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Student Sport Quarterly: Lily Owsley

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After a stressful morning for SSQ, we finally got to meet our first ever cover star – an equally stressed Lily Owsley. Lily had just rushed to meet us at the Birmingham University Students Union from a rather horrific sounding statistics exam.

Turn the clocks back to August 2016 and most students would be working, travelling or, most likely, sitting around doing absolutely nothing. Lily, however, was winning an Olympic Gold medal: Great Britain’s first ever gold medal for women’s Hockey. It’s safe to say this was certainly not an average summer.

In fact, Lily is not an average 22-year-old student; even before leaving school, Lily was given the opportunity to play in the centralised England squad. She made her full Senior England debut in a World Cup Qualifier just days after her final A-level exam. This is a moment Lily still values as one of her best.

After completing her A-levels, she went received a place at Birmingham University, which worked well geographically; It meant she would be close to her family home in Bristol and England’s Bisham Abbey base where England train. Lily had seen her Junior England team mates go onto succeed at the university. Most importantly, Birmingham University gave Lily the opportunity to play in the Investec Women’s Premier League: a chance no other university team has the privilege of playing in.

The chance to study alongside playing hockey was ideal for Owsley, a self-proclaimed “hockey geek”. University for Lily seemed like the perfect release from her busy sports life; Studying for a Sports Science degree brings something else for Owsley to focus on. “I can get tunnel-vision sometimes when it comes to hockey… I can get a bit obsessed with it, which isn’t always good for your performance.”

She was both mentally and physically prepared for the work load, knowing that it was going to be quite a feat. Birmingham’s scholarship team help profusely with organising Lily’s busy schedule, allowing her to focus solely on her studies and hockey, without the extra hassle of organising her time.

Competing for England and GB does mean a lot of travel, something which Lily thoroughly enjoys. Just a week after meeting Lily, she jetted off to South Africa for a two-match series with England’s new squad, successfully winning both games. Some would say a trip to South Africa is precisely what’s needed after exams, but with lectures and two coursework assignments due whilst she was away, the trip was more than just the heavy training schedule and the two matches against South Africa.

Lily has become accustomed to fitting her work into recovery time, as she is back training with GB and so catches up with lectures online, only coming back to university for exams and labs. At times, balancing the two commitments does take its toll: “during the Olympic qualifiers, I had to take my exams in the British Embassy in Spain. That’s when it becomes not so fun.” There are other points however, where exams do have their benefits. Before the European cup semi-final, Lily took an exam in a London Hotel: “It completely takes your mind off it… I wasn’t even nervous; it was one of the best games of my life!”.

It hasn’t always been a simple pathway to success though, Lily has had two serious setbacks. The first being in April 2015, with the European championships and Olympic qualifiers on the horizon, on top of first year exams. Lily was hospitalised with meningitis. With the disease being potentially fatal, Lily was extremely grateful that she recovered, but as soon as she was discharged, just like any passionate sportsperson, her mind was straight back onto hockey. After a few days at home to get back onto her feet, Lily was back with the GB squad, being monitored 24/7. Lily makes it clear over the course of the interview how excellent the GB staff are and how well they have looked after her. The only lasting effect of the disease was fatigue: “It was so embarrassing, I had to take little rests going up the stairs!”.

Leading up to the Olympic Qualifiers, Lily was not in the shape she wanted to be in. However, despite the fatigue, Lily was still picked for the Olympic Qualifiers team; An opportunity which furthered the development of her game: “I had to reassess my game, I had to be a bit more clever with what I did. I had to think and be one of those clever players.”

Less than 10 months after getting struck down with meningitis, Owsley broke her collar bone whilst playing against Australia, with 4 months left until selection for the Olympics. Owsley seems to have an incredible way to turn anything into a positive, as 3 months of intense rehab allowed her to push her body to the limit, as she didn’t need to be fresh for training or matches. This allowed Owsley to be ‘super fit’ before her return to matches, squeezing in 2 games before the selection for the Champions trophy squad, which then led into the Olympics.

11 days before the games, Owsley and her team mates flew out to Rio. It was important for them to be acclimatised to their surroundings. They needed to train in the environment, to get used to the serious winter humidity and the mosquitos. The team felt faster, stronger and more ready to face the some of the world’s best after every training day there.

The team was under a lot of pressure, which Owsley says was driven by themselves. They had one focus: to keep winning games to get to the gold medal. The team played on both the first and the last-day of the Olympics, so it was important that they didn’t get carried away with the success of team GB. But the winning feeling brought back into the athlete’s village only encouraged them to add to GB’s gold collection. All the other members of team GB were completely behind the Hockey team throughout the tournament, especially once their own events had finished.

After each victory, the team would allow themselves 10 minutes of celebrating, before the focus was put onto the next game. All the preparation and focus proved to be worth it, finishing top of their Olympic group, followed by convincing victories over Spain and New Zealand, with a shoot-out final victory over the World’s number one team; The Netherlands. Owsley could find only one word to describe the games: “Perfect.”

