I got the chance to interview USA men’s and recent U21’s starter Chris Rea, who has recently graduated from Exeter university where he was involved with the first XI in national league and BUCS action. Chris is going on to work for himself and his brand of onesie producers Young Ones! It was interesting to find out what he thought of his time at university (advice that might come in come in handy if you are about to start your UCAS applications or have just finished your A levels) and reflect on his playing career so far.
Being an elite athlete and student at the same time, how did you find managing your studies and sport?
Managing my sport with studying hasn’t been too difficult due to Exeter University being very good at planning sessions around my work commitments. But it did become a bit of a challenge balancing hockey, my degree and my clothing business YoungOnes. But luckily have managed to graduate with a 2.1 so pleased overall!
Loughborough are seen as the main powerhouse of university hockey along with other sports, but since Exeter have set their own benchmark, with two promotions to the premier league in the space of three seasons, what do you make of this perception?
Loughborough obviously have a great set up there but Exeter has definitely competed in the past couple of years, winning BUCS in 2012. Exeter have shown that we can compete from being in the premier league but we have found it difficult being consistent when losing some important players in the last season. There is still more to come from Exeter and I think next season they have a strong squad so only time will tell.
How did you find taking over as the starter for Exeter after Tom Millington left for Wimbledon?
It was a great opportunity playing in the Premier League at only 19 years of age and winning our first game of the season to Reading was even better! I learnt a lot very quickly but felt my short corner game was an area that let me down at that high a level so it’s something I’ve been working on and look forward to hopefully playing in the premier league again sometime soon.
Do sports unions advertise well enough to encourage hockey and what do you make of students being introduced into the sport who have otherwise not considered playing it?
The depth of Exeter hockey is amazing and I never knew there would be as many people that played hockey, it is a huge part of Exeter sport and we have a depth of 6 men’s teams. There are also well over 150 participants at Intramural teams which allows inexperienced players to get matches on a weekly basis. My housemates were in the 6th team at EUMHC and that just goes to show the great bond throughout the entire club, not just at the high performance level.
Have you recognised any level of greater intake after the London Olympics and GB’s success, especially for the women’s team after their bronze?
I think the success of the GB teams and having a home Olympics has gained much more awareness of hockey and a lot of friends who have never seen hockey before now have a new found respect for it. In terms of participation I’m sure at a younger level this will have a huge impact and I know that in the build-up England Hockey publicised it really well across the UK.
What do you make of the home crowds from the university and are Exeter well supported in that regards?
University crowds are great; they are very rowdy and really can be that 12th man to spur you on. All the boys and girls hockey players in Exeter would often come cheer on the 1st team and there is also a great charity match between the 5th and 6th team that draws a large crowd in. When playing BUCS knock out matches, crowds can play a large role in making the away team feel on edge but it’s all just good fun at the end of the day.
Were there any players you’ve heard or seen of, making an impact for some of Exeter’s other teams that have otherwise not played hockey before?
Exeter has a great depth of goalkeepers and when doing some coaching with the other GKs it’s amazing how good they are, I’ve seen the likes of Sam Little, Toby Walker and Adam Lax pull off some outrageous saves in matches!
What advice would you give to aspiring hockey players looking to continue their hockey development at university whilst furthering their education?
I would advise get a good balance. It’s great to represent your university at hockey but it’s also extremely important to realise the reason you are at University, to get the degree! I’m saying that from experience as I know I would often let my work suffer, so just try have an organised schedule won’t be an issue, that’s where I kept going wrong!
How did you go about choosing a university to match your hockey ambitions?
When I was in my last year at Millfield School I would travel to Exeter each week and train with them. The campus seemed lovely and all the team were great guys so made my decision pretty early on that Exeter was the place I wanted to go. The set-up there was brilliant; Nick Beasant and Chris McInroy were very welcoming to ambitious young players.
What did you make of being in your first season in the Premier league division, and was it fulfilling a dream to play at that level, in the season before last?
It seemed a bit surreal, as I had been 2nd choice to Millington the season before, so going straight into the Premier League was a big step and I got taught a thing or two against Beeston and East Grinstead. But the only way to get better is by playing against the best and that’s exactly what it did. It was very fulfilling and drives me forward to want to play at that level again now with a bit more experience under my belt.
What were your experiences of playing BUCS and do you think it’s a useful format for continuing under 21’s level of hockey, which are looking to make that step to elite level in the senior leagues, in England?
It’s a good system and nice to get a game mid-week, which also comes with the fun social side. The north league is much stronger than the south but knock outs are great and gives you the opportunity to play against familiar faces from home clubs and also guys I used to play regional hockey with. It does bridge the gap between elite level hockey and allows you to experiment some different tactics and skills before putting it in to place at the weekends.
Now that you are representing USA at senior level, what are your plans for the future?
I really don’t know what the future holds; I’m currently training in San Diego in preparation for the Pan American Games in August. I will also be taking part in the USA indoor team and hopefully will qualify for the next World Cup. I have just graduated from Exeter and am now going full time on my clothing business, YoungOnes, which I hope to grow over the next few years along with my business partner, Tom Carson, who is in the England Senior Squad.
What made you want to switch from previous junior level representations for England, to play for the country you were born in?
Last summer I was doing an Internship at Oakley HQ in California and decided to go to the pitch to get some practice in. The manager was at the pitch and asked if I had dual nationality. I then had a try-out with the coaches and they wanted me to join. I thought I may as well take the opportunity whilst I’m young. It was a great opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the world and to see some beautiful places in the world. Also when I was in the England set up I was always behind the likes of the talented James Bailey and Patrick Smith and never had the opportunity to be 1st choice.
How did you find the Junior PanAmerican games tournament and playing in a junior tournament of similar status to your England experiences?
It was a good experience being 1st choice at an international tournament but did take some adjustment getting used to playing with a new team. It was a shame to lose in the 3rd/4th playoff in extra time but was a fun tournament.
Do you think you could be a Casillas of hockey, with being an international starter at such a young age for goalkeeping?!
Ha, that would be the dream! I think that comparison is a bit farfetched but I would like to play a large role in the development of USA men’s team and hopefully climb up the world rankings over the next few years.