Monday, April 30, 2012

#communitysport blog: Sarah Thomas

Our latest blog in our Community Sport series comes from Team GB hockey player, and London 2012 hopeful, Sarah Thomas.  The Merthyr Tydfil born, Olympic hockey star took a rare break from her London 2012 preparations recently to come back to her hometown and give her full support to Hockey Wales’ radical revamping of the sport in Wales. (Watch the video)

The 31-year-old – who is bidding for her second Olympic appearance after becoming the first Welsh woman to play at the highest level in Beijing – is passionate about community sport and helping to inspire the next generation of Olympians and grassroots hockey enthusiasts. (Watch the full video interview)

Sarah Thomas: Team GB hockey player and captain of Wales

I started playing hockey when I was 13 years old after trying the game in one of my PE classes. I played in a lesson one day, fortunately I got to pick up a hockey stick, and from that moment onwards I was hooked.

At the time we didn’t have a school club and without a school club you couldn’t go and compete at the county championship. We needed to do that if I was to get selected and go further up the ladder. So I managed to get a group of my friends together and we went to the trials as a team.

My mum told me she played hockey for county level. I’m not sure if that ever happened! But apparently she played hockey when she was younger as well, so maybe I’ve got her some of her genes in me.

I had my parent’s support and they took me along to the local Dowlais hockey club which was great for me. I went on to play for them competitively, for a number of years, and thoroughly loved playing hockey on the field and the social side of a team sport. I have met some wonderful friends along the way.

I went to Exeter University, on a scholarship for hockey, which was great. I was playing hockey for Exmouth Hockey Club at the time but at the same time we had BUSA Championships every Wednesday, which was fantastic. We’d train on a Monday night and then have BUSA on a Wednesday. When I arrived at Exeter they were in the league below, so  leaving Exeter we were playing finals consistently against Loughborough, which was a fantastic experience.

I still played hockey on the weekends with Clifton Ladies, in the England Premiership, but it was the kind of phase in my life where I wasn’t completely dedicated to hockey. At the time it wasn’t the kind of sport you could play professionally and it wasn’t something you could get paid to do. So I worked as a Disability Development Officer in Merthyr.

When I was a Disability Development Officer it was always hard to change people’s thoughts and ideas on what they’ve already thought for a number of years. So to get disabled children involved in sport was sometimes difficult. As is with hockey; if the inspiration isn’t there and people aren’t encouraging in schools and if parents haven’t got the time to take their children to the local club then it’s always going to be difficult.

But at the same time, as we’ve seen today (at an Olympic themed Easter camp at Cyfarthfa Comprehensive School in Merthyr Tydfil), there’s 180 children there, all enthusiastic and looking forward to playing hockey in the next couple of months. If we could just reach them and one, two, three, four of them continue to play and continue to be committed to it then hopefully we’ll have a couple of more Great Britain players (from Wales) in the future.

Things are so different now. Hockey Wales are making hockey much more fun and exciting. It’s freshened the game up and there are loads more opportunities for girls and boys to play hockey at whatever level they want.

I’m sure we’ll have more Olympic hockey players from Wales in the future, as well as lots more people playing just for fun in local leagues.

Watch the full video interview

For more information about playing hockey in Wales visit the Hockey Wales website or follow them on Twitter @HockeyWales

This blog was written in conjunction with the launch of a strategy for Community Sport in Wales.  If you’d like your say, get involved in the debate on twitter – using the hashtag #communitysport and you can mention us @sport_wales