It’s not often you get the chance to reinvent yourself as a captain three years into your tenure, but that’s exactly what England and Great Britain hockey captain Hollie Pearne-Webb is doing as her side begin a World Cup and then head to a home Commonwealth Games.
The Pearne-Webb era has been dogged by the pandemic, and the pinnacle of the sport – the Olympic Games – was without the lively crowds the Olympiads have become known for.
But with England getting their World Cup campaign underway yesterday with a 1-1 draw against India, the first major test for the latest version of Pearne-Webb and her self admitted, ever-developing leadership style has kicked off.
“I’m on my leadership journey which is still continuing,” the Brit told City A.M. before the World Cup. “I am not the finished article – I am still learning.
“My style has to change now with this new group of players because I have to adapt to the styles and characteristics and personality traits that we now have in the squad.
“I want to be a role model, that’s something that when I look back at why I was voted in that was the reason.
“Growing up I thought a leader was a dictator-style ‘I say, you do’ but that isn’t my style. On personality psychometrics I don’t come out as that. I am more of a quiet leader, I am more on the introverted side, so initially that was a big challenge for me because I don’t fit the model I thought growing up.
“But now I am very aware that no matter where you are on the introvert-extrovert scale you can lead.”
While admitting she is a people pleaser, Pearne-Webb’s first few years as a captain couldn’t have been easy. Hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the anxiety of catching the virus and living up to TeamGB’s new-found hockey success was at the forefront.
Medal goes to…
The bronze secured by Britain at London 2012 was the first for the women’s team since 1992 and was followed up by a memorable penalty shootout gold against the Netherlands in 2016 – Britain’s first women’s gold and sport’s first since the men won in 1988.
Thereafter – once legendary captain Kate Richardson-Walsh retired – under Pearne-Webb’s leadership, the women’s hockey team won a bronze in Tokyo.
“People often ask me which medal I prefer,” Pearne-Webb, who scored the winning penalty in the 2016 Olympic final, added. “People think it’ll be the gold because it is a better colour but for me they [2016 gold and 2021 bronze] mean the same to me.
“Unless you’re involved in the hockey world what you don’t understand is the picture behind the scenes.
“After Rio  we lost a lot of experienced players and it was like we were starting again.
“Then after the World Cup in 2018 [where England were knocked out in the quarter-finals] the coach [Danny Kerry] left to join the men’s team and, again, a few more girls retired.
“If you ask any of the hockey nations going into Tokyo if they expected GB to medal they’d have said ‘absolutely not’.
“So winning that bronze for me was way more emotional than the Rio gold… the three years leading up to those Tokyo games were the hardest three years of my life both personally and professionally.”
Pearne-Webb’s year to shine
England’s pool stages at the World Cup this month see them play New Zealand, India and China before potential quarter-finals, semi-finals and, of course, a final.
England have never reached the final two in a World Cup – their best result a third place in 2010 – and heading into a home Commonwealth Games, Pearne-Webb is keen to head to Birmingham with gold medals from the sport’s second-biggest event around their necks.
“At the midpoint of the Olympic cycle you have a huge year, which is this year, with the World Cup and then the Commonwealth Games – which is one of my favourite tournaments,” the 31-year-old defender and ambassador for online platform Trade Nation said.
“It’s at home, which is amazing, and I have a bronze and silver medal in the Commonwealths so the only one I am missing is the gold.
“My aim is to medal at a World Cup as I haven’t done that yet – I’ve been to two World Cups and they didn’t go very well [knocked out at pool stage and then quarter-finals] so the Cup is the one tournament that has eluded me so far.
“And to get a gold at the Commies would be incredible – it’s hugely exciting and so much is happening this year. It feels like we’re finally getting back to normal.”
Hockey is one of the few sports that sees a somewhat equal weighting given to the men’s and women’s disciplines. But with an increasingly crowded sports market, how does the sport stay relevant?
“We want hockey to become mainstream,” the captain added. “So that loads of people play our sport and those who have played once before play again.
“We know how good it is. People watched that Rio 2016 final, 10 million I think, so when it’s on people watch because it’s exciting.
“I want our sport to be accessible to everyone, no matter where you come from. I would like to see as many people having the chance to play our sport.”
Pearne-Webb’s era has already reaped rewards at Olympic level, but with World Cup medals eluding her there’s clearly a target for the coming weeks and it continues tomorrow, when her side take on New Zealand in Amsterdam.