Park hoping to blaze a trail for state school kids at Olympics

Park is one of seven debutants in a 16-strong men’s squad bound for Paris 2024

By Tom Harle

Nick Park wants more state school kids like him to be given the chance to dream of playing at the Olympics.

Park is one of seven debutants in a 16-strong men’s squad bound for Paris 2024.

Unlike the majority of his peers, the 25-year-old barely knew what field hockey was when growing up in Caversham Park, bred on a traditional diet of football, rugby and cricket.

Hockey wasn’t a sport offered at Highdown School, who didn’t have an astroturf pitch when Park was a pupil, so it was only by chance that he picked up a stick after his sister attended a hockey trial.

“I was just a kid who loved all sports,” said Park. “I had absolutely no idea about hockey, it wasn’t massive in my friendship groups. It was a total coincidence that I started playing it and I went through the age groups without being amazing.

“The sport is dominated by private schools at the moment, it can be a bit of a challenge for the state schools with the lack of pitches.

“I’m hoping more people will follow in my footsteps. I was lucky enough to give something a go and get some opportunities, I’m hoping other people will give it a try from similar backgrounds as myself.”

Park earned a place on the full-time GB programme after the Tokyo Olympics and has spent the last three years acclimatising to the much higher pace of play at international level.

“My first Pro League game, I was like, ‘wow, this is the real deal’” said Park. “You’ve got to think on your feet much faster and generally be much more tired.

“I’ve managed to progress quite well over the last three years and making the Olympic team is hopefully testament to that.”

Head coach Paul Revington has overseen a transformation in the team, instilling an attacking philosophy and leading England to the final of the EuroHockey Championships.

Park believes the intense style plays to his strengths, particularly physically.

“I am someone who likes to run, I’ve always been physically demanding on myself and hopefully that brings people with me,” said Park. “I like to get stuck in and my defending is probably one of the things that has come on most in the last couple of years.”

Aldi’s Nearest & Dearest programme helps maximise support and minimise potential distractions for athletes so that they can focus on their performance and make the most of the unique opportunity to compete on one of the world’s largest stages.

Park’s family will be out in force in the French capital, giving the midfielder a chance to repay all of their sacrifices over the years.

“It never goes unrecognised from anyone the support we get from our friends and family,” said Park. “For them to be out there with me is really special. It’s important you share that moment with them because it’s definitely not just you - it’s a whole community around you.”

Aldi are proud Official Partners of Team GB & ParalympicsGB, supporting all athletes through to Paris 2024