The hard road to glory

Alan Hubbard sees a military exercise in togetherness designed to help an Olympic campaign

LIonesses were on the loose in Bedfordshire last week. A veritable pride, in fact. Almost a couple of dozen of them tired, hungry and in search of a killing. No need to call in the military, though. They knew all about it. In fact, it was their idea.

LIonesses were on the loose in Bedfordshire last week. A veritable pride, in fact. Almost a couple of dozen of them tired, hungry and in search of a killing. No need to call in the military, though. They knew all about it. In fact, it was their idea.

We should explain. Exercise Lioness, as it was labelled, involved 23 members of Great Britain's women's hockey squad being called up by the Royal Air Force for a challenge in team building which saw them braving the elements, sleeping rough and generally tested to their physical limits. Jolly hockey sticks it certainly wasn't.

But the Lionesses survived the ordeal and will now go on to stalk their real prey - the Olympic gold medal in Sydney in September.

"They are certainly a tough bunch," observed rugby-playing Flt Lt Ryan Johnson, one of the officers drilling them through their paces. "One of the fittest groups I have ever encountered."

Just as well. On the first night the squad were transported to a remote part of the countryside north of Bromham - "About as wild as you can get in Bedfordshire," according to the project officer, Rod Marshall, also a flight lieutenant. They were split into three groups - defence, midfield and attack, the formations for the rest of the exercise - given rucksacks, iron rations, a compass and a parachute and told to find their way back to base camp and get in undetected.

Some three-and-a-half hours later, towards the thick end of midnight, they had all made it by hunting in packs, a trek of 14km which made old-fashioned orienteering seem a doddle. They cooked their beans and tinned sausages, and then discovered what their parachute was for. It was home for the night, a makeshift tepee which had to be slung over a tree. The alternative was a night under the stars fending off the mosquitoes.

Next day came a lesson in how to survive a flash flood by making a 3ft-high pyramid from pine poles; stretcher races; an obstacle race through swamps and over an assault course; and another where objects had to be retrieved from a muddy stream, with the unit members roped together on their run.

Plus mind-stretching mental exercises such as building a selfpropelling model vehicle out of four balloons, two pencils, 10 elastic bands, a couple of cardboard files, 10 paper clips and some Sellotape. Finally, just when they thought it was all over, the entire squad had to form a human bridge with only their hands touching the ground. Simple? Then do try this one at home.

"How do you feel?" we asked Britain's most illustrious woman hockey player, the multi-capped Jane Sixsmith, as she tried to regain her composure after the three-day exertion. "Knackered," she gasped.

And so said all of them. None knew in advance what the guys from RAF Henlow had in store for them but Rod Marshall, Ryan Johnson and their assistants John Gallagher and Len Turner had devised a fascinating, if a tad fiendish, test specially adapted from the one org- anised for officers and occasionally young gentlemen from Rotary clubs and the like.

"In all my years in hockey I've never experienced anything like it," said the 32-year-old Sixsmith, who is known throughout the sport as "Jasper" because of her carrot-top and Brummie accent. "If we had to have done this 10 months ago, we wouldn't have got through it, but fortunately we have been together a lot and have trained pretty vigorously." Sixsmith, the right-winger who has scored well over 100 international goals, is coming up for her fourth, and probably last, Olympics, though she said that before Atlanta. "Basically, this has been learning to cope with the unexpected. If you can tackle that off the field then it makes unexpected situations on the field easier to deal with."

But how much difference will a bit of bull make once you bully off? "Only time will tell," says the team captain, Sue Chandler, also 32, a South London schoolteacher. "But I believe it will have a very positive effect. It was a good opportunity for different members of the team, not just me as captain, to take responsibility. Women are not actually born leaders. They'll take a back seat until someone tells them, 'Right, you're in charge', and that's exactly what's happened here. It's been about taking responsibility as an individual and working together as a team, knowing how to make decisions and when to make them."

As the Lionesses know, it will be a jungle out there in Sydney, and the Bedfordshire experiment can only serve to toughen their resolve, as well as their physique. Britain, bronze medallists in Barcelona and fourth in Atlanta, qualified by beating the emergent Chinese, and during the past six months they have also defeated three of the world's top nations, Australia, Holland and Germany.

Jon Royce, a former schoolteacher who has been national coach since October, believes there is a medal to be won. He has to whittle the squad down to 16 and says: "In a way this is what this exercise has also been about. Creating an atmosphere of honesty and trust. When it comes to it they know there'll be no bullshitting. I'll tell them exactly where they stand. That's how they would want it."

Royce co-ordinated ExerciseLioness with the RAF, suggesting the buzz words should be: Respons-ibility, Communication, Leadership, Teamwork and Trust. To the layperson it may all sound like coaching mumbo-jumbo, but in Bedfordshire last week it looked as if it was working a treat. Indeed, the only disappointing element came on Tuesday night when, as part of their team bonding, it was decided to watch England's Euro 2000 match against Romania. Not an uplifting experience as they saw England fall apart.

Maybe, though, there is a thought here for Kevin Keegan. Never mind Sgt Wilko, Kev; give Flt Lt Marshall a call. When it comes to teachingdefenders how to think for themselves he might have just the thing for England's rehabilitation. That is if the lads don't mind the rucksacks and the mozzies. Not to mention the parachutes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1:1 Teaching Assistant

£40 - £45 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education Cardiff is c...

Teaching Assistant / Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Welsh Speaking Learning Support Assistant

£70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Welsh Speaking Learning Support Assis...

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker