Stories

All-rounder Jane's sporting journey

Date posted: 17/11/16

Jane Powell

 

As a talented teenager, Jane Powell dreamt of representing her country at hockey and cricket. That dream was to come true in impressive fashion, but it was while training to be a PE teacher that her sport took on a totally new perspective.

Investigating her twin sister Jill’s new Christian faith led to Jane also putting her trust in Jesus as she realised the truth of the gospel. Instead of defining herself by her sporting performances on the field, worrying whether she would live up to her own and other people’s standards, Jane discovered that her identity was now found in Jesus.

She said: “Suddenly it took all that pressure of the sport off and then I could just express my sport because I knew it gave God pleasure.”

Having played badminton for England as a junior, Jane went on to represent her country at hockey and the cricket. Although she missed out on the chance to be an Olympian as Great Britain’s hockey teams boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow, she went on to head up her country’s coaching at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

 

 Jane Powell is interviewed in the latest Christians in Sport Podcast

In between, Jane’s cricket career included a Test match century and captaining England in the 1988 World Cup final before eventually coaching the national team. Since 2013, she has been performance director for England Lacrosse.

Choosing sports

With this background, it is no surprise that Jane is an all-round sports fan. But she said her career was more about going with the flow than choosing one sport over another.

As an example, she said: “Because we went on a winter tour with cricket, then hockey thought I had made the decision that I wouldn’t play hockey any more. But I actually played better hockey after I had gone on the tour than I had when I had been selected earlier.”

Jane added: “It was a question of just muddling my way through really! I just loved sport so whatever sport came along, I was going to play it. As a youngster, it meant that I could get out of school lessons, so that was the best thing for me.”

Yorkshire roots

The white rose county of Yorkshire played a big part in Sheffield-born Jane’s sporting development.

She said: “That was where I grew up and started doing all my sports. I just loved playing for Yorkshire. When Yorkshire were strong at cricket, England were strong. That was the phrase when I was growing up.

“I’m also a great believer that I am so competitive because I am a twin because when you’re the first born you are always going to get fed first! You are competitive right from the start.”

Jane Powell

 

Jane added: “I always dreamed that I would be representing my country. I always dreamed that I would be walking out to bat or scoring the winning goal. It was always a dream that I was on that stage and performing at the highest level.

Becoming a Christian

It was when she left Yorkshire for the south coast that Jane’s journey of faith really began.

She said: “I had been to church as a kid. Mum and dad encouraged us to go to Sunday School. I got banned from Sunday School sports because I won every event. Because I had done so well, I went to an athletics club, which met on a Sunday, so that was it for Sunday School!

Although she believed in God, Jane didn’t really think much about Him. That changed when she went to Chelsea College in Eastbourne to train as a PE teacher. Here a group of Christians prayed for her because she was the hockey and cricket captain.

“My twin sister became a Christian before me. She said she had found a new friend and this friend was Jesus. I thought I would explore this to check it was alright for her. Because I’m one hour older, I needed to look out for her!”

A fellow England cricket international, Jill was studying at PE college in Dartford.

Jane said: “I was not worried for her, but I just wanted to check it wasn’t a cult because there were a lot of cults going on at that time. I was on teaching practice and I can remember asking my landlady for a Bible. She must have thought I was having a really tough time with all the youngsters.

Jane Powell

 

“I realised that not only was Jesus relevant to my sister, He was relevant to me. Those friends at college supported me through that. If it wasn’t for them helping me to see what the truth was, who knows what might have happened?

“It made a massive difference because up until that stage I feel as though my status was how good I was at sport. Was I recognised as a hockey captain? Was I recognised as a cricket captain? Was I recognised as an international player? It was just that continual striving. It was great to know that once I met Jesus, I became a child of God. That status is not dependent on whether I’m successful. Whether I win or whether I lose, I’m a child of God every single day of what I’m doing.

“Suddenly it took all that pressure of the sport off and then I could just express my sport because I knew it gave God pleasure. There’s that great quote in Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell says ‘When I run, I feel God’s pleasure’. That’s basically where I came from. When I hit a ball, when I threw a ball, then I knew that I was exploring the talent God had given me to the full and really enjoying it.”

