Choosing between two sports at an early age isn’t an easy task, but Queens Park Rangers Ladies defender HAYLEY PEACOCK had to do just that. A budding athlete and a talented footballer, she was forced to focus on one activity and she has no regrets at pursuing a career in the latter of the two. The 29-year old now balances playing in the Women’s Premier League with studying for a PhD.
First of all, what enticed you into playing football?
My Dad’s side of the family are really into football. He played, my grandad played, my cousins played…but I was the only girl that did! When I was 12 my Dad asked me to pick between athletics and football as I did a lot of cross country and sprinting at school. I picked football and I don’t regret it at all.
How difficult was that decision at the time for you?
It was quite difficult, but I though well you run in football anyway so best of both worlds! Always been a bit of a pragmatist, me.
After deciding football was the sport for you, how did your first real opportunity to get into the game come about?
I think it happened in two phases. Crystal Palace was my first club and I played with them from under-13’s right up to the senior team once I turned 16, but I started to fall behind with my work at school. Having that regular game time and training was so important but I needed to take a break.
I took some time out to concentrate on my A-Levels. I’d say the last four years have probably been the biggest for me. I started training three times a week, I hit the weights, did loads of sprint work, had an off-season and in-season plan, and worked on my technical weaknesses. I had great coaches and friends who encouraged me all the way which makes a massive difference and I returned to the game.
You currently play for QPR Ladies who are in the Women’s Premier League – one division below the Women’s Super League 2 – how are you enjoying your time there?
I am loving it. The club has is made up of an amazing bunch of girls and great coaching staff. You feel incredibly well looked after there. The standard is high and the pace of the game is quick – which took a while to adapt to – but I’m finally settling into it now.
As a full-back, you are lucky to have former professional footballer Tony Smith as the assistant manager. He played in that position for QPR, how influential has he been in developing your game?
Massively. He’s a great communicator and always has time to help anyone in the team if they are willing to improve. He’s always said that. He’s helped me a lot tactically in the full back position – when to press and when to hold, when to support the midfield and when to tuck in.
I’ve also had a fair few games at centre back this season and he’s done the same thing. He calls me up after every game to go through things I need to do better and what I did well.
After a tough start to the 2015/16 season, the ladies seem to have turned a corner – what is the feeling like in the dressing room at the moment?
After our win versus Lowestoft in the FAWPL Plate a couple of weeks ago the dressing room was buzzing. It took a huge pressure off our shoulders. The recent draw versus Portsmouth in the league has done everyone a world of good too.
We had a similar start to the season last year and it was around the same time that we started fighting back. The girls have been in really high spirits at training of late and we are all looking forward to the next game already.
What are your ambitions for the season now, both personally and as a club?
As a club we want to stay in the Women’s Premier League. We are confident we can achieve that. Personally, I just want to keep learning and become more consistent as a player, in any position I’m in.
At the age of 29, you are seen as an experienced player within the ranks. How important is your role in nurturing the younger players and ensuring they are learning?
To be honest, most of the girls see me as a bit of a big kid – that’s just my personality! But when I turn on the serious mode, they all know. My mental toughness is pretty solid. Usually I can spot when someone in the team’s confidence is low – from a mistake, a criticism, a missed opportunity. I don’t let those things bother me at all, so when I see one of my team mates looking deflated and low I’ll always make sure they see the bigger picture and get them up and out again.
The psychological side of the game gets tougher the further up you go and I think the more experienced players have a responsibility to make sure the younger players don’t get too disillusioned.
Away from football, you’re currently studying at university aren’t you? Tell us all about that.
I’m in the final stretch of my PhD in Cultural Geography at Queen Mary, University of London. I’ve also got a masters in Anthropology and a bachelors in Communications and Scriptwriting.
What are your plans for the future then?
I want to concentrate on football, since realistically I wont have another 15 years left in me, but I’m hoping to play until I’m at least 35. Aside from that, I really want to be an author – fiction and non-fiction – and carry on teaching part-time which I really enjoy.
You can follow Hayley on Twitter @hayleypea