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Balancing Hockey, Homework, and Having a Life
Between juggling schoolwork, GCSEs, daily training sessions, injuries, practice, international travel, and competitions — not to mention trying to have a social life — Team England’s Harry Croft-Baker (U18 squad) and Luisa Northing (U16 squad) have their hands full.
Two of England’s brightest young stars, Croft-Baker and Northing have been lighting up the youth club and international circuit for the last several seasons, and now, they’re choosing STX.
As the two elite prospects continue their journey upward, we sat down to discuss their recent rise in the ranks, how they prepare for game day, and how they stay grounded off the pitch. Check it out!
Let's go back to the beginning — how did you get into hockey?
Harry: My dad used to play when he was at uni. He took me along to the local hockey club when I was 5 and I haven’t left the pitch since!
Luisa: I started playing at primary school at about 7 years old, and found that I really enjoyed the energy and dynamic of it. I quickly joined a local club and, before long, I began to progress. I guess I’m lucky that my mum found me a local club and got me hooked at an early age!
You've transitioned from club play into the national ranks. What’s that experience been like?
Harry: It’s been tough. Going from being one of the best players in the region to playing with the best players in the country is a big step, so the intensity is much higher. But that’s how it should be. If you keep working hard, you’ll eventually feel comfortable at the new level and be able to play with confidence and to the best of your ability.
Luisa: My journey has required some really hard work. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. I’ve had a lot of hours of coaching, extra fitness sessions, and plenty of setbacks along the way — injuries and missed selections. Having said that, of course I love it! I thrive on learning from the challenges and achieving goals as part of a strong team.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Harry: At the U14 level, we won the national club championships, and my school team finished in the top four in the country. Being selected to play in the Six Nations last year for England was another really proud moment for me.
Luisa: I’d have to say when I led my school team on tour to Rotterdam and when my club Marlow made it into the national finals. My first selection into Futures Cup and then the England U16 training squad was also really exciting. And then my England debut against Holland last year. That’s a feeling you never forget.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your journey so far?
Harry: It can be hard to keep enjoying your sport when you play it so much, so tackling that has been key for me. Last winter, I actually took a four-week break from playing, and it gave me a chance to rest and refocus on my goals. I realized if you're feeling overworked or overwhelmed, it's okay to take a step back.
Luisa: Physically, I dislocated my shoulder last year diving for a shot in training, and I suffered a stress fracture to my foot when I was younger. I’ve also had some mental challenges along the way. Since being in the NAGS programme, I've been more thoughtful in my development as a player, whether that means improving my skills or having more confidence on the pitch. The challenge for me has always been believing in my ability and proving that ability to myself and others.
Looking ahead, what's your next big hockey goal?
Harry: I would love to be a part of the Six Nations this year and take part in the Euros next year for England. I'm also hoping to win the west conference with Havant.
Luisa: I prefer to set short-term goals and not look too far ahead. For the moment, I want to continue to improve, enjoy my hockey, and achieve selection for the next stage of NAGS at U18. Beyond that is too far away to think about right now.
Who’s had the most significant impact on you as a mentor in your hockey journey?
Luisa: Neil Archer has been hugely influential in my journey. He's always believed in me and driven me to succeed in good times and bad. More recently, Simon Archer (Neil’s son) has been working with me on all sides of my game and the fantastic Gail Emms (Great Britain Olympic Badminton Silver Medalist and World Champion) has kindly taken the time to mentor me over the last year and instill the winning mindset needed to make it to the top. So many people at my club (Marlow) and my school (Licensed Victuallers’ School, Ascot) have played a massive part in my development as well. I really couldn’t ask for a more supportive team of people.
What is the most important trait of a successful athlete?
Harry: Drive. If you don’t want to succeed, you won’t. It’s as simple as that.
Luisa: I would say determination is #1. No matter what your goals, ambitions, or needs, it’s your determination that carries you through the good times and challenging times.
It must be difficult to balance so many parts of your life at such a young age — school, friends, hockey. How do you keep from feeling too overwhelmed?
Harry: This is actually a big struggle for me. I have to plan weeks ahead for time with friends. Especially being in the year of GCSEs, it’s difficult to balance everything, but my coaches are very understanding of my schedule and help me stay on top of things.
Luisa: I try to take things one step at a time, thinking about short-term goals and not worrying too much about the bigger picture. If I keep achieving the small stuff, the big stuff will come together as a result. With so many hockey commitments filling up my week, I try hard to keep time available for friends and homework. It’s important to have balance and enjoy some downtime.
What's your favorite meal or snack to eat before a big game?
Harry: A banana is always key for me about an hour before the game. Our team captain for Havant makes some great flapjacks too, so I’ll usually have one of those. I always have porridge in the morning and spaghetti bolognese the night before — something I’ve always done and won’t ever change!
Luisa: I don’t like to eat too much before a game, but I’ll usually have a cereal bar and banana. Plenty of water too because hydration is extremely important!
When you're not on the pitch or in class, what do you like to do?
Harry: I love to surf, usually in Cornwall. I also go on holiday to France pretty often.
Luisa: I really enjoy going out to eat with friends or having a day out in London. When I’m at home, I love listening to music or watching TV.
What would you say are the three most important qualities in a teammate/friend?
Harry: (1) Be trustworthy (2) Be loyal, and (3) Stay positive.
Luisa: (1) Be an attentive and willing listener who takes advice (2) Be a hard worker and play for the team, and (3) I’ll have to agree with Harry — always be positive, no matter what the challenge.