When sports stars appear on an international stage we see a snapshot of years of hard work, dedication and learning, but the journey to get there remains largely hidden. Few are aware of those seemingly small moments, the mindset needed to overcome hurdles, and the impact a single different outcome at any point in the long journey can have on a lifelong dream.
Anna Toman shares five career-defining moments which played a key role in her journey to an international hockey player, and how her mental strength and sporting intelligence helped her become a lynchpin of the GB and England hockey teams.
1. Rousing call
I'm a huge lover of the Olympics. I watch it for the full two weeks, but I obviously pay special interest to hockey.
In 2016, I was even more interested because I knew some of the girls in the squad, and I wanted them to do really well. It was just more personal; I knew how hard they'd trained.
As a player who was hoping to get into the system, I was also looking into the future as well. I knew, if they achieved the gold medal, what that would do for our country. Not just for us as international players, but also for the grassroots levels and wider participation across the country.
‘I knew, if they achieved the gold medal, what that would do for our country’
I was actually playing in Australia when the team won gold in Rio. I think it was about four or five o’clock in the morning, and I was watching the match on a small, mini iPad, so to even get the excitement through that was pretty incredible. It was an unbelievable achievement and really something they'd worked so hard for.
I was excited for the girls, and it was just such a special moment. You could watch that and see them live their dreams. I also felt proud to be part of this Great Britain hockey family. My mindset switched to 'I want to be a part of that even more than I already did'. It made me realise how achievable it was with this squad.
When the ball went in, and Hollie Pearne-Webb [pictured] scored that final shuffle, I was so emotional. I know what those girls would have gone through to achieve that.
2. Life-changing opportunity
I had decided I wanted to go travelling. I was in the Elite Development Programme squad, which is just below the seniors, and while I wasn't in a rut, I clearly wasn't going to get into the seniors. Plus, travelling and playing in a different country were things I'd always wanted to do.
I told my coach and the team was really supportive; they saw it as a great opportunity for me. After travelling for six months, I spent six months playing hockey in Australia. After the Rio Olympics, I was beginning to wonder whether or not the email or phone call for trials would come. Had other people been called up? Had they forgotten about me?
‘I was worried that going away had jeopardised the opportunity. Had other people been called up? Had they forgotten about me?’
But then – and I remember this so well – I was standing in my kitchen cooking and the email came through about the trials. It was just overwhelming, the feeling of emotions when I read it. I wasn't expecting to get it, but it was something that I'd always wanted, and it had obviously been in the back of my mind.
I was worried that going away had jeopardised the opportunity, but thankfully they remembered me! In fact, the way it worked out was perfect; I got back to England after a season in Australia, so I was already fit, apart from a couple of days' jetlag.
The girls had also just won the gold at Rio, so I was thinking 'I can go and work just as hard as them and be a part of this squad'. It will be a moment I remember forever, and I'm just so thankful I got the opportunity.
3. Linking with legends
When I came down to the GB trial, I was very excited. There weren't as many of the Rio girls there – only a couple. This calmed my nerves a little bit, as I was so nervous about seeing them because I'd looked up to them for so many years.
It was still quite nerve-racking though because I knew this was my opportunity, and I only had a few weeks to prove myself. I had half a chance a couple of years before Rio, but this was really the time for me to cement my spot on the team. This was my shot.
By the time the gold medal winners were back in the squad, I'd already been told I was a part of the team. I didn't know how they would be towards us, as I didn't really know them personally. I'd met some of them before, but only for a few days here and there. Were they going to be a bit off with us? Fortunately, they absolutely weren't.
The main thing I admired was they wanted to look forward. They weren't focused on talking too much about the gold medals, even though we obviously had a lot of questions! They were really excited about the future, which really helped us as a squad.
One of our mottos is 'winning after winning'. The Rio girls were the first GB gold medallists ever, but now it needs to be done twice. There are always going to be records to beat and, thankfully, they're the ones that really set the tone in training every day.
4. All or nothing
I was in a position where I didn't have much to lose. I was in training, and they didn't have any idea of how I played, what type of player I was or had been. However, I also wanted to prove myself to the older girls and show that I actually do deserve a place.
When we got the email about whether we were going to be in the GB squad or not, I've never been so nervous in my life. We were going to get the email at five in the evening, and I had to go out with my mum all day. I thought – 'I can't sit at home and wait for this email. You need to occupy me!'. I just knew it would change the direction of my life.
I was a bit unsure what I wanted to do career-wise, and I knew that if I wasn't going to get in, I'd obviously need to start focusing on that. But then I remember reading the email and thinking – 'ok, this is going to be my life now, and I'm going to put absolutely everything into this'. I was so overwhelmed by it. I just couldn't wait until I could get out on the pitch with the squad. It was a very good time.
The pace and the standards they wanted and set for the squad almost shocked me to begin with, because it wasn't something I was used to, despite having played in the juniors, the development squad and in a different country.
I realised that I needed to get used to it very very quickly, or I was going to get left behind. The older girls were good at setting an example to us younger, newer players and you either jumped on-board or you didn't! You quickly learned.
‘The pace and the standards they set for the squad almost shocked me to begin with, because it wasn't something I was used to. I realised that I needed to get used to it very quickly, or I was going to get left behind.’
5. Turning point
Playing at the Women’s Hockey World Cup last year was a landmark moment in my career. I had been fortunate enough to be selected for everything up until then, and this World Cup in London was everything we were training for. Selection for the tournament was more pressurised, and everyone was doing what they could.
I remember getting the call-up letter, and I was over the moon. As for the tournament itself, I was lucky enough to get on the pitch quite a lot, so it was a turning point in that I didn't feel like a young, new player anymore. I may not have been on par with the Rio girls, but I was upping my game as a player on and off the pitch.
Obviously, playing at home is something I will never ever forget. England Hockey put on an absolutely fantastic spectacle, and even though the result was hard to take, I think not many athletes get to perform on their home stage. I'll remember that moment forever and always be grateful to have been part of it.