Being an international hockey player and a business owner is busy work for Brooke Roberts, but it’s taught her the values of self-belief and looking after yourself. And they’re values that the Black Sticks have brought into a partnership with Women’s Refuge this weekend.
When Brooke Roberts was put in her school’s third XI hockey team in Year 9, she still knew she’d be a Black Stick one day.
The goalkeeper spent two years in the third XI before making the second XI and finally the first XI at Whangārei Girls’ High School, and says that setback didn’t deter her from her ultimate goal.
“I still loved the game and embraced everything about hockey, all the people I got to meet,” Roberts says.
“It’s just so funny, sitting where I am now and looking down and thinking I was in the third XI once and that just means absolutely nothing to me.”
It took 27-year-old Roberts six years to get six Black Sticks caps, but she says the challenges she’s faced have made her the player she is today.
“It just gave me so much resilience and gratitude that I can play hockey and I can move my body,” she says, now amassing 15 Black Sticks caps.
“No matter what team you’re in, no matter who you’re being coached by, no matter what environment you’re in, you can always learn something. It’s not all about making the best team, it’s all about what you take away from that experience.”
The Black Sticks women take on Spain in two games in Tauranga this weekend, a series in partnership with Women’s Refuge.
For all tickets sold, 100 percent of revenue goes towards the Gift a Safe Night initiative, with people able to buy a “non-attending” ticket to make a donation.
Roberts says it’s an honour for the team to work in partnership with Women’s Refuge.
“Our team’s values and Women’s Refuge’s values are so aligned and how we bring femininity into our game and into everything we do, day to day,” she explains.
“It’s just so important for women to stand up, for women to put a hand up and help one another.
“Domestic violence has no boundaries and it’s also not just physical abuse, it can be financial abuse, it can be mental abuse, so many women can feel trapped. It’s putting it out there and telling people to look for the red flags within your peers and just try and get the word out there about Women’s Refuge.”
Roberts speaks passionately about the partnership, and how the Black Sticks can help raise both money and awareness for the initiative.
“If I look around my team, there are so many different women from different backgrounds, different places, different towns,” she says.
“Every single one of us has a different outreach, through our social medias and through our peers so I think the outreach is going to be awesome, it’s just an absolute pleasure to help them.”
The Black Sticks have been through a lot of changes in the past year, with veterans retiring and a new coach.
New Zealand finished fifth at the Hockey World Cup in July, followed by a narrow loss on penalties in the bronze medal match at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Roberts didn’t expect to get much game time at the World Cup, with Grace O’Hanlon in goal, but was called to step up after an injury to O’Hanlon in their opening game.
“When I was told ‘You’re playing’, I felt the blood drain from my face, I was just so nervous,” Roberts remembered.
She’d always struggled with nerves and anxiety when playing, to the point where she wasn’t sure if she could continue playing at the highest level.
So Roberts called her parents.
“They just reminded me, you didn’t go through missing so many selections and all that heartbreak over the last six years to not have fun against England tomorrow,” remembers Roberts.
“They said if you can literally push yourself through six years of waiting for this moment – cause it was so hard waiting and so hard pushing through and so hard to not give up – a 60 minute game against England is nothing. And they were just so right.”
The Black Sticks beat England 3-1 with Roberts in goal, as New Zealand finished top of their pool.
“Mum said to me, if there’s anything you can go out there and do on the field today, you’re there to smile…you don’t deserve anything else but to go out there and have the time of your life, because there were some pretty dark days there while I was waiting for my chance,” Roberts says.
“So that’s what I did, and that’s how I look at my hockey now, is you don’t train that hard to not have fun. That’s how I diffuse my nerves and anxiety and pressure, I just go out there and do my thing and it all just seems to end up being enjoyable to me.”
Roberts hopes her journey and story can inspire the next generation of athletes.
“I had to go through a lot to get myself to this point of feeling so free and happy and confident in my hockey. I wish those younger athletes can feel that straight away but there’s definitely an amount of adversity you have to go through,” she says.
“You’ve gotta go through a little bit of tough stuff to realise it’s not all that scary and you’ve got to really back yourself because there’s so many talented athletes in our country.”
Roberts was balancing working as a nanny with hockey, but the ambitious athlete wanted a challenge, and when the Covid lockdowns hit, she took the opportunity to start a business.
One of her best friends and fellow hockey player Summer Goodman lost her job as a travel agent so volunteered at a flower shop, and noticed there was a gap in the market for the delivery of gifts and fragile items.
She came to Roberts with a business idea, who was immediately on board. They started as a flower delivery company, but expanded to include cakes, weddings, chilled goods etc, as well as working with marketing companies.
“We call ourselves a boujee courier,” Roberts laughs. “We’re the courier of all things nice and all things that need to be treated with love and care because they are quite sentimental, or the items of a brainchild of someone’s hard work.
“We’ve called the company Bespoke To You, bringing bespoke items to you, so it’s really fitting. It’s a company developed to help other New Zealand companies thrive – initially to operate under Covid Level 3 and 4 restrictions is how it started and it just keeps on going and going and we meet amazing people along the way.”
Owning a business and balancing work with hockey was an overwhelming experience in the first year, but Roberts is grateful for the challenges.
“Definitely through business, I’ve got a much larger knowledge of pushing women up,” she says.
“I love working with women, it feels natural, it feels safe and we’re kind of all in the same mindset where you’ve gotta work real hard and you’ve got each other’s backs.
“That meant I could come into the team and just absolutely push the girls up. In a funny way, it just gives you a set of skills on how to be one another’s biggest cheerleader.”
The Black Sticks have their Olympic qualifiers in August, playing Australia in the Oceania Cup in Whangārei.
“We’re really wanting to get people behind to support us because the more supporters, the more empowered we feel to get out there and put all of our practice and leave it all out there,” Roberts says.
“Looking at the World Cup last year where we came fifth, we’re so proud of ourselves for doing that as such a young team, we’ve got so much to learn, so much building left to do, it’s only just the beginning.
“To finish fifth and to only just narrowly lose to Germany in our quarterfinal, 1-0, I just think the potential of our team and our future is huge. It’s definitely a team that people need to jump on earlier rather than later and support.”
*The Black Sticks take on Spain in two matches this weekend, with both games live on Sky Sport Select at 3pm. To buy tickets, or make a donation to Women’s Refuge to gift a safe night, visit blacksticksnz.co.nz/tickets.