Amy Costello is optimistic that the hangover from a successful Team Scotland Commonwealth Games will a celebratory one rather than the lingering sense of disappointment that took six months to dissipate following last summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Then just 23, Costello was part of the Team GB who lifted bronze. But, having failed to get any game time, the defender struggled to appreciate the magnitude of the achievement in just making the Olympic squad.
Close friends and family, as well as a squad sports psychologist, helped her to see things in a different light. And it remains an experience, she insists, that should provide the cornerstone for a successful Games in Birmingham.
“It was a bittersweet experience,” she said of her time in Japan. “On the one hand I was so pleased to be in the squad, to be in the Olympic village. But it was a challenge not knowing if I would play. Being on the side lines, I was an avid supporter of the squad and my team-mates – and I was so pleased with their bronze. But it is always difficult not to feel, as an athlete, that you belong on pitch making a contribution rather than watching.
“Being 23 last summer and being able to be in that environment possibly now gives me an advantage over younger players coming in – know what it is like in the tension of that environment and how heightened emotions can be. The Games are the biggest thing that Team GB compete for, so it really was an eye-opening experience.
“But more than that, I think it has given me a real drive too. I want to be on the pitch, I have that motivation to go and step up. It took me some time to get there. For six months I think my confidence was not where it could have been – and a lot of the enjoyment I had for hockey had gone.
“And yet I am pretty sure that I am now a better hockey player for having gone through that. I think I have a better balance now between life and hockey and I also know that, if you need a bit of help, then it is a good thing to make sure you go and ask for it. There is no point in letting it go to such an extent that everything is a struggle.
“I had so much support around me in terms of my parents and friends – but the sports psychologist was also a great benefit in giving me tools that really helped me to redress the balance of the experience. It is always so easy to get carried away in what you are doing day-to-day and not realising what you are achieving, step back. Looking at the bigger picture, I am actually proud of where I am now.”
It will almost feel like 2014 in terms of a Home Games again for Costello, who returns to her old stomping ground in Birmingham. Fresh out of the city’s university with a Sports Science degree, the Halls of Residence could be home – again – this summer.
If there are positive memories in the Halls, there is also the echo of 2014 and a reminder of just how far Costello has come.
“I was 16 when Scotland hosted the Games. I was at school studying hard for my Int 2s and Nat 5s but I remember going along to watch Scotland v Australia in Glasgow. Australia went on to win the Gold and it was an incredibly special Games. I don’t think this will be too dissimilar.
“It was definitely inspirational for me as a teenager to watch that and think: ‘That could possibly be me, maybe, one day.’ I don’t think I thought too much about how it would come about. I was just getting into my Scotland age groups and I loved playing. It is only now, when you look back over your shoulder, that you do appreciate just where you are.”
Not that she has any intention of standing still.
Scotland’s women have an intense schedule as they play the first session of the tournament against South Africa. The following evening, they are up against reigning champions New Zealand. Further games follow against Kenya – playing at their first ever Commonwealth Games – before they conclude with a tantalising clash against four-times winners Australia.
“As a team, we are in a really good place,” said Costello. “I honestly believe that it is not beyond us to get out of the group and potentially challenge for a semi-final spot, which would be a first for us. It is very ambitious – but I also think that it is realistic. Anything can happen on the day.
“I want to enjoy it. There are challenges as a team, and there are challenges as an individual, and I would like to firmly embrace both. We will be playing against some of the top teams in the world and testing ourselves; that is something you must thrive on.”
“If there is something I have learned about being in tournaments like the Olympics and in the Gold Coast 1028 Commonwealth squad it is that, once you play a game if it doesn’t go well, you don’t let it linger. There is always the next game, so you park it and move on. I think that is so important in tournament hockey. Anything can happen so it is also important not to get too caught up in other results.
“We are a very close group too. I think that helps and we have been through various experiences before. I honestly think we are in a very exciting place as a team going into the Games and I think we all see this as a real opportunity.
“Defensively we know we are strong. I think, as the tournament goes deeper, we will want to be as clinical as possible as we really try to challenge the higher ranked teams, while limiting them as much as we possibly can. It is a big ask but it is one we are all incredibly excited about.”
Article by Alison McConnell