Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“There needs to be more support for athletes”: Hannah Haughn on the loss of an Olympic dream

Posted on 21 February 2020 by Becky Thompson
Hannah Haughn. Photo: Yan Huckendubler
Hannah Haughn. Photo: Yan Huckendubler

For the last 10 years, Hannah Haughn’s life has been dedicated to being an elite athlete and building towards achieving her dream; The Olympic Games. 

In October 2019, the Canadian women’s field hockey team was on the doorstep of qualifying for Tokyo 2020. 

A penalty shootout with Ireland later, the lights on that dream were suddenly turned off.  

For Haughn, that loss has been excruciating. 

And with so much uncertainty for the team in the next four years, it’s hard to know if that opportunity will present itself again. 

“When you have a massive goal and you uproot your entire life in pursuit of the goal, to not achieve it can make it really difficult to continue thriving and living essentially in the same environment,” said Haughn. 

The Canadian team made the decision two years ago to move their training base to Europe, centralizing themselves in Belgium. 

The move was necessary to give the players access to consistent high level competition, and also to club teams who could offer some support – through helping with accommodation or providing them with coaching jobs. 

Haughn celebrates a goal for Canada. Photo: Yan Huckendubler
Haughn celebrates a goal for Canada. Photo: Yan Huckendubler

Although the move has helped the team to be more competitive, it has come with financial and emotional burdens. 

Working towards the Olympic dream was something that kept Haughn looking forward and putting her mental health to a back burner in pursuit of her goals. 

“To come over here, and to train six days a week, and to not really have anything else outside of sport, when you don’t achieve that goal, it is a big grieving process because you are grieving the loss of something that you cared about so deeply.

“Our entire lives revolved around things we ate, we slept, we dreamt, everything revolved around sport and being away from our home environment too, made it that much harder.”

Read more: “The two most important games in our hockey career.” Canada overcoming adversity on the doorstep of Olympic qualification

Since their heartbreaking loss to Ireland, it has been difficult for Haughn to return to training as she processes the grief she has experienced from losing that dream. 

In addition to this grief, the team has struggled financially as their national federation had to make some difficult decisions leading up to Olympic qualification, as outlined in an article published by the Globe and Mail. 

Currently, the team does not have a dedicated training facility or even a coach, and the uncertainty about the team’s future makes it difficult for Haughn. 

“I have to be honest and that the way that our organization is run at Field Hockey Canada has, in the last couple years has severely affected my own mental health to the point where I haven’t been able to function properly at times. 

Hannah Haughn. Photo: Emma Van Mol
Hannah Haughn. Photo: Emma Van Mol

Moving forward, Haughn feels that significant change needs to occur. 

“I think there just needs to be a better organization and plan put in place over the next four years because to be honest, if things don’t change with the organization myself and others are thinking of retiring.

“It’s getting to the point where my own mental health is becoming so affected with lack of organization and the uncertainty around the future of our program that I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to continue.”

At only 25-years-old, this would be a very early retirement for Haughn who says she doesn’t want this to be the case as she has yet to achieve the dreams she set out to 10 years ago. 

“When things like this happen, there needs to be more support for athletes, because we do live and breathe the sport, and yet we are amateur athletes.”

For now, Haughn is working on finding the joy in playing her sport again and exercising for fun instead of for an end goal. 

Haughn will also continue to advocate for herself and other athletes who are struggling with their mental health issues.

“I think a lot of people have a misconception that athletes, they just have the the pressures of playing.

“No matter whether you’re having a bad day or not, you do have to be able to perform, and no one is going to give you a gold star.

“People that do have mental health issues, they do deal with an added stressor on their lives, and then with being an athlete like it’s more than just showing up and playing every day, It’s all the other stuff that people don’t see.”