Dr Hannah MacLeod is a double Olympic medallist, with the record-breaking Great Britain Women’s hockey team, culminating in winning Gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
She has a doctorate in Exercise Physiology and has helped build a successful specialist nutrition consultancy business.
Hannah was born in Boston, Lincolnshire 9th June 1984 and grew up moving around the country due to her Dads career in the Royal Air Force. Hannah’s journey started when she was inspired by the performances of Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell at the 1992 Olympic Games. An accomplished athlete from an early age, however, as a shy, quiet and unassuming child, Hannah was drawn to team sports, in particular football. When Hannah was not allowed to join her primary school team because ‘girls weren’t allowed’ she turned to hockey. A relatively late starter, it wasn’t until Hannah went to secondary school that she was introduced to the sport during a PE lesson. With the support of her PE teacher she joined a hockey club and fell in love with the sport.
Hannah went on to represent Cambridgeshire and the East of England at U16 and U18 level but was also on the receiving end of some significant disappointments with failed trials and knock-backs along the way. Hannah went on to captain the England U21 side at a junior World Cup in Chile in 2005 before moving up to senior level 2 years later.
Alongside her sporting ambitions, Hannah was determined to pursue a career in sport and set her sights on heading to Loughborough University to study Sport and Exercise Science. She went on to gain a BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science from Loughborough University and completed a PhD in Environmental Exercise Physiology at Nottingham Trent University. Upon finishing her PhD in 2009, Hannah was awarded a full-time contract to join the Great Britain central training programme and spent eight successful years competing for Great Britain and England.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am an Executive and team coach working in business. My background is very much imbedded in the elite sporting world. I made my international hockey debut at the age of 18 and turned professional at the age of 24. Prior to my sporting career, I completed a Ph.D in Exercise Physiology which was largely driven by an inherent desire to understand performance in its totality. In 2009 I was offered a full-time contract with Great Britain hockey and my International Hockey career went on to span a period in history when Great Britain transformed into one of the most successful teams in British sporting history – culminating in Bronze at the 2012 Olympics, European Gold in 2015 and Olympic Gold in Rio 2016. Throughout my sporting career I discovered science didn’t have all the answers to achieving high performance. I am fascinated by the coaching process and the impact of culture on values, beliefs and behaviour within teams and organisations. The challenge of understanding the complexity of human behaviour and facilitating the change necessary to enhance performance has underpinned my sporting career and now shapes my work in the business environment. I took my Leadership and Executive coaching qualifications before I retired from sport in 2017 and joined Track Record in 2018.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I’ve always had a goal in mind and an idea of where I want to get to in the future. That said, this has changed significantly as I’ve understood myself better, explored my values and been inspired by different experiences. I always want to know where my next progression is. This can be personal or professional. As long as I am feeling challenged, learning and growing – I’m happy.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Absolutely. Some of these challenges were external and some were internal. Retirement from sport and the loss of identity associated with that was certainly a challenge. I was fortunate to work with a great coach during the latter part of my career who really helped me understand my values and what I would need from my future career to fill the void left by retirement. It was tough not only walking away from elite sport but also my previous area of expertise – food science. To walk away from an industry that I knew well, was respected and highly qualified in and take a completely different path to train as an executive coach was a risk. I spent a period of time doing both jobs part-time but it was really clear to me that I got so much satisfaction from coaching and it had to become by only focus.
In sport we talked a lot about controlling the controllables and it is this mindset I adopt when I come up against challenges. I take time to explore what’s in my control and what I can influence, where I need to gather more information, or who I need to speak to. It sounds simple and it is! You will always be confident in your decision-making if you have a sense of control over your situation.
It is regularly talked about that women are put off by sports and exercise, how can we change this?
I think there has been progress in this area. Lycra and trainers have become common place in London! There are more female role models as a result of the growth of social media. But there is always more to do. We need to be far more conscious of the language we use when talking about women playing sport or exercising. For example, women’s football is called just that. But men’s football is just called football – there is an assumption it’s men playing it. I do sometimes feel like it’s a taboo to sweat in the gym if you’re female. I like an interval session on the treadmill and I’m usually a bit of a sweaty mess at the end of it. It’s my perception but it always draws more looks than I think a man would get if he’s actually worked hard in the gym.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I really value the mentoring process and I’m very fortunate to have a couple of excellent mentors. It’s taken a bit of time to connect with the right people but it’s really important to find people who will challenge and support you in a way that supports change. They have been essential to bounce ideas off, and gain a different perspective. It’s also an opportunity to press pause on life and step into an open space to reflect on the present and what’s in my control.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Winning an Olympic Gold medal is probably up there! Completing my PhD and being awarded an MBE were both pretty incredible.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I generally like to feel uncomfortable and challenged. Last year I took part in a leg of the Clipper Round the World Ocean Yacht Race. I had never sailed before but wanted to learn a new skill and explore my understanding of working in high performing teams in a different environment – with complete strangers. In the short-term, I’ve signed-up to a course in improv-comedy and the London Marathon. Two very different but equally challenging and exposing experiences!