Hockey: Alicia Caillard Selected for U18 England Squad

Alicia Caillard

Alicia Caillard, Head of Charleston House, found out this week that she has been selected for the U18 England Hockey squad.

As she describes however, her journey to get there has involved a lot of hard work, sacrifice and passion.

"Last summer, I spent time in South Africa working with a group of disadvantaged children," says Alicia. "This involved giving the children Hockey tuition and helping a local charity which provides basic food, clothing and schooling to approximately two hundred township children. I found that experience to be particularly rewarding."

Alicia, who is even now only 17, has achieved an enormous amount in her life already. She only brings up her volunteering as an afterthought.

"Although heart-rending," she says, "supporting the children with reading and sports and, above all, giving them care and compassion gave me as much joy as it gave them. On returning home, I have championed the charity at school and, through presentation and persuasion, the Kusasa project is now one of the selected beneficiaries of our House Fundraising efforts."

When she sits down to be interviewed, Alicia has only just come from frying up bacon to form dozens of sandwiches sold to raise money for charity. Later she will be attending 1st Team Hockey training at Bede's before travelling to train with her local league team, East Grinstead. In between she also has to find time to complete her homework for her Biology, Economics and PE A Levels. How does she fit it all in?

"I genuinely don't know!" she says, laughing. "Since I switched Hockey clubs, the increase in training has put pressure on my academic life, but in a way it has really helped me to focus. I have to be so organised!"

The switch in clubs Alicia describes took place a little over a year ago, when she started the Lower Sixth. Up until then, Alicia had been training with Eastbourne Hockey Club - something she started doing in Year 4.

"I was inspired by my sister, who is three-and-a-half years older than me. We joined Eastbourne Hockey Club, and I even remember my first game. I was only brought in because someone else on my sister's team dropped out. I hung around on the post and managed to score a goal!"

Her passion developed quickly and she even trialled for the Sussex County team in Year 5. Alas, she was not selected, but that seems to have only spurred her on to start playing more seriously.

"When I was 12, I was still attending Moira House School in Eastbourne and was working my way through a series of local teams. Then I came to Bede's in the Lower Fifth, attracted by the fact that the then-Head of Hockey here, Steve Paxton, was also my coach at the Eastbourne club. And once I was here, I made the step up into the county system."

Alicia describes the series of trials, sub-teams, training camps and tournaments along the route to her recent selection for the England U18 Hockey squad, and it is staggering that she not only made it through them but that she can remember it all.

"The England Single System Pathway (ESSP) begins with HiPAC, which is a mixture of training camps and fixtures mirroring the adult England training schedule," she says. "Once I had entered that system at U15 I was then eligible to try out for NAGS - the National Age Group Squads, which start at U16. Sadly, at U15 I didn't get through, and that was the story of my life for a few years."

Alicia wasn't selected for either the U16 or U17 squads, which is something she seems to find quite difficult to talk about.

"It's so hard to differentiate between players at such a high standard," she says, "but ultimately I had to improve. And in the last couple of years, especially since the start of Sixth Form, I have improved - massively."

Since switching clubs from Eastbourne Hockey Club to East Grinstead, which is in a higher league, between her sessions inside school and out Alicia has Hockey training for an average of 14 hours a week - significantly longer if she is playing in Tournaments.

The result of this increased training, dedication and passion has clearly born fruit, but this most recent leg of the ESSP seems to have been the toughest so far.

"We started in May," explains Alicia, "with six rounds of six hour Sussex County training sessions. From those, a group of us were selected to represent Tunbridge in a tournament against Berry and Northwood, with each team made up of the best players from three counties - ours being Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

"After that," she continues, "players from all three sides were pulled together to form the Saxon Tigers, the South of England team,  to compete in the Futures Cup in Cannock, which took place over half term."

As Alicia details, from the Futures Cup 34 players from across the country were selected for England trials.

"It's quite tough to get there," says Alicia, "but I was overjoyed. And even though I'm in the squad, I still might not end up representing England. The next step will be a Strength and Conditioning camp in December, followed by a training camp in January. But if all goes well, I could end up taking part in the Four or Six Nations. There's a lot to be excited about."

Considering Alicia has her A Levels coming up, surely she must worry about balancing all these competing interests?

"I love this school because it's really helped me to balance my commitments. It's so welcoming and supportive, especially the House system, and I have needed a lot of help recently with applying to university. I'm hoping to study Physiotherapy, so aside from just UCAS I have also been doing work experience at Brighton Hospital, Worthing Rugby Club and at a private physiotherapy practise in Polegate."

Does she ever sleep?

"I guess it just comes down to the fact that really, I can't stand not being busy," she concludes, laughing.