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Pitch perfect: Jo Leigh (BSc 2015)

Jo Leigh (BSc 2015)

Jo representing England against Belgium Clive Jones

Jo Leigh (BSc 2015) - Clifton Hockey Club

Jo playing with Clifton Hockey Club Peter Smith

13 May 2016

Professional hockey player, Jo Leigh (BSc 2015), hopes to make her Olympic debut in Rio this summer. Here, she talks about how she balanced her studies and training as a student, her pride at representing her country on the international stage, and how the squad are busy preparing for Rio 2016.

I first played for England as an U16, and remember being really excited about the prospect of representing my country. There’s a real pride and prestige that goes with being able to play with that badge on your chest. I still feel the same eight years later. As I’ve moved into the seniors, I still feel excited and challenged every time I play, and experience that special feeling of being part of a strong, unified team. I guess the only difference now is that I’m competing at a much higher level, and do feel under more constant pressure.

My first international cap at the age of 19 was also a milestone moment, as was being part of the team that qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio. There was a time in 2013 when I was at a real low with my hockey and doubted whether I even wanted to be playing. Being able to get through that time and find a way to be myself again on the hockey pitch is something I’m really proud of.

There’s always selection pressure: as much as we have a great squad culture, we’re constantly competing for our place in tournaments. But for me personally, the pressure I put on myself is probably the pressure I feel the most. Although it’s unrealistic, I want to be at the top of my game for every training session and match, and I’m quite often hard on myself when I feel things don't go as well as I want them to in my head. I’ve had to really work hard over the last few years to learn how to keep a positive mindset in the face of these pressures. In fact, that’s probably been my biggest learning curve.

It was the same with my degree: I always wanted my work to be the best it could be. I wanted to get the best feedback I could and produce work I was proud of. I was disappointed with anything I felt fell short. Whether I’m studying or playing hockey, the high expectations and standards I set myself and the pressure I put on myself to deliver are very comparable.

I chose to study at Bristol because it was a new city, and home to a highly regarded University with a well-ranked Geography course. It was different to where all my hockey friends were going but importantly, still had the facilities and opportunities (like the Performance Squad and the Hockey Performance Centre) I needed to play and further my hockey.

To balance my studies with training and competition, I had to manage my time well. I had to be organised and make sure I communicated with the University, my coaches and my club. The Performance Squad was great for meeting people in similar circumstances, and when I first started at Bristol, those connections really helped me settle into university life. The support I received from the squad in terms of strength and conditioning coaching, gym membership, mentoring, massage, physio – and being labelled as a high-performance athlete within the University – was of huge value in preparing me to think and work like a full-time athlete.

I learnt early on at University that I needed to be proactive about building relationships, getting what I needed from the people available and taking the initiative with my training, communication and organisation. That need – to be proactive in my sport, my studies and life generally – has certainly stayed with me.

The whole squad is working as hard as we can to make sure we perform the best we can in Rio. During our build-up, we are training hard and playing lots of international test matches to make sure the athletes who are selected are physically and mentally tournament-ready.

Getting the team culture right is crucial. I definitely feel this is a special squad to be part of: everyone is striving for the same purpose and goals, and we all understand that. We push through the tough moments together, but also enjoy the good times together. It’s sharing these experiences that makes the team dynamic special.

In sporting terms, competing in the Olympic Games means pretty much everything. The Games are the pinnacle of our sport - who wouldn't want to play at that level?

Further information

Among Jo’s Great Britain teammates is fellow Bristol graduate, Georgie Twigg (LLB 2012), who won a bronze medal in the London 2012 Olympic Games – only the second ever won by the women’s hockey team.

We wish Georgie and Jo all the very best during the build-up to this summer’s Games!