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Townsend in training: Learning to accept myself

March 26, 2018

From a young age most of us have been lucky enough to travel the world playing a sport we love but as you get older it does start to take it’s toll on the mind and body. What follows is my view, my own personal opinion, and it offers an insight into how I have changed as a player and a person.

It’s incredible to be able to play for my country. In the concise words of England teammate Ellie Rayer: “It’s just really cool…”.

I love being an international hockey player and everything that comes with it but it’s true to say sometimes I do find some things a little bit difficult. I am human and I have emotions like everyone else. I have now learnt to allow myself to be more open with my feelings instead of hiding them. I can’t believe I once saw this openness as a weakness… its exhausting always pretending everything is ok.

Of course I accept that I signed up to be away from home for long periods of time but as I get older I find it harder being away. It isn’t that I don’t love travelling for hockey – it’s amazing travelling all over the world playing a sport you love with your mates – and I know I am very fortunate, but it is still tough.

There are a number of reasons for feeling this way but a main factor is that I feel more settled with my life and more content with who I am than I have done previously. I am much more comfortable with being Susannah Townsend the person who also plays some hockey, not just Susannah Townsend the hockey player.

I think the lack of recognising the person behind the player was a big reason I loved being away so much. My identity for so many years has been about me being a hockey player. If I’m honest, I loved it and everything that came with it. It made me feel special but I found myself always being ‘the hockey player’ instead of sometimes just allowing myself to be me.

In sport, just as in any other workplace, there is a way people expect you to behave. If this changes people start to analyse you and look for a reason but sometimes there isn’t a reason and that’s ok. There doesn’t always need to be a reason and I have now come to accept that.

A year ago I met someone for a coffee. I walked in as ‘Susannah the athlete’ which disappointed the person I was meeting as they had wanted to get to know the real me. Later, they admitted this disappointment.

I needed someone to point this out as I had no idea this was the way I was coming across. I walked out and felt disappointed in myself as I knew deep down I had more to give than just being the athlete. It was tough for me to hear but I knew how true it was and it made me want to be me regardless whether people liked that or not.

When I received my 100th combined cap in Rio I thanked my team for allowing me to be me, imperfections and all. It is something we believe at England hockey – as a team, if we are honest with each other and show compassion and support we can all help each other be the best versions of ourselves.

I am at a stage in my life now where I don’t have that long left of my playing career. This is a daunting prospect and something I will touch on in a later blog. I hope to have another Olympics in me and then I will see what happens. I have made a promise to myself to enjoy it for as long as I can and keep enjoying the journey. I accept that it’s ok to be vulnerable and I think that helps the people around me get the best out of me too.


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