The GB hockey team at the Rio Olympics grabbed the headlines not just for their gold winning achievements, but for the self-evident strength of their team culture and unity. In an age of social media their decision to come off all channels for the duration of the Games was emblematic of their focus, and was a conscious decision taken as part of a collective approach to how they functioned as a team.
Drawing on these themes Helen is ideally placed to shed light on the psychology of high performing teams, and to share the lessons of a 17 year career in international sport. Despite an Olympic gold, bronze and three Commonwealth medals the journey has not always been smooth. In 2014 the team stumbled to an 11th place finish at a World Cup tournament where they arrived as one of the favourites. This experience shone a light on the key importance of strategy, structure and team cohesion, all of which had been put under pressure by wholesale changes that created a lack of buy in and confidence across the full squad of 30.
The shock of the World Cup set in motion a full scale review, with a new coach and senior players working together to put in place team values and processes to create a winning culture within the squad. Central to this was working as a team to identify the key behaviours that they had to live and breathe every single day, creating an environment that encouraged respect and support for each other even while they were battling for selection. A tier of senior players leading smaller buddy groups, also allowed all members of the squad to have a voice and ensured that no problem was allowed to grow and undermine team spirit.
These lessons are highly applicable across business, and Helen is able to share with confidence and humour, as well as shining a light on some of her own personal challenges within this team context. At the age of just 22, Helen’s career was threatened when she needed 3 rounds of surgery on her ankle, consultants warned that it was unlikely she would ever play competitive hockey again. After a two year absence, she defied the odds and returned to the field of play. After winning a bronze at London 2012 she then suffered a ruptured disc in her back, requiring two rounds of back surgery within 11 months. Under intense pressure Helen underwent periods of depression as she started to question her self-identity, life choices and ability to achieve her goals. Throughout her career, Helen has shown significant psychological and physical strength to return to the team time and time again and played an instrumental part of the leadership turn around at GB women’s hockey.
Her experience of the support she received from her team mates around mental health, as well as her sexuality, has also made Helen a passionate supporter of inclusivity whether in the workplace or society. Describing hockey as her ‘safe place’ she can share the experiences of what an inclusive environment can mean for personal performance, as well the importance of a team culture where diverse characters are encouraged to bring different skills to the table and given the opportunity to achieve their potential.
Helen regularly speaks at schools to inspire the future generation of sport stars.
Hockey is a sport that stays very close to its grassroots and recognises it’s responsibility to inspire the next generation. The mantra of the team was ‘Be the Difference, Create history, Inspire the Future’ and Helen is dedicated to bringing her professional team sport experiences to inspire the future generation within schools.
Helen also speaks about the importance of diversity and inclusion, and uses her life and sporting experiences to encourage openness and confidence amongst young people. Her authenticity and humour allows her to have great rapport with young people – providing them with clear advice and motivation to be the best that they can be.
Helen regularly runs hockey workshops at both clubs and schools.
The sessions range from different ages and abilities – with a key focus on fun and being inclusive. During the sessions, Helen will interact and coach players, focusing on both the technical and tactical elements of hockey. She also delivers a talk explaining her own hockey journey and the highs and lows of being an international athlete. Helen tends to develop her own structure to the sessions and can also support PE lessons for schools.
Having excellent rapport with young people, as well as understanding that different individuals are motivated and enjoy different things, Helen is versatile in her approach and always caters for the players.
You were brilliant and very inspirational. The timing was just right and the positive message on your ‘vision’ was great – I have thought of it often!! Your pitch was just right, being for students and parents and your visual displays were great.
Helen was FANTASTIC! We’re really happy with how the day went, and over the moon with Helen’s involvement.
A huge thank you for your contribution to our Inspiring Girls International Women’s Day Conference last week. We have had absolutely amazing feedback from the schools and I know that you have inspired many of the girls to think about their own futures and what they can achieve.
Helen is an inspiring speaker and shares her story with integrity and humour. She is intelligent and engages the audience with her honest insights into resilience and how she returned to the team following a period of serious injury. Her reflections of her leadership role, working with the team to set the right behaviour is extremely inspiring and motivating.
Helen was fantastic! Really added value to the event for both children and adults. She was brilliant from start to finish and would definitely book her again.