When the GB women's hockey team flew to Rio in July last year, our team culture was about to be tested in the extreme pressure of the Olympic cauldron. What followed was a perfect example of how a team with a strong vision, which is built on trust and respect, through honest and open communication, are able to thrive amongst the inevitable ups and downs of tournament hockey. We demonstrated that when you recognise, appreciate and leverage on difference, you can achieve great things.
In whatever industry you work, we all go through good times, and bad times. We all have our own personal challenges in life, which often are unknown to those around us. As a squad we recognised this and so spoke about how best to support a member of the team who might seem to be struggling. Too often a negative, or change in behaviour, can lead to the kneejerk reaction of "what's up with them?", instead we learnt to say "I hope they're OK and what can I do to help?"
Our environment was of course demanding, but the supportive nature was something that certainly helped me through some of my darkest days. Having fought back from back surgery on a ruptured disc in 2013, my resolve was tested to its maximum when the same thing happened again 11 months later. A second operation and a lengthy period of rehab meant I missed out on selection for the Hockey World Cup, despite my best efforts to get fit and be part of a team that meant so much to me.
This disappointment, after an anxious few months led to thoughts that that could be that. At the age of 32, my hockey career and everything I've known felt like it was coming to an end, and the lack of control was difficult to compute. Representing England and Great Britain had meant so much to me since the age of 17 and with future opportunities fading, my sense of self was wavering, I had massive doubts around my self-worth and my confidence was rock bottom.
To help me work through this, I sought to re-balance my sense of perspective by volunteering to teach English in Bali, and trying mindfulness on a phone-app, which helped me counter my tendency to over-think things. These experiences, coupled with sessions with a therapist, helped me, with time, to get mentally back on track and put me in a position where I returned to full fitness by the beginning of 2015.
When I therefore stepped out, alongside my teammates in Rio, with the British Lion once more on my chest, it meant the absolute world. The motivation and encouragement given to me by my teammates, was a huge help, and our capacity as a team to empathise, continually inspired me whilst I adapted to getting back on the pitch.
With these experiences in mind I am currently involved with Legal & General's "Not a Red Card Offence" campaign. This is seeking to raise awareness for mental health issues with the aim of rightfully encouraging more open discussions around the topic in the workplace. While we're not all aspiring for an Olympic gold medal, the approach fostered by our squad can transfer into any workplace environment. By veering from a tendency to stigmatise problems faced by a colleague, we can instead offer a more helpful and supportive response and prove that it isn't a red card offence to talk about mental health. This will not only allow people to access help for mental health problems but also helps create a workplace and team environment where all can thrive.
Most of us are susceptible to feelings of loneliness and isolation, but this can easily be matched with an awareness to ask if someone is OK when something seems wrong. Such a seemingly small act of caring can truly make all the difference in the world, as it did for me.