Due to the team’s social media ban, Owsley had no idea of the support and excitement back in the UK. Her first taste was on the plane back, where there were newspapers laid out with GB from the front page to the back, with GB hockey often being the highlight. Owsley could not believe how Hockey was being perceived and how much it has now grown because of the games. The most important goal GB had throughout the tournament was to inspire the future. This was the one of the main reasons the team were in the Queen’s honours list, with Owsley being awarded an MBE: “I feel so proud to have an MBE, but part of me says: I’m a 22-year-old student! It seems a bit mad! Can I pop it on the end of my exams?!”

After creating history and being a member of the first Women’s Hockey team to win Olympic gold, you’d expect life to change a fair bit. For example, Sam Quek appearing in last years ‘I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here’ which brought her endless amounts of fame. But this wasn’t the case for Lily, just yet, as she was due to go back to university in September: “You can’t really glam a lecture up that much!”

Not only was university life the same after their success, but re-trialling began soon after the games for the next 4-year cycle, which was selected in January. The new players trialling were in their prime, not leaving much time for Owsley to rest on her laurels.

Now life has calmed down again since the Olympics, Owsley has been able to compete in BUCS again. Owsley is clearly a huge fan of the university competition and she is very proud to announce that she has only missed one game so far. Despite being away, with 2 other Birmingham team mates for the Quarter Final she was very confident that the Birmingham side would get through for her to return for the semi-finals: “The Birmingham girls are so great, this year I’ve been able to spend so much time with them, and I love BUCS!”

Although Owsley can play in the BUCS championship, she has a very different life to most BUCS players. Leading up to Rio she did not touch a drop of alcohol, and she missed every one of her friends 21st birthdays. Owsley herself understands that what some see as a sacrifice isn’t for her, as it is a choice – to try and succeed – something which her friends are very understanding of, which helps her love of Hockey continue to grow.

After the games, though, whilst Owsley had a little time to relax, she discovered the normal life of a student: “Oh my god, this is what Uni’s like! I definitely made the most of it. I was literally acting like a fresher.” But Owsley is more than happy to leave that lifestyle to the side, and she is definitely ready for what hockey has to bring her over the next few years.

In the newly selected squads, Owsley (now with over 90 caps to her name) is now somewhat of an experienced player, something she has previously not been used to. Owsley is definitely up for the challenge, with the next goal for the team to overtake the Netherlands and become the world number one; this is a task that is definitely not going to be easy now that team GB have become what Owsley describes ‘the hunted’ after the Olympic success.

Owsley is confident, though, with many young, talented players coming through the ranks. It is certainly an exciting time for England and GB hockey.

Owsley has had an incredible few years, winning EuroHockey gold in 2015, as well as being awarded the FIH female rising star award in 2015, followed by Olympic gold in 2016. Looking to her future, Owsley will graduate in 2018 or 2019 and will then look to go into hockey full time leading up to the 2020 games in Tokyo. After that, Owsley is looking to do a masters in the Netherlands, so that she can compete in what is seen as the best league in the world.

Owsley’s advice for anyone who wants to follow in her footsteps, or to succeed with any sport is to do you research and PLAN. Owsley recommends writing everything down. This will allow you to plan everything around training, which will give you more time than you thought you had.

“Just don’t expect it to be easy, nothing in life if you’re juggling two things are going to be easy. But enjoy the challenge.”

Want to read similar stories? Head over to Student Sport Quarterly for more!

Introducing: Imperial College Swimming and Water Polo Club

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Imperial College Swimming and Water Polo (ICSWP) club is one of the biggest sports clubs at Imperial, with over 120 members and having grown by 28% since 2013. This year, we have enjoyed success in the National Premier Leagues for both Swimming and Water Polo, with the Girl’s Water Polo team reaching the National Finals. Since being selected for the university’s high-achieving sport programme by Sport Imperial, Water Polo have achieved a huge increase in exposure, recently being able to set up a new second team. The club has an ethos of ‘work hard, play hard’, and as a result has some of the highest participation and engagement levels of any at Imperial.

Our top Water Polo achievements include:

·       Being a Top 8 team in BUCS National league

·       Awarded Focus Sport status by Sport Imperial

·       Unbeaten London League Champions

·       Both Ladies and Gentlemen in Southern Premier League

·       5th in Aachen International Water Polo Tournament

 

Our most notable Swimming achievements include:

·       Swimmers competing at the British Championships and the French National Qualifiers

·       Competing in the top division at BUCS Teams

·       London League Runners-up

·       Being coached by Imperial Coach of the Year (Mark Allen)

Going forward, we are introducing a new swim squad for fitness swimmers, which will increase membership numbers and further increase the team spirit being present amongst all members. Swimmers have also planned more competitions for the coming season to improve performance at the national competitions. We are starting the 2017/18 season with the inaugural swimming tour to Club La Santa in Lanzarote, with training of 4+ hours per day!

