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Faith forges friendships in sport

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Reading Hockey Club has managed to transform itself over the years from a mid-sized London League club to one of the most respected and formidable Hockey Clubs in Europe. The Ladies 1st XI team is bestowed with the honour of being the current Investec Premier Division Champions; a title which the team and the club as a whole hopes to capitalise on further. Newly-laid artificial pitches at the Sonning Lane training grounds mean that the training infrastructure is now second to none, and success on the pitch is echoed in the team spirit and friendship which runs throughout the club, from the elite to the younger members.

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The unity of friendship bonded together in a Christian faith isn’t a headline you’d usually read about in the media, nor is faith in sport something that is widely reported, yet Elizabeth Hunt and Emma Thomas of Reading Hockey Club are a prime example of the harmonious bond of faith and friendship in sport.

Ladies 1st XI Captain, Emma, 27, who plays in midfield said: “I’ve been here at Reading Hockey Club for 10 years; I came here at the tender age of 17 having first caught the ‘hockey bug’ when I tried it out as a young girl. I’m the oldest of four children in my family and eventually, one by one, we all ended up playing the game.”

Playing at senior and international level is something which Emma has worked hard at throughout her teens and into her university years. With a good smattering of caps to her credit at England and GB level, Emma has played in U16, U18 and U21 level in addition to spending 18 months over in America playing back position for the University of Maryland collegiate team.

Fellow England international and Reading team player Elizabeth “Wizz” Hunt, 26, added: “Emma and I have known each other since our England international days. We got to know each other really well and we also share the same values. Emma came to faith around that the time of playing in the U21 team and I just rejoiced! I was really happy for her.” She continued: “Usually, your life is dictated by training and being the best you can be, and your identity can be wrapped up in performance or success. Self-worth through achievement and success is a very secular thing. My identity as a Christian means that God loves me no matter what the result on the pitch.”

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When asked about how they both exemplify a Christian way of life at the club, Elizabeth explained: “Emma and I as Christian women don’t do anything different. We’re really good friends and share time and forge genuine friendships with the rest of the team. I think the difference is that by spending the amount of time that we do with our team mates, they pick up on the difference our faith makes to our lives. We just lead by example which can often lead to people wanting to find out more. Whatever happens from that happens naturally.”

Elizabeth also works as a Communications Manager for Christians In Sport, an Oxfordshire-based charity which promotes and supports Christians involved in sport to live out their faith in their clubs and their teams through training events and programmes, chaplaincy, resources, groups and 1-1 support. She continued: “It’s great that both Emma and I have our faith and that we’re also in the same team. We are sources of encouragement to one another. There’s an almost intuitive connection we have on the pitch, which I think helps our game enormously.”

Emma continued the conversation: “Sports-people can often find Christians hard to understand because of the usual link with success and achievement. It can be hard to be a Christian in a sports environment but I hope that how we live and act is good not just for us but for the rest of the team – and the club! We’ve had the same core of players within our squad for almost 5 years now, and that’s a great solid base for us.”

Pictures: Lynda Bowyer

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Reading Hockey Club has a swathe of top-flight players in it’s Ladies’ 1st XI, with 7 players in the GB Team, 6 play for England, 3 play for Wales and 1 for Scotland. Such an affluence of skill means that expectation is high, but this is shored up by a real sense of camaraderie within the club at every level. Playing at international level isn’t something either of the girls take lightly. Elizabeth said: “It felt an honour to be called up for England. You never really get over that ‘buzz’ you experience the moment you put on an England shirt. It’s a real privilege to play for your country, and when I first experienced that at just 15, it was very emotional.”

The bonds throughout the club teams are played out off the pitch both in social events and fund-raising. “We’re a proper family Club,” Elizabeth concluded, “It’s a really lovely set-up here at Reading which is good to be a part of.”

“In this team”, Emma added, “it’s about everyone. You have people all around you and by that you can be lifted up to become a better version of yourself. We share our high and low moments and the intensity of those situations on and off the pitch. It’s a real privilege to have those friendships.”

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Reading Hockey Club play at Sonning Lane training ground and their club website can be located by visiting www.readinghockeyclub.org.uk. If your son or daughter are interested in hockey as a sport, the Club is hosting various Summer Camps over the coming months to help hone skills of any level, and children of all abilities are welcome to join in. For full details visit www.readinghockeyclub.org.uk/ng/camps. Reading Hockey Club also have an active digital engagement programme through social media and their Facebook page can be located at www.facebook.com/readinghc. Twitter users can also follow Reading Hockey Club @readinghc.

Christians In Sport, the charity which supports Christian people involved in sport can be located at www.christiansinsport.org.uk.

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