Worcester's Legacy of National Sporting Captains

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In sport, inspirational captains can become iconic figures.

Whether itís Martin Johnson lifting the Rugby World Cup in 2003, or Kate Richardson-Walsh courageously leading the GB womenís hockey team to bronze at the London Olympics, in spite of a broken jaw, our international skippers are highly revered.

Shakespeare suggested that some are born great, whilst others achieve greatness. At the University of Worcester, the educational mix of sport and study means that those who are natural leaders have the opportunity to enhance their skills and achieve their full potential.

University of Worcester graduate Jo Yapp captained the England Womenís Rugby team in a glittering career that spanned 70 caps and two World Cup final showdowns. Joís achievements inspired a generation, starting a proud tradition of Worcester students who have gone on to captain their country.

As the 2014 Womenís Rugby World Cup kicks off in France, Abi Chamberlain, former Wocester student and current England Sevens captain, gives her thoughts on what it takes to lead a nation, and as parasport makes an impact at the Commonwealth Games, Worcester alumnus Keryn Seal, and current undergraduate student Sophie Carrigill, discuss captaincy from the disability sport perspective.

Abi studied Sports Coaching Science & Physical Education at Worcester, graduating in 2009. She now lectures in Sports Science at West Thames College.

Abi is quick to recognise the positive impact Jo Yapp has had on her own career: "She is definitely a role model. Without her I doubt I would have had the belief in myself to pursue an England career. I played with her at Worcester and she remains one of my favourite players."

Abi has represented England in rugby for both the fifteens and the sevens, captaining the sevens throughout the 2014 World Series. For Abi, captaincy, like university, is a learning experience that has helped her develop, both as a leader, and as a player. "As captain, I'm beginning to learn to look at the game in a different way." she says. "I've become more aware of tactics and what is best to do when, from a team perspective.

"I've had to assess my role on the pitch, and recognise the importance of what I can bring. I'm by no means the 'best' player out there; I'm not about to smash someone back 10m in a tackle or spin out a perfect 30m pass to put a winger away. I aim to do the small things, the basics, but do them right, and at the right time so that the flare in the team can do what they do."†

Keryn graduated from Worcester with a degree in Sports Studies in 2010. A double Paralympian, Keryn assumed the GB blind football captaincy following the 2012 London Paralympics. For Keryn, the expertise of his lecturers played a big part in helping him develop as a leader and as a captain. "The Sports Coaching Science lecturers at Worcester were excellent in helping me to understand man-management, and how to work with different kinds of people," he says. "That part of the role doesnít change, whether itís a disability sport or not. I also learnt a lot about organisation and running a team when we set up the University of Worcester Blind Football Club. It was a steep learning curve, but invaluable real-world experience."

Sophie is currently studying Sport & Exercise Psychology at Worcester. A natural leader, Sophie was named captain of the Great Britain Womenís Wheelchair Basketball team for their recent World championship campaign, despite only having made her debut in the side last year. She doesnít see her comparative youthfulness as an issue: "I don't feel like it's been too hard and I think I've settled in well.†

"The sporting culture at Worcester is very strong. It makes you want to achieve and continue to work hard. You're constantly seeing other people training which makes you feel like you're not the only one. Also, with the massive success of the Worcester Wolves last year thereís a great pride about being in Worcester and playing basketball which motivates me to strive for my best."more experienced and older players in the GB squad so at first it was a bit daunting, but they were all supportive, so it was fine. Being young gives me a lot of time to grow as a captain.

Sophie will start the second year of her degree in September, and whilst balancing elite sport and study can at times be tough, itís a challenge she is relishing. "It will be hard this year as my grades will count towards my degree so I need to put more effort in with studying," she says. "However, the programme is set up so we can fit education in as well as basketball. The Uni is great as well with supporting you and if you need extra help there's always someone you can talk to."

For both Sophie and Keryn, with Rio only two years away, thoughts are already beginning to turn to 2016, and the possibility of captaining their country at a Paralympic Games. As Keryn explains: ďYou have to have a split focus. Our immediate aim is to win the European Championships next year and qualify for Rio, but yes, medium-term, itís hard not to think about what 2016 might be like.Ē

For Abi, too, her thoughts canít help but drift west across the Atlantic: "I would love to be part of the Olympics in Rio, it's a dream that in the past was so far-fetched it didn't even enter my mind. If you asked anyone who knew me at school where they thought I'd be now, they certainly wouldn't say captaining my country two years out from an Olympics. However, that will only happen if we finish top four in the World Series this year. So for now, my focus is entirely on preparing myself to be fit and playing well."