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On the ball: Tom Mitchell (BA 2011)

Tom Mitchell (BA 2011)

Tom Mitchell (BA 2011) playing rugby

Yasayuki Sakuma

Tom Mitchell (BA 2011) playing rugby

Yasayuki Sakuma

3 May 2016

Rio 2016 will mark the Olympic debut for rugby sevens. England captain Tom Mitchell (BA 2011) talks about life at the top of the game, and how he’s hoping to be selected for Team GB.

I started playing rugby when I was eight years old, when my dad took me along to our local rugby club, East Grinstead RFC. I was into a lot of sports when I was younger: I wanted to be a football player until I was about 14, when I decided to concentrate on rugby instead. Playing rugby for England was the dream: I started to show prowess at secondary school but didn’t play at a high level until I was at University.

The first time I wore the red rose of England was for England Students in 2010 against Portugal. I was incredibly proud and excited. I remember thinking: 'If I never play at a higher level than this, I’ll be happy'. Of course, when I finally made my full debut for England in 2012, it was the next level again! Every time I put on the shirt, I smile to myself and realise how amazing it is to have the responsibility of representing my country.

There were times when managing my University studies alongside rugby was difficult and, to be honest, my studies were usually what suffered. I always found that the earlier I could start a piece of work the better. My tutors and the departments were mostly very accommodating in allowing me to pursue my endeavours with rugby: I will always appreciate that.

Being in the Performance Squad allowed me to learn from other athletes who were, for the most part, competing at a much higher level than I was at the time. It also gave me valuable exposure to strength and conditioning direction that was an essential aspect of stepping up from amateur to professional.

I learned a lot at Bristol and took a lot from the rugby club – most notably some great friendships. The best lesson I learned was during a Performance Squad meeting when we had to write down our individual life goal. We then had to write why we wouldn’t achieve it. The exercise allowed me to embrace the challenges I might face and meet them. It was a big step forward in terms of self-belief.

Being given the responsibility of England captain is one of the proudest moments of my career so far. Every time I lead the team, I feel immensely privileged. It is also one of the biggest challenges I face: there is always a lot to take on board and a lot of responsibility. It is a constant learning experience.

The other big challenges I’ve faced are probably my injuries, the most severe of which was an ankle break last summer. The challenge with injury is not only getting back to full fitness but also getting back to form on the pitch, often in spite of continuing trouble from the rehabilitated area.

My main source of motivation is recognising how fortunate I am to be doing the job that I do. I am in an advantageous position in which I can inspire other people and play a role in what is a passion for lots of people. I also appreciate the physical abilities I have and this drives me to maximise my body while I can.

The profile of rugby sevens has grown hugely in the last four years. The most recognisable shift since 2012 has been the overall standard of teams in the HSBC World Series. The increase in financial investment and interest in many countries has seen the likes of the USA propel themselves into the top tier of competition.

If I am fortunate enough to represent Great Britain in Rio 2016, it will be a childhood dream come true. As a kid, I was crazy about sport. I watched the Olympics and saw it as the pinnacle of world competition. As my desire to play rugby grew, the Olympics were never on the roadmap to my professional career. However, once it was announced that rugby would feature in the Games, the opportunity to realise another dream of mine became a huge goal.

At the moment, my focus is to play as well as I can for England. I am looking to hone a few specific areas of my game to try to play the best rugby I have ever played by the time the summer comes around. I am looking forward to the challenges that will arise over the next few months, many of which will be unknown: there is no blueprint for sevens in the Olympics, which makes it especially exciting.

My advice for others looking to play sport professionally would be to always pursue what you love to do. If you have a passion for something, then enjoy the hard work and dedication that is required to succeed. The other thing to acknowledge as early as possible is that any road to success, particularly in sport, is punctuated by challenges, and that these challenges are often your key opportunities to learn and move forward. Lastly, whether you play sport at an amateur or a professional level, always remember why you love it.

Further information

You can read more about Tom’s rugby sevens career on the England Rugby website, and follow him on Twitter @TBobbyMitchell.