Leah Wilkinson

Ex-Wales and Great Britain Hockey Player Leah Wilkinson shares her journey to become a senior international player.


Born into a hockey playing family, I started playing hockey aged 5. We would spend time at the local hockey club in Burton. But it wasn’t only hockey I loved. I played all sports. I was 10 when my Mum thought that I should think about moving clubs to access a better level of hockey. I moved to Belper HC and I grew quite quickly through the women’s teams. I played in goal and the women that I played with were fantastic role models.

When I was 13, I started to play as a striker. I used all my GK knowledge on the field. The coach was Craig Keegan (Assistant Coach to the Rio Gold Medal Winning Team) and a year later, I got into the Ladies 1st XI.

I was also playing county and regional for Midlands. My techniques improved a lot through the Midlands training as we had a coach that had high expectations for precision - Tim Barlow. That’s what I put my level of highly skilled actions to now! I don’t have all the razzamatazz that some of the youngsters have but I have a high level of honed passing and simple forehand ball carry. I was state school educated where hockey was not a core sport. At 16, I was approached by Repton to have a hockey scholarship, and had superb school coaching from Martin Jones (at that time a GB and England International) and club coaching.

They were important years for my talent development. I was desperate to experience international hockey. Having a Welsh mother, I simply sent an email to Hockey Wales and went to a camp 2 weeks before the U18 European Cup in Prague and got selected!

Two weeks after the U18 European Cup, I was selected for the Welsh U21 team and a year later was playing for Wales Senior. I chose to go to Loughborough University for the professionalism of the sport there and I LOVED playing hockey and just wanted more and more of it!

Playing for Wales has given me some amazing experiences but it has been a challenging and expensive road. I went to multiple Commonwealth Games with Wales giving me the taste of what’s next, but I thought playing for GB was a million miles off. After university I moved down to Bristol and played for Clifton, where a GB coach thought my best opportunity of selection was playing half back, a very different position. Simon Letchford invited me to Reading Hockey Club, a big step up! Playing and training alongside Kate and Helen Richardson- Walsh, Alex Danson, Chantal De Bruijn (a Dutch international), and Beth Storry this gave me the motivation to want more from hockey and the GB dream became a goal.

In 2012 I watched girls I had grown up with and played alongside winning bronze. It had me questioning the choices I had made, but I realised that this was my journey. I’m proud to play for Wales, where I have had great leadership responsibility and learned resilience, fight and grit. I wouldn’t be the player I am now without it. After 2012, I was given my first opportunity to trial with GB. A week before my trial, I broke my arm. More chances came but they dwindled the more pressure I put on myself to perform.

Post Rio 2016, at 29 years old, I was given one last chance but told my age profile was not working in my favour. I was emotionally drained. So I recalculated and thought about the opportunity with Wales at the Gold Coast and completely took all pressure off myself, closing the chapter of competing for the Olympics. I played my best hockey at these games and loved every minute. I’d now got the record caps for Wales, I was captain of my country and could finally congratulate myself on my achievements. I really began to appreciate what I had done.

In 2019, Mark Hager became GB coach and the Welsh coach spoke to me about my potential involvement again – the nerves came back but I knew it was the moment. October 1, 2019, against India at Bisham, I got my GB first cap. I remember running onto the field, my family watching from the far side and me wearing a GB shirt. I knew I played well and was finally offered a full time contract. It took me so much to get here, but I’m living my dream and making the most of loving hockey. I now play a screen, different position again and having to get used to the game being 360 degrees around me is a great challenge. From there, I can drop backwards or get forwards so can utilise my strengths in both directions.

I’m a history teacher in Surrey and have taken a sabbatical, which I have had to extend as the program is going well for me.