THERE will, admits Kareena Cuthbert, be a somewhat strange atmosphere at the Scottish women’s hockey team’s training camp, which they leave for tomorrow. There is, after all, a considerable amount riding on this three-week training camp, with the squad for the 2018 Commonwealth Games being selected at the end of it.
27 women will travel to Gran Canaria but only 18 will be selected for Gold Coast and that does, admits Cuthbert, add an extra dimension to the camp, with every player knowing that nine of the squad will have to cope with the crushing disappointment of missing out on the Commonwealth Games. But, Cuthbert insists, every one of the squad has the greater good of the team at the forefront of their minds.
“This training camp has a different air about it – it’s definitely a lot more stressful and intense and we’re all very aware of what the outcome will be,” the 30 year-old said. “It is a little strange that we’re teammates yet we’re all competing for spots in the same team and in a three-week camp, it can get quite tetchy at times. So while it is competitive, we have a respect for each other and ultimately, we want the best team to go to the Commonwealth Games so we’re all driving to push each other on as well as competing against each other.”
As captain of the national team, it is almost unfathomable that Cuthbert will not be selected for Gold Coast. But she knows only too well that she cannot get ahead of herself when it comes to Commonwealth Games. The Western Wildcat player made her Games debut in 2010 but four years later, despite being a regular in the national team, she received the news that she was being dropped from the Scotland squad for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
To miss out on any major championship is a severe blow but to miss out on a home Commonwealth Games was, admits Cuthbert, devastating. But rather than allow the set-back to hinder her progress, she has used it to drive her on and she has come back better from it. “The Glasgow disappointment was a huge learning experience for me but I think it did make me a better person,” she said. “When I reflect on the past few years, I’ve played some of the best hockey of my life and I do wonder if that is because there is no fear of being dropped from the team anymore because that happened – missing out on Glasgow was the biggest blow that I could take and so I think that perhaps some of that fear has left me now.
“I think that I have developed as a person and I am definitely a lot stronger mentally than I have ever been.”
Cuthbert forced her way back into the national team in the immediate aftermath of Glasgow 2014 and she was then appointed to the role of captain, which means that she has a responsibility to not only look after herself and her own performance but to also give a boost to any of her teammates who are needing it.
It is a role though that the endlessly upbeat Cuthbert is perfectly suited to. “I am really aware that we are a team and we’re only as strong as our weakest player,” she said. “So we need to be united and I see it as a massive role of mine to make sure that everyone is at their optimum level.
“But as captain and as an experienced player, people look to you to set an example so I have to make sure that I’m at my best all the time. And it’s about making sure that the girls know that I’m approachable.”
The Scotland team lost out in the quarter-finals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in a tight defeat to England but they have made steady progress in the intervening four years meaning that grabbing a spot on the podium in Gold Coast is not an unrealistic aim. The Scots have been drawn against Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Ghana so a medal is a tough ask but the squad is feeling positive about their prospects.
However, what makes things particularly difficult for Cuthbert, as well as many of her teammates, is that she works full-time in addition to playing international hockey. Combining the two is, she admits, a challenge however, she has her own physiotherapy business and working for herself does allow her to be more flexible than many employers would be comfortable with. But however hectic her schedule may be, Cuthbert would not have it any other way. “It is very difficult – I’ve had to give up work opportunities but I’m fine with that because I want to be playing hockey,” she said. “It is hard but I don’t ever feel like I’m making sacrifices. I don’t actually like the word sacrifice though, it’s decisions and the decisions I make are the one that allow me to play hockey. I’m going to be working for forever once I retire from hockey so I’m happy with how things are.”