As the 288 young hockey players and their coaching staff line up for the opening ceremony of the third Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires on the 6 October there will be a plethora of mixed emotions spiralling around the minds of the young athletes.
Nerves – definitely; excitement – undoubtedly; anticipation – probably; fear – most likely.
One hockey player who has faced all those emotions over her long and successful career is gold medallist and four times Olympian Helen Richardson-Walsh, who won gold at the Rio 2016 Games.
“When we were training for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, we were all handed a red folder with tactics and such like in it,” says Richardson-Walsh. “Within the folder was a quote that I cut out and stuck on the front of the folder and it remains as relevant today as it did back then – ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, That’s a perfect piece of advice. Everyone will feel afraid at some point, that is normal. Just don’t let it stop you.”
Richardson-Walsh is one of the elite athletes who are YOG Athlete Role Models and, with an international career spanning two decades, she has empathy with the young players and their coaches as many of them face their biggest competition to date.
“There is always a temptation to change things at a big event. You really shouldn’t. Whether you are the coach or a player, trust in the processes you have followed so far.”
She also emphasises the importance of preparation. “Don’t have a last minute panic. Make lists, think about what you might need – spare trainers, extra protein bars, things that you might not be able to get while you are at an event. People go to an event like the Olympics and think everything will be perfect. You quickly learn that is not always the case. You need to get into the habit of planning down to the finest detail.”
"Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s a perfect piece of advice. Everyone will feel afraid at some point, that is normal. Just don’t let it stop you.”
Helen Richardson-Walsh, Rio 2016 Olympic Gold Medallist, Great Britain
Another strong messages from the Olympic gold and bronze medallist is that the Youth Olympic Games is part of a life-long learning curve. “You will make mistakes and you will learn what works and what doesn’t. But there is nothing to get stressed about, you are starting out on a career and learning is all part of that process.”
One skill that doesn’t appear in coaching manuals is the ability to take things in and enjoy the experience. It is a point that Richardson-Walsh emphasises: “Stay in the moment, don’t try to shut it out. Be mindful. Take a moment to soak everything up. All too often athletes finish an event and they haven't really appreciated the enormity of what they have been part of.”
To that end she suggests spending the first few days in the athletes’ village exploring and getting to know where everything is. Getting the inevitable early excitement out of the system will clear the way for a focused performance once competition starts.
For Richardson-Walsh, the past 20 years at the very top of the game have seen her change in many ways but, she says: “The core of what I was has remained. The fight and the passion for the game has remained consistent. What has changed is my awareness that people bring different things to the team. I think I have realised that a team is actually full of individuals all bringing their own perspectives and viewpoints; all of which are equally valuable.”
Fans wanting to attend the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games can now apply for free access to all events via the official website. For more information, click here.
For more information about the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, visit the official website.