Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Lesson in Character, Resilience and Grit

In December 2014, Nicky Morgan and the DfE launched a scheme to help promote the teaching of character, resilience and grit in schools. It was ridiculed by many working in schools - how can these things possibly be explicitly taught, let be alone measured?

As many teachers opened a bottle of wine last Friday to celebrate the end of a busy half term, I arrived at Warners Bridge, the home of my hockey club, Old Southendians. At 6pm, we began what was to become the single, biggest challenge of my life. I was unprepared for the physical, mental and emotional demands of playing what was initially a 50 hour hockey game, which became a 53 hour, 11 minute, 18 second marathon.
  • I played for around 36 hours of the 53.
  • I had just 7 hours sleep.
  • I travelled (walked/jogged/sprinted) somewhere in the region of 80 miles.
  • I scored 23 goals (somewhat irrelevant in our team total of 336), which was 23 times my total for the last 5 seasons.
  • I played more than 28 full games of hockey in just over 2 days.
  • I was still running around at 11pm on the Sunday night (my last goal was around 9.30pm...)

What training did I do? Little more than my usual fitness routine of gym, 5-a-side staff footy and, of course, hockey. I always knew this game was to be one of mind over matter. I didn't know if this made it easier or harder. How can you train for this? You could go for a 5 or 6 hour run, trying to mix up the sprint, jog, walk, stand of a usual game. But you can't go home for 2 hours and rest before doing it again, and sleep for 3 hours and do it again...

At various points, I really felt like we wouldn't be able to do it. Waking up at 7am to play, having finished at 4am, with everything hurting, and barely being able to walk, knowing there was so long to go...

I got really bad knee pain early on Saturday morning (not a previous injury) and had to get both knees strapped up. I could barely move before I put on knee supports, but thankfully with them, I was up and running again. Playing in the middle of the night was also really tough, I had 10pm to 4am slots on both days. It gets really cold, your body is trying to shut down for sleep and you are running around the pitch trying to score goals!

How did we manage?

The support network in place was phenomenal. Our organiser, Fliss was amazing - and also a Physio! Dr Laura (who injured herself and couldn't play) provided minor surgery, drugs and everything else we needed. James who broke his thumb on the Friday but carried on in his support role. Leanne from KeyMed/Olympus and the ladies from Age UK (Essex) who encouraged us and supplied with non stop sugary food! Every umpire and witness who turned up for 2-4 hour slots, plus family, friends and supporters. I felt bad for the people who came to see me as I was either on the pitch or struggling to compose myself in a seat off it! It was amazing that they came down, and I am very grateful.

My teammates, and opposition, were really just one. The majority of players came from my club, but others joined us from local clubs too - one big hockey family. Some started off the weekend as strangers, others as people I vaguely knew, but all ended up as friends who shared in something very special. There was a special bond created between us, that will last for a very long time. I agree with all those who have said the memories of this weekend will last a life time.

The other thing that may also differentiate us from other attempts, and eventual record breakers, is that this was a club effort. We were not a group of 'elite athletes'. Our first XIs (mens and ladies) were represented, but so were our lowest XIs (3 players came from our mens 6th XI). We had 16 year olds, and those in their 50's. There was no selection process, anyone who wanted to join in was welcomed. Our differences in age, ability and experience united us in a potentially unique way. 

Those little smiles, funny jokes, walking past and giving a pat on the back, a hug, a point and "you're amazing", a little tease, passing a donut or a bottle of Lucazade. That's what kept us going.

It was also the shared vision and responsibility. We all had our eyes set on the prize, 52 hours of hockey. We also had a shared responsibility, with only 16 players on each team, if you couldn't play, someone else would have to play more.

"Nobody wins unless everybody wins" - Bruce Springsteen

Many months ago we intended to do 50 hours, breaking the World Record by 10 hours. However a few weeks before the event, we found out about an American University who had claimed to have done 51 (due to various unverified claims of others doing 50). We decided to do 52. It was around the 51 hour mark when we were told that a Dutch team had done 52.5hrs very recently (and a huge thanks to the person from Chelmsford hockey club who came down in person to tell us) so at just past 9pm, thinking we had an hour to go, we had to pull every last thing we had to push to 11pm. We owe the supporters and the DJ as they really helped with this final push.

We then had to play to the end of a half and at around 11.10pm we had the final 10 second countdown. We were world record breakers. No one had ever played as long a hockey game as us. Some fell to their knees, some started hugging those around them, some screamed, some cried.

The feeling of elation was unparalleled. We congregated around the clock for a final photo. The plan of heading to the clubhouse bar for celebratory drink was postponed. No one had anything left to give. They needed their beds!

As my friend Andy B said, "this is very much a world record for the beating and not the keeping, so we wish the other clubs taking on the challenge around the UK this summer the very best of luck." - I have no idea why this record has become so popular with 5 attempts this summer around the world (we are the 3rd club to break it this year).

I am so proud to have taken part in this. We showed character, resilience and grit in abundance - measured by the longevity of the game and the amount we raised. I have no idea where we found it, but we did. We broke the world record. We raised over £13,000 for Age UK (Essex) to help pay for dementia and befriending services for the elderly, vulnerable and lonely - an amazing cause.

What did I learn for the classroom? 50 mins of bottom set Y10 on a windy, rainy Friday afternoon really isn't that long after all...

Huge thanks to all who have sponsored me, I never thought I would break the £1000 mark. I am so grateful. However, it's not too late to sponsor me:

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