals get yourself upfront,’ she advises.
Although Alex insists hockey is a non-contact sport, she admits the ‘odd bump’ is inevitable. ‘I would definitely buy a pair of shin pads!’ she warns. ‘It really doesn’t hurt that much if you get hit. You’d be surprised how little it happens and as soon as your skills are up to scratch it really doesn’t happen at all.’
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As well as a great workout, Alex believes hockey training in a team environment can give your social life a serious boost. ‘I was looking through my phone the other day and I could hardly find one person who in some way isn’t connected to me through my sport. I believe sport is about staying physically healthy but enjoying time with people.’
Getting involved also helps increase your self-esteem and confidence, says Alex. ‘Working as a team, you have to have respect for one another and be confident in coaching each other.’
As part of her hockey fitness regime, Alex runs, lifts weights and cycles - and swims for recovery. She also enjoys lots of Pilates to increase her flexibility and strength. ‘It’s really important because you’ve got to be able to hold your body in lunges and other unusual positions.’
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A strong core is vital for the sport. ‘We do a lot of other fitness work to make sure our bodies are at their best,’ Alex says.
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Alex is a vegetarian, which she says is quite unusual for an athlete. ‘My diet is still high in carbohydrates and protein, which I have to get from nuts, pulses, tofu and eggs. They have to be low in fat because the leaner we are and the more muscle we have the more powerful and the quicker we will be. I never believed I'd get an Olympic medal but now I’d love the opportunity to make it a little bit shinier.’
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Alongside aspiring to the next Olympic Games in Rio, Alex hopes to become a P.E teacher. She is now an athlete mentor for a Youth Sport Trust programme, called Sky Sports Living for Sport. It's a free secondary schools initiatives that uses sport stars and sport skills to improve the lives of young people.
‘I wanted to leave with a gold but that didn’t quite happen for us. That is the message I find very important when I go into schools. If it doesn’t quite work out you can still be proud that you’ve given it your best. I can now reset my goals and hopefully I'll be lucky enough to go to Rio.’
Love team sports? Why not try Back to Netball too?
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