Our People: Hockey’s sporting legend

CAUSAL GARDENER: Pat Barwick, Sporting Legend of Canterbury at her home in Mt Pleasant.

Hockey icon Pat Barwick was inducted into the Sporting Legends of Canterbury at the Nexia NZ Canterbury Sports Awards on March 9. She talks to reporter Sarla Donovan about missing out on Moscow, developments in women’s sport, and impending retirement.

It must have been a proud moment to be named a Sporting Legend?

Yes, it was humbling and a lovely surprise. And fabulous that they had some of my family down. I didn’t know anything about it until I walked into the room on Friday night and saw my family. Then I knew something was happening. My older sister and her hubby came down from Auckland and my younger sister from the family farm in the north of Wanganui. They stayed for the weekend so we had a nice long celebration.

When did you first pick up a hockey stick?

Not until I was just turning 14. I was in a country school where we only played rugby and netball. We had to do both because we didn’t have enough boys so we played everything. There were only 32 at the school when I was there, that was at Brunswick School in Wanganui. So I didn’t really even know what hockey was. I got involved with it at high school and it wasn’t until my second year at Whanganui Girls’ College that I was allowed to give up netball. I could have stopped half-way through the year but my mum – quite rightly so – made me support my team until I finished the season. The next year I was allowed to play hockey and I loved it and within a couple of years I was doing reasonably well and continued on.

What are some of the proudest moments in your career?

Pat Barwick in her playing days.

Playing-wise getting into the national side and captaining it for most of my playing career. I remember the match where we beat England at Wembley Stadium in 1977 in front of 63,000 people. That was a bit of a mindblower. Being selected for the 1980 Moscow Olympics – though, unfortunately, we didn’t go in the end. From a coaching perspective, I had a pretty successful time taking the Canterbury women to a number of titles and then going on to coach the national team. That was a real honour and I really enjoyed the opportunity that I was given.

What was it like finding out you wouldn’t be going to Moscow?

Well it was three weeks before we were due to leave so it was pretty gut-wrenching. We had all the uniforms, all the plans, everything was ready to go and then suddenly we weren’t going anywhere. It was a pretty sad time for most athletes and people were pretty upset. I
didn’t remain bitter about it in later years though some did. I had the chance to go back as a coach in Barcelona in 1992 so at least I got to an Olympic Games but it is different going as a support person rather than an athlete – you’re never quite an Olympian unless you’re an athlete there.

Hockey looks like quite a fierce game – what qualities do you need?

In the past it was a game that could be played by anyone, any height, any mobility. But nowadays on the turf it’s become very quick so speed is an important factor. But it’s not the only thing; you have to have a desire to learn the skills pretty thoroughly to be successful because it is quite a technical game. It’s demanding when you’re learning but once you get into it I think it is a great game in that anyone can score a goal, anyone can be part of the whole game – there’s not too much quiet time so you’re always involved and that makes it pleasurable to most people.

What do you get up to when you’re not playing/coaching sport?

I like to be active so I ride my bike, I play some golf and I’ve always played a bit of croquet. I enjoy the garden, I have a big ‘casual garden’ as I call it so there’s always plenty to do there. Other than that I’ve always enjoyed supporting Forest and Bird and am looking to help somewhere on a project with them, now that I have a bit of time.

Sporting-wise, Canterbury seems to bat above its weight. What do you put that down to?

There’s still a lot of awareness and interest in sport here – the red and black culture is still strong. We’re not a huge, million-plus city so we still have a community feel and I think when you have that there’s a lot more cross-code interaction and support for each others’ sport as well as the people involved.
I think that sheer interest in each other is still very strong here.

I hear the Black Ferns are getting professional contracts. Do you feel we’re at a bit of a turning point in women’s sport?

Definitely, we always knew it was about to happen. Women are the area of sport that are now making a huge leap in their performances. The change in their ability to play more full-time, to show that they can advance their own sport a lot further than previously. Giving them (financial) support is important as it enables them to play at a higher level for longer. In doing that it means you get really good performances because they’re becoming more experienced, they’re becoming more capable, they’re fitter, faster, and can develop those characteristics that you need. You’re seeing a really great move right now in the development of the whole women’s sports field right across the spectrum and we’ll continue to do that for another eight or 10 years until we get to the top of it.

So how much longer before there’s an equal playing field?

Equal playing field only ever means money and in the end it’s about money through the gate. Until women are able to attract the same crowds to their games as the men it’s difficult to look at the balance of funds and I understand that. But it still means for the next eight to 10 years women need to be given support to achieve that. And unless that happens they probably won’t ever achieve it. I think the nature of the games have become really well-developed in the sense that the skill level, the physical capabilities and the athleticism of women now is certainly making it more attractive to a wider public to watch. So maybe we’ll increase the gates and they’ll increase the balance of pay. That’s how it works. But to me it’s more about how women can be successful – that’s the exciting part. The other part, the professionalism is another whole cog in the wheel.

You captained NZ in your first ever match, how did that happen and what was it like?

It was pretty interesting. I had captained one team – the NZ Universities side for a couple of matches against Australia a few years before. But other than that I’d never been a club team captain or a Canterbury or Hawkes Bay captain. So it was a bit of a mind-blower. I think a lot of it was to do with the fact I was the centre half and when you play in the centre of the paddock you’re fairly well connected with everybody across the pitch. At the time there were still players in the team that had been away on previous internationals so I was quite surprised because they were more experienced and good people. I think it was a positional issue but maybe I showed a bit more leadership quality then than I realised.

When did you go from playing to coaching?

I retired from the national team in 1980 – that was the year we didn’t go to the Olympics and I pretty much retired straight away. I was still playing for the Canterbury team and they asked me to be a player coach which was unusual at that level but I did it with the help of a manager-coach. So I got into that level pretty quickly. I had about six good years with Canterbury hockey and then I was able to put my name in the hat for the national side.

Do you see us being world champions any time soon?

We’ve been in the top four in the last two Olympic Games and that’s massive. They’re a top team and they’ve been performing extremely well over the last few years. Getting in the top four in the world in hockey is up there and to do it twice in a row that’s been quite an achievement.

Do you think the funding for NZ Hockey is adequate?

I think we’re pretty well supported by high performance funding and other agencies. We have a good foundation that supports the players and the teams when they have to centralise in Auckland. Our people are centralised in Auckland, and they train as much as they can – probably not quite as much as a fully paid athlete but they’re still getting a lot of training. I think we’re doing about as well as we can expect at the moment. Certainly funding is pretty generous on New Zealand terms, we don’t have all the money in the world, we’re a small country and can’t support everything.

I hear you’re retiring from your coaching adviser role at Sport Canterbury?

I’m having my farewell this afternoon actually, I’m finishing up today. I’ve had twelve and a half years here so it’s been one of my longer terms of work through my life. It’s a really enjoyable environment; lots of passionate people doing things to help other passionate people. It’s a great environment of positivity to walk into every morning so it makes work easy. I’ll miss the people. I’m a people person and enjoy watching them grow and develop and learn. It’s the teacher in me as well as the coach. So personally I will miss those regular contacts but I’ll be out doing things.

So what’s the plan this afternoon?

We’re wrapping up the week with a bit of a party after work and I’m going to have a bit of fun for a few hours so that will be really nice, a nice casual send-off.