Team GB and Team England hockey player Esme Burge had her first senior international tournament at the EuroHockey Championships, which saw the team qualify for the World Cup, and she’s travelled all over the world with Team GB and made her England debut in June. Last year, Esme signed for Hampstead & Westminster Hockey Club and, during COVID, she was announced virtually as Sportswoman of the Year by Dame Katherine Grainger at the BUCS Awards. Esme was part of the U21 Euros Team and scored the winning goal against Germany winning the Bronze medal for the team and she was part of the GB Elite Development Programme, which helped her transition from junior to senior level. Chatting with Esme, she tells us about her senior hockey career, signing with Hampstead & Westminster Hockey Club and being announced as Sportswoman of the Year.
You made your England debut in June, how did it feel playing for the team for the first time?
It really was a dream come true. I had grown up watching and being inspired by the players that I was now playing with. My main aim was to take it all in, play with a smile on my face and enjoy the experience.
How did you find the experience at the EuroHockey Championships which saw the team qualify for the World Cup?
This was my first senior international tournament so it is one that I will remember forever. It was amazing to play in front of a crowd again after such a long time and experience tournament hockey. As a team, the tournament was a bit up and down, we were disappointed to have not medalled, however, one of the main aims was to qualify for the World Cup which we achieved and the potential of playing at this tournament in 2022 really excites me.
What do you enjoy most about competing for Team GB and can you tell us about some of the matches you’ve been involved with for them?
I love the feeling of stepping onto the pitch with my teammates and playing for the badge on my chest. There really is no better feeling. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world with the GB team including Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Getting to experience playing in such amazing locations and experience different cultures is a real privilege. However, some of my favourite memories have to be playing in front of a home crowd at Lee Valley.
Last year, you signed for Hampstead & Westminster Hockey Club, how was it signing for them?
It was really exciting to be part of the club and be back playing in the premier league. Unfortunately, the season didn’t go as I had hoped as I was injured for the start of the season and then the season was cancelled due to COVID. However, the season has now started up again and we are currently 3 wins from 3. I’m loving being at the London-based club with a great group of girls. The support has been great and we are all just so grateful to be back playing competitive club hockey again.
What are you looking forward to for continuing your journey with the club?
We have really high ambitions as a team and are hoping to win the league and qualify for the club EuroHockey league next year. The league is of a high standard and it will be a battle between the top four teams, however, I believe if we play to our ability and enjoy it we are definitely capable of achieving this.
In 2017, you were in the U21 team for the Euros and scored the winning goal which saw the team win Bronze, how was the experience?
This was definitely one of my favourite hockey moments to date. We played Germany in the Bronze medal match which was a cagey affair and it could have gone either way. However, as a team, we worked so hard for each other and really came together as a collective unit and to come away with a medal was really special.
Can you say about being part of the GB Elite Development Programme?
I was part of the EDP programme while finishing school and during my first two years studying at the University of Nottingham. The training and matches were a great standard and I really felt my game move to the next level. The programme helped to bridge the gap between the Junior England Pathway and Senior GB team and I found it really benefitted me in transitioning into the senior full-time programme.
What was it like transitioning from a junior hockey player to a senior?
It was very exciting and something I had always dreamed of doing. The competition to places, standards and pressure are so much higher and it definitely took me some time to find my feet after moving away from university and starting the full-time programme at Bisham Abbey. It was a privilege to be able to do what I love for a living, however, I had to get used to non-selections, injuries and the reality of elite sport. Saying that, I have become a much stronger person and player through this and I can truly say I love being part of the programme. I am so lucky to have the funding from The National Lottery to be able to train day in day out with some of my best friends working towards a common goal.
Where does your love of hockey come from and how did you start?
I grew up playing all sports at school and was and still am extremely competitive in everything I do. I started playing at Fairfield Prep School when I was about eleven and I instantly fell in love with the fast-paced and highly-skilled nature of the game. A massive part of my love for the game comes from the people you meet and the social side. I love being part of a team, winning and losing together and making memories with teammates who go on to be your best friends.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in hockey?
Get on the pitch as much as you can and really hone in on the basic technical skills. If you can nail these skills and have good basics they will provide the foundations for you to build on. As a young girl I would spend hours and hours on a piece of astroturf in the garden with a stick in my hand and I truly believe this is one of the reasons I have got to where I am now. My technical basics are so sound that I can always rely on them and do them under fatigue.
You were announced as Sportswoman of the Year by Dame Katherine Grainger at the BUCS Awards, can you describe the feeling hearing the news?
I remember knowing that the winner would be announced but thought I had no chance of winning it. Due to COVID, this was all virtual and hearing a legend of British Sport read out my name was a huge honour. It felt very surreal.
How do you like to spend your time away from sport and are there any other sports you like to watch?
I love spending quality time with my friends and family. I’m lucky to have an amazing support network and when I’m with them I just like to be a normal twenty-two-year-old girl. I grew up watching cricket and rugby with my dad and still enjoy watching now. I also like watching football as it’s very similar to hockey in terms of movement patterns.
What are you hoping your hockey career brings you in the future months?
After missing out on selection for the Tokyo Olympics, it’s been nice to have some time off international hockey and really process and reflect on the past couple of years. I’m now ready to hit the ground running again and excited to be back training with the GB and England team. I’ve got even more fire in my belly and desire to get better as a player. 2022 is a really exciting year with Pro League, Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, so I’m really excited for the potential to be a part of those teams and win medals.
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