Head of PE at Ipswich High School, Mrs Wheelhouse, was recently selected by England Hockey to compete at the Masters World Cup, taking place near Barcelona from 27th July – 5th August 2018.
Mrs Wheelhouse will be playing in the Over-35 age group tournament in its inaugural year and will be one of the Vice Captains of the England squad.
We sat down for an interview with Mrs Wheelhouse to find out more about her hockey history, her expectations for the tournament and what it means for hockey at Ipswich High School.
You currently play hockey for Ipswich, could you give us a brief history of your hockey career?
Ok, this might take a little while! I started playing as a child, my dad was the coach of our local team so he took me along to the sessions when I was around six or seven years old. I played there until I was eleven years old, when I then started going training with my mum and the other adults; I absolutely loved it. At first I preferred practicing to playing matches, but as I started playing more I began enjoying matches more as I improved.
Before I knew it, after a few trials, I was playing in the England Hockey system. At this time I was playing for a club in Norfolk called Broadland, where my parents still play today. After breaking into the England Under 16 team, aged 15, I moved clubs to play for Harleston Magpies Hockey Club on the Norfolk – Suffolk border as they played a higher standard. I played for a couple of years for Magpies before moving up into the England Under 18 team.
As I was getting ready to move on to university it was suggested that, for my hockey career, I moved clubs again to play at Ipswich Seven Hockey Club, where I would train twice a week and play in the National Premier League, with and against current full internationals. This is where I first met Miss Lister, my first playing season for Ipswich was Miss Lister’s last before she moved on to coaching. Once I started studying at university in Bedford, I continued to travel and play in Ipswich.
After university I was invited to become a part of the training squad with the senior England Hockey team. Although I never received an official cap I attended regular training sessions, practice matches, fitness tests and tactics sessions. In hindsight, I am not sure I really understood the enormity of what I was a part of, so perhaps did not give it the attention it really deserved. Although I eventually fizzled out of the England system, with a brief stint representing England in the mixed team, I continued to play for Ipswich at club level. Even when working at previous jobs in Huntingdon and Surrey, I’d always make my way back to Ipswich for training and matches.
Fast forward 20 years since I joined Ipswich and I’m still playing for their first team and am approaching my 300th league match.
How did you find out about your selection for the England squad?
There has been a recent resurgence in masters hockey and this is the first year that they are running an Over 35’s tournament for the Masters World Cup.
This year they ran open trial sessions for the Over 35 team, I was nominated by my coach and subsequently attended a number of trials. During the trials we completed fitness tests, took part in practical sessions focusing on skills, along with tactical discussions to testing our hockey IQ in the morning, followed by practice matches all afternoon. After the three trials I made each cut and was named in the final cut of 18 players that will be travelling to the World Cup in Terassa to represent England. About a week later I had a call from the coach asking me to be part of the captaincy team. It’s a great honour to be asked, not only to play for your country, but to be asked to help lead the squad of players.
Will this be your first time travelling to play hockey outside of the country?
Not at all. During my time with the junior England team when I was a teenager we travelled all over the UK and Europe for tournaments like the Home Nations and the Six Nations Tournament and an Olympic Hopes Tournament. I’ve played in countries such as Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Holland, Germany, France and Slovakia. Unfortunately I missed out on a trip to play in a test match against South Africa, it was their turn to come to the UK!
More recently I played in the European Club Masters Competition, after Ipswich won the domestic Club Masters Competition the year before. We travelled to Holland for the tournament and I came away with a silver European medal. This was an exact replica of the last time Ipswich played in Europe; same venue, same opposition in the final, same result in the final. Last time it was the European League, the only difference this time around was the teams were all 20 year older, just as skilful but a bit slower!
Do you think the climate in Terassa will present a unique challenge?
Definitely. The hockey season usually ends in March, so you never really play in the Summer. Dealing with the heat and humidity will definitely be a challenge, especially with the intensity of the tournament and the potential of back-to-back games over a short space of time. The intensity of the tournament, combined with the heat will require some definite self-management to help us play our best. We are already preparing with quite an intense fitness training schedule.
Do you have any expectations for the tournament in terms of personal and team performance?
Because it’s such an unknown tournament and it being the first time the Over 35 age group is being ran, all the teams playing are an unknown entity.
All of the big hockey nations like Australia, New Zealand and Spain are entering teams into this age group. All of these teams have good pedigree, but you still don’t know which players have put themselves forward.
I’m not sure how we’ll do. I know that older age group England teams have won their age group World Cup in the past, whether there’s an expectation for us I’m not too sure, I think it’s still a total unknown.
Because as players get older and move into the next age bracket, it essentially becomes a completely different team doesn’t it?
In my age group for example, you have Kate Richardson-Walsh, who was in the England U16 and U18 squads with me, but there were lots of other players who have gone on to receive many full international caps, all of which would be eligible for this age group. Although Kate has retired, there are other international players who still want to compete and play master’s hockey, so you never known which country might have a secret Olympian on their team.
Do you hope that your selection will inspire more pupils at the school to give competitive hockey a try? I think it’s one thing to have your idol be someone internationally famous, but something entirely different and more inspiring for your idol to be someone you actually know, let alone your PE teacher at school.
It’s a bit more tangible when it is someone you know. I hope that as I continue to play I will inspire somebody, I want to inspire the next generation and the one after that. To be honest, as a teacher, if I’ve inspired just one person to pick up a hockey stick and play for the love of sport, that’s great. If I inspire more people than that? Even better.
I want to pass on the things Miss Lister’s generation taught me about hockey and the benefits it brings with it. For me, hockey has given me so much. I live in Suffolk because of hockey, I found all of my closest friends through hockey, I married a hockey player, and I come from a family of hockey players. It’s so ingrained, I am so pleased that I have found a job that I love which means I can pass on these qualities to others.
The love that I’ve found for the sport, the teamwork to achieve an aim, the processes you go through to achieve that aim, the successes and the failures you experience are all a part of the life skills you gain from playing a team sport. If I am able to pass that on to someone else just once; that would be wonderful. Miss Lister was my role model growing up, so the idea that I could be someone’s role model is an amazing thought.
Finally, do you know if there’s any way we will be able to watch the tournament and cheer you on?
Recently, England hockey have been streaming a lot of domestic matches and finals on their Facebook page through a live feed, so hopefully you will be able to watch it there.
Mrs Wheelhouse’s selection is a huge achievement and we are absolutely delighted with the news. We wish her all the best for the tournament and will definitely be supporting her here at Ipswich High School.