The First Lady Of Hockey

Meet Ashpal Kaur Bhogal, the first Sikh British player to be selected for the England team.

Posted: 20.10.14

How do you feel to be the first Sikh female player to be selected for the England woman’s hockey team?
Looking back on my achievement now, I understand how much of a big achievement it actually is becoming the first Sikh/British Asian female to play for the England’s woman team. Currently I am still the only Asian female that has represented England which proves how tough it is to make it to the top. It’s a great achievement not only on a personal level, but also on a global level for Asian females in sport. I hoped that my achievement will inspire other Asian females to participate in sport and pursue it if that is their dream.

Tell us how your journey began and was hockey something you always wanted to do?
Hockey was not my first sport but it is in my blood. My grandparents are Olympians, my father himself an international and now a master international however I chose tennis as my first sport. I was great on court but it was when my father took me to the Netherlands to watch the champion’s trophy where I was inspired to play hockey and that’s where I changed my game. I began playing hockey, mainly for one particular reason, it was a team game! Watching the Dutch celebrate their success in the final gave me a buzz, it looked incredible to be able to share your success with 17 other teammates rather than on your own in tennis.

As an Asian did you face any difficulties or struggles?
There are difficulties in all journeys of athletes, nothing is ever easy but you just have to take them in your stride and overcome them one at a time. Yes, sometimes being Asian did play a part in making things difficult however I never let that effect me, I always go by the motto ‘let your game do the talking.

Would you say you have supportive family and friends?
I have the most supportive family any child could ask for. I come from a very sporty family however they are very strict on education too. I was very fortunate that my parents gave me the opportunity to try whatever I felt like having a go at, whether that be educational, musical or sport. The person whose support was most influential to my success and my journey so far is my father. All credit goes to him, without his hard efforts and consistent persistence and encouragement I would never have made it to international level. As many people will tell you a father and daughter coaching environment can be hectic, but my dad is my best friend, we have a great understanding – as an athlete I had to find the fine line of difference between my dad being my dad but then when he was coaching me he was my coach. My father being my coach is what has got me to where I am, he gave me the best start into the game, from coaching through to nutrition advice. My father made sure that I had everything to make my dreams come true. My journey has not finished, I am 20 years of age and my father is still my number one coach, he knows my games strengths and weaknesses inside out and until I reach the ultimate goal of Olympic Games, I’m proud to say I know my father will support me however long it may be for.

You’re still young so it must be difficult to manage your studies along with the passion you had for hockey all at the same time?
I have just turned 20! I feel so old, I feel like I’ve being playing hockey for ages! I am very fortunate that my school and parents supported me and helped me find the balance between training, training and studying. I’ve never really had a full on social life as I never had time to fit it in but I am lucky to have a great circle of friends that are very understanding.

You have recently just come back from a knee injury, how did this happen and has it effected you in any way?
I tore my anterior cruciate ligament playing for England in 2012. All credit to my surgeon Dr Venkatesh – surgeon at Leeds hospital that my surgery was very successful which aided me to an extremely good recovery. I was back to 100% strength at around seven months, it usually takes 9-12months however with the support of my dad and physio Dan Garbutt, I returned back to the game stronger and fitter than ever before. I give all credit the credit people, who were the support team to recovery. : my guru ji Satguru Uday Singh Ji, my father, surgeon Dr Venkatesh, physio Dan Garbutt and one of my good friends.

What was it like being selected as a torchbearer at the Olympics 2012?
Being selected to be an Olympic torchbearer is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I was fortunate enough to be nominated by the public. Being a torchbearer made me feel a step closer to my dream, of course it’s the OLYMPIC torch! It was an incredible experience and I am very honored to have been chosen to carry it.

Do we hear wedding bells Miss Bhogal? Or should I say Mrs Sardar Singh. Rumour has it you are engaged to Indian star mid fielder and national caption Sardar Singh. Is this true?
Mrs Sardar Singh!!! (this makes me laugh) because actually in the hockey world many people have began to call me Sardarni! Yes! Just recently got engaged, my fiancé Sardar Singh proposed to me during the summer in Holland when I went out to watch him compete for India at the 2014 Hockey World Cup in The Hague. But no wedding bells just yet though. Both Sardar and me are very busy training. My club league has just begun so I am training with them during the week and competing at the weekends and Sardar is over in India in his national camp all the time. He’s actually in Incheon (South Korea) at the moment competing in the 17th Asian Games!. Both being hockey players and having the same dreams I’m sure you can imagine wedding plans are not really been number one priority, we quite enjoy being engaged even though sometimes I feel like were already married.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Hopefully, if all goes to plan be involved my priority is to be involved with the England Senior Programme. The Olympics are my main goal however, whether it takes me 5,10 or another 15 years.

What message would you give to girls wanting to get into sports?
I would say research your field of sport and go get involved with a local club or organisation. It is important to not be shy and to be confident. Also not to be afraid of challenges and trying something new.

Interview by Harneet Bhullar

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