From Sutton Coldfield to Solihull, via Sydney, a legend of women’s hockey is now imparting her wisdom on a select band of lucky youngsters.
Jane Sixsmith MBE, for so long an inspirational figure for England and Great Britain hockey teams, is relishing her new career trying to inspire the next generation of stars at Solihull School.
In September, Sixsmith, from Sutton Coldfield, took up her position as the school’s full-time hockey coach and, while it is early days, the signs are good for the player who retired from the international game with 165 caps for England and 158 for Great Britain.
“I’m really enjoying it,” she said. “When you take on a new job there’s always an element of the unknown about it and I was wondering if I’d be sick of hockey by the time the weekends came around, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
“I like working with the kids and I’m getting a lot out of it from a coaching point of view, as I’m involved with every age group, from the junior school right the way through to first team.”
Sixsmith wasn’t the only one from her family to start a new chapter at Solihull in September, with oldest daughter Ellie-Mae, 11, being accepted on a hockey scholarship from the start of the academic year.
“Ellie-Mae was blown away by it when we visited and wanted to come here straightaway. She absolutely loves it and we felt the all-round opportunities were fantastic.
“We have five hockey scholars, I look after two of them but not Ellie-Mae! On Mondays and Fridays, they need to be in for 8 a.m. to do 45 minutes of core stability and stretching, then on a Friday they do different themed things – for example, at the moment they’re looking at public speaking and how to portray themselves, which is amazing for them at their age.
“On either a Monday or Thursday lunchtime they also do fitness work with (former middle distance GB Olympian) Pat Cropper, who takes the session doing things such as speed and agility work.
“They then have a one-to-one session with their mentors every week just to check everything is OK with their schoolwork and welfare, and to allow them to set goals. From both a parent and coach’s point of view, it’s about giving them the best opportunity to develop further.
Throughout all my experiences in the game, the one thing I would say is you have to enjoy it, regardless of any outside pressures – Jane Sixsmith MBE
“Throughout all my experiences in the game, the one thing I would say is you have to enjoy it, regardless of any outside pressures. I’m still playing and one of the main reasons is because I enjoy it – I think that has to be at the centre of everything.”
While the fact Sixsmith is still playing in the national league for Sutton Coldfield at the age of 49 speaks volumes for her fitness and longevity, she is also part of a growing number of players up and down the country buoyed by the success of Team GB’s gold medal-winning women’s side in Rio this summer.
“The Olympics success in Rio has been inspiring,” said the Barcelona ’92 bronze medal-winner. “People can now reel off some of the players’ names and in years gone by they would have struggled to do that. Now we have hockey players on Strictly and in I’m A Celebrity, which is amazing.
“From a club point of view, Sutton Coldfield have had to set up a waiting list for the first time. We are up to about 250 players now from the age of five to 14. We have under-16s and under-18s, 10 men’s sides and six ladies’ teams.
This is undoubtedly the strongest period the sport has had. We’re staging more major competitions and, in terms of young players, it really is inspiring – Jane Sixsmith MBE
“This is undoubtedly the strongest period the sport has had. We’re staging more major competitions and, in terms of young players, it really is inspiring.”
Sixsmith is also enthused by the opportunities available for the students under her guidance at Solihull, with fellow Olympian Chris Mayer and former Pakistan international Ali Raza both also on the staff.
She said: “The facilities at the school are superb. We have an Astroturf on site, which is a massive help and the school is hoping to add another. To also have Chris and Ali here, the students really are getting a wealth of experience to learn from.
“From a coaching point of view, you can only do so much in terms of getting structures right and working with individuals to improve their skills to go on and understand the game. It’s about trying to impart your experience and working with them to be the best they can. I wouldn’t see it as the same sort of pressure as playing but you obviously want to put them in the best possible position.”
In terms of playing pressures, this year has, by her own admission, been the hardest of Sixsmith’s career.
“This year has probably been the toughest,” she said. “With working at Solihull and the children getting older and wanting to do more things, it can be difficult fitting everything in. We have Saturday fixtures with the school and I play National League northern division, so you could end up playing in Durham. It’s the first time I’ve wondered if I can do it. I still enjoy it but it’s all about time. Most people have retired by now!”
For now, though, she most certainly is still doing it. And with youngest daughter Mollie, eight, already playing for Sutton Coldfield under-10s and eyeing up following in her sister’s footsteps at Solihull, it is likely Sixsmith’s involvement in the game will continue, in some form, for many years to come.