This week we are featuring one of our senior players Alex Williams currently our top scorer in the M1’s. Alex tells us about being introduced to Southgate, why he’s stayed despited commuting from Oxford as well as looking forward to a full balcony of supporters again. Finally he offers some golden advice to the 4A’s aspirational centre forwards on how to be ruthless in front of goal.
Alex can you tell us a bit more about how you initially came to Southgate HC and what attracted you to the club?
This is my fourth season at Southgate after joining in 2017. I was playing summer league with then coach Danny Newcombe and he invited me along for training. It’s a decent drive from Oxford so I was convinced it wouldn’t work for me, but after the first training session I was sold. The quality of the training was superb and the facilities are second to none across the country. Everyone was incredibly welcoming from the players to all the people behind the scenes. The lads are a pretty good bunch so it was a no brainer in the end – I haven’t looked back and have loved every minute. Southgate is a club with awesome history and prestige, and with great ambition too.
How have you found the interrupted nature of this season and what are you looking forward to as we return to the pitch?
It’s been a frustrating year in terms of hockey. It’s certainly made me realise how much I enjoy it and how much I need it for my wellbeing and general sense of self. The boys in the 1’s are like a bunch of brothers to me and I’ve been missing them all (even Joe) and I can’t wait to have that social element again. It’s such a privilege that we get to play hockey at Southgate and I can’t wait to get back. I am also extremely competitive so am looking forward to getting back to our final three league games, and seeing if we can finish the season on a high.
How do you find juggling the commitments of a full time job with the demands of training and playing- and indeed travelling from home in Oxfordshire?
Hockey has always been something I love so it’s never felt like a chore. That being said, it can be tough when we all have career jobs and are working long weeks, to then go put your best effort into training and playing each week. Some of us travel decent distances too which can also be tiring, but everyone in the team ‘gets it’ and there’s a collective understanding that it can be tough at times but people are putting their best effort in. Mike and Sparky are pretty good at managing workload which helps. I like to run and go to the gym a lot around hockey, so for me it’s just about balance. I do a lot of yoga and have learnt to listen to my body – e.g. when it might be more sensible to do have a roll rather than go and do some hill sprints! I’ve learnt the last couple of years the importance sleep has in terms of my recovery so I always try and prioritise getting eight hours of sleep whenever I can. I know that’s extremely vanilla but getting quality sleep makes a huge difference! During the season it’s mainly about maintenance so you can perform at the weekend, rather than trying to get fitter. Then summer and winter provide restbite from hockey to put some hard yards in running or in the gym. Good playlists, audiobooks and podcasts are a must for the travel! Down time is important too and I’m looking forward to a shandy on the balcony soon.
What are your personal ambitions as a performance player and your ambitions for the team and indeed the club?
I love to compete and I always want to stretch myself. I would love to see how high a level I can play at and I also want to play abroad again. I was fortunate enough before joining Southgate to play a season in Australia, which was an amazing experience. I’d love to play in Holland next. I am very keen to play in the premier league here and would love for us as a team to get promoted back into the premier league. If we’re being honest, we’ve bottled it over the last few years. It has come down to small moments / games where we’ve come away with a draw or a loss when we should have won, and that’s the reason we have consistently been finishing 2nd or 3rd rather than top. Southgate is a club with excellent pedigree and I think, for both men’s and women’s, we would thrive if we could get into the top league. We have the facilities and the location to attract top talent, and I would love to see Southgate back in the prem one day soon. Southgate has an amazing junior section which is so important, and I hope to see this continue to thrive, and the challenge for us as top teams is to ensure we remain attractive to ensure Southgate juniors return to Snakes Lane after they finish at university. Whenever we have a big match I love to see the balcony full of supporters, and I hope that this sense of community continues and grows. I believe hockey is a sport for life and I love that Southgate offers that through it’s many teams, pitching at different experience / ages. I think there is an excellent array of talent who work hard behind the scenes – Sparky does so much for us, as do both Neils, Michelle, Liz, and the rest of the committee – and I think the foundation is there for us to push on and work toward increased performance and participation across the club.
Can you tell us a little more about how you came to play hockey in the first place growing up?
Both my parents played hockey. I used to spend time when I was young on the side of the hockey pitch so that my mum could play, so I guess I never stood a chance! After watching her play I remember wanting to give it a go, and so joined Rover Oxford (now Oxford Hockey Club) when I was – I think – seven, and haven’t stopped playing since. I played loads of sport growing up and played reasonable level football, though in the end hockey won out. I still love to play other sport when I get the chance – tennis is a great one and I’d love to play more basketball – and think it’s great for development that young athletes play as many different sports as possible for as long as they can.
How have you found the past few past months of lockdown life- what are the things that you will take away from the unusual year we have all lived through?
Yeah – some year! I think I’ve learned a lot about myself and what’s important to me. It meant I had to pause for reflection and, although I wouldn’t have chosen it to happen this way, that’s been a good thing. It’s shown me that I have a lot to be grateful for – health, family, friends, security, good job etc – and I hope I can maintain this sense of perspective and gratitude throughout a return to ‘normality’. Lots of people have had a much rougher run than me. I’ve tried to be productive and learn some new things. I have been trying to learn to play piano and read music, after getting an electric keyboard at the beginning of last year. I have no natural musical talent so it’s a fun (if slow) challenge. I’ve done some painting and drawing, and been trying to meditate regularly, as well as read more. That being said I hated not being able to see friends and struggled with the lack of social interaction. This third lockdown has been the worst for me personally – I had some really rubbish days where I felt pretty low, though you learn how to deal with that and that it’s OK to feel down! Life goes on and as tough as this year has been I think setbacks and hard times can teach us gratitude and resilience.
Finally you regularly feature as our top goal scorer, what would be your advice to the aspirational centre forward of SHC’s 4A’s and fellow attacking players in the club?
Very flattering! I’ve worked pretty hard on getting my stat’s up this last couple of years and have been glad to see it start paying off. That being said I have a lot of work to do. I am not as clinical as I like and my drag flicking needs to be better. You’ve always got something to work on! I would always encourage people to watch the movement of top strikers. Look at where they stand in the D, the types of leads they make, and the sorts of goals they score. Timing your lead to get in front of your defender is a tough skill but gets you goals. I played with a couple of internationals in Aus and learnt so much from them – their movement was so intelligent and I am always trying to learn and steal things from guys I play with and against now. If you are fortunate enough to have your games filmed then this is a huge bonus as you can analyse your own and other’s performance. I think a good trait for a striker is to be horrible to play against. I want defenders to know that I have no problem with running into them or hitting the ball through them, and that I am happy to throw my weight around. You have to be fearless and as a striker you need to be decisive and ruthless as well. My first thought when I get in / near the D is always ‘can I shoot’, regardless of where I am. I know that this sometimes frustrates my teammates and there will be times when I should pass it, but I think that a level of arrogance and a huge desire to score is essential. Ultimately if you score you’ve made the right decision! Though I know the lads might disagree when I’m shooting nearpost and they are stood on the backpost waiting for pass and a tap in…