We intend to use future sponsorship for three things:

1.     to fund the promotion of the new fitness swimming squad and set up trial sessions. This will attract a wider range of participants and increase training intensity and hours.

2.     to subsidise kit for members to build the ICSWP brand on campus and at competitions.

3.     to attend more competitions to continue the development of the athletes at the club.

Introducing: York St John University ACS

We are a newly put together African Caribbean Society (ACS) set up at York St John University. We are still quite small however our aim is to create and bring awareness of diversity and culture of BAM at the university. So far we have ten members, have been on a trip to Spain, hosted a Jamrock dancehall event in York and now we are planning a culture week on May 8th-15th which will educate and showcase the all the different cultures.

 

Our committee consist of:

Melissa Mbabazi (Uganda/Rawanda) – President

Tené Dowling (Bermuda) - Vice President

Meki Mwadime (Kenya) - Treasurer

Nyasha Chirimuuta (Zimbabwe) - Social & Charity Coordinator

Georgia Alagoa (Jamaica) - Safety & Wellbeing Coordinator

 

Achievements: Gaining 6 new members to join the society in addition to the 5 that started it up, as we are a very small university and lack culture and diversity this was a huge challenge for us. We have been nominated for the best new society of the year as well as our Vice President (Tene) being nominated for society personality of the year which was excellent news!

 

 

With the help and guidance of Sponsor My Society we are hoping to get our name out there to become a bigger and better society by providing more working and experiential opportunities for BAM students at York St. John.

 

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The benefits of developing partnerships and sponsorship with university societies & clubs for employers

  • Industry and topic specific job fairs put on by your friends

Graduate employers are frequently on campus promoting their grad schemes held by the university. Whilst these are a great opportunity to meet employers, they can often be overcrowded, making it hard to gain the information you need. As part of sponsorship, societies and sports clubs can host exclusive networking evenings on campus. The sponsor can bring a selection of employees to share their experiences and students can have quality convocations with recruiters. This brings two advantages: students can gain a unique insight into the company and the application process and companies can cherry-pick promising candidates.

  • Clubs and societies are a goldmine for employers to find top talent

The students who participate in extra-curricular activities put on by sports clubs and societies generally have many of the skills that employers look for in prospective employees. From these activities, opportunities arise for students to develop their communication and leadership skills whilst displaying teamwork to overcome challenges. By sponsoring a sports club or society, employers are likely to get a higher caliber of students with enhanced, employable skills applying to their graduate schemes.

  • Partnerships allow brands to be extremely well represented on campus

Through developing a successful partnership with a university club or society, it allows local and national businesses to gain publicity by having their logos featuring on sports kit, flyers, merchandise and at freshers fairs. At campus universities especially this means students become very familiar with the brands that they see on a daily basis and can begin to associate it with their university. This leads to more students following their curiosity by visiting the company website and applying to graduate and placement opportunities or buying products. For many clubs and societies, having the logo of a large organisation can be of great interest when it comes to gaining interest of freshers too.

  • Why just go for the player when you can have the team?

Although recruiting student brand ambassadors have proved a very popular and successful method of promotion and campus recruitment, those employers that choose to sponsor a society gain access to often hundreds of students who essentially become their ambassadors and influencers. This means more people attend careers events, serve as information points to other students and create brand awareness by talking about the brand or wearing their logo (which sounds like a much better deal).

  • Access to what used to be 'untouchable' 

Sponsoring a student society bring your company opportunities that before would never have been possible. For example, the ability to give a careers talk on campus after working hours, or perhaps having your logo strategically positioned around academic learning zones. Marketing opportunities like these might not have been possible before due to protective university regulations or distance. Larger societies and sports teams are also able to offer promotional posts through their lengthy mailing lists, or secretly active Facebook groups.

  • Your own army of brand ambassadors and influencers

Societies and sports clubs generally have a team of around 6 committee members who are voted in by their peers into the positions they hold, and are usually very well connected around campus and amongst other societies too. By keeping them happy with a great sponsorship deal for both the society and themselves, they're an extremely strong force both on and offline and it's very likely that benefits that come from the sponsorship will be well heard, especially by the society's members.

  • When your club succeeds, so does their sponsor!

It could be a Varsity win, a BUCS championship title or a volunteering project, your successes and accomplishments as a club or society only reflect positively onto your sponsors. Many companies like to be associated with societies that echo their own values of enriching communities and will regularly repost your efforts on their social media channels for all to see. For example many societies regularly take part in charity supported socials and fundraisers, these types of events really set them apart from other sponsorship bids. Another great benefit of backing societies and sports clubs is having the backing of many prestigious academic institutions, which can be especially great for start-ups looking to get their foot in the door. 

It still amazes me why most companies haven't made full use of this great marketing technique yet! However, there are some clever ones who do...

PwC, KPMG, Faction Skis and Headstart all have very effective sponsorship/partnership schemes in place with UK clubs and societies. Having been a student myself and also a committee member, I've been exposed first hand to the success sponsorship and partnerships bring to all parties, and believe that it should be taking place more frequently.

 

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