Hockey highs and lows

Having started her teaching career, Jane made her full England debut at hockey. But while former classmate Sebastian Coe shone on the athletics track at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Jane missed out on playing for Great Britain after the hockey governing body boycotted the Games following the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. While that was tough, a real highlight came much later at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics where she was head of coaching for Team GB hockey.

Jane said: “Zimbabwe won the gold medal in 1980, but we went over there to play them the following year and beat them 3-0 and I scored all three goals. At the end of the day, they still had the gold medal. I didn’t look back with regret, but thought that was my chance of the Olympics gone because then I moved into cricket.

“Thirty years later, I’m now working for England Hockey and ended up being head of coaching at the Beijing Olympics and not only that, a home Olympics in London. It was just a thing of God. He often gives you back more than He has taken away. London was immense. I was at the Olympic Park at 6am each day and not leaving until 10 or 10.30 every night, but you just were on a roll – and we played well.”

Jane Powell

 

Fans watching hockey at London 2012

Jane added: “When I joined England hockey, the men were ranked 13th in the world and the women 11th. When I left we had got an Olympic bronze for the women and had finished fourth with the men. That rise in seven or eight years was phenomenal in international sport. You never go up nine places so quickly.”

Putting faith into action

Throughout her sporting career, Jane has sought to play and coach in a way that praises God, but what has this looked like in practice?

She said: “Integrity has been really important to me as a Christian because I’m always aware that I might be the only Christian some people meet. If I am the role model that they see as Christian and I’m carrying Christ’s name, am I worthy of that title?

“Would I have enough evidence to convict me if the players were to speak about me at the pub or in the changing rooms after the game?”

Jane Powell

 

Jane shared one key example from her hockey playing days.

She said: “I can remember one of the coaches asking me when I was doing a hit from the left-hand side of the field to the right to look like I was going to hit it with a reverse stick shot, but at the last moment use the back side of the stick. ‘Nobody will be able to spot it’, the coach said. ‘It will be so quick’.

“I said you can’t do that, that’s not right, that’s breaking the rules. I can remember them saying to me if you come to the next training session and you can’t do it, you’re out of the squad. I can remember going home and practicing and practicing and practicing doing it legally, so that when I went back the following time, I did hit it and I did hit it well and I stayed in the squad.

“It would have been so easy to cave and say I just want to stay in the squad, but actually representing Christ was the most important thing to me.”

Test match century

Having switched from hockey, Jane took a while to establish herself as an England cricketer.

She said: “I was 12th man for England 21 times before I played, so I could have given up 21 times. That’s what I tell youngsters when I’m working with them. You may not get it the first time, but if you really want it enough, keep going.”

And although she made her Test debut in 1984, it was not until two years later that she really made her mark.

Jane Powell

 

Jane said: “I had been 12th man for the first Test against India in 1986, then Janette Brittin, who was a very, very good player, broke her thumb. She was a No 3 batsman, so I was brought in for the second Test. I said: ‘Yes, I’ve got my chance, I’m in there.

“I went out in the first innings quite early on and ended up with 115 not out! I can still remember the shot off the back foot through the covers for four for the century. I can remember lifting my bat and saying ‘I bet you can’t drop me now’.  I was just waving it towards the selectors, going ‘Now what are you going to do?’ It was just great. I had an opportunity and I took it.”

World Cup final captain

That century was a big moment for Jane, but she has no hesitation when it comes to naming her cricketing highlight.

“It has to be captaining your country in the World Cup final at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) in Australia,” she said.  “It doesn’t get much better than that – other than if we could have won it. I was just so proud to walk out there. It was a massive ground with a lot of history. I felt like there were about 300 steps down to the pitch. 

“Walking out there and knowing that this was the World Cup final, it just brings up the hairs on the back of your neck. It was just one of those moments where you think ‘Wow, I’m so blessed to be out here’. This was a dream that was realised.” 

Jane Powell

The five captains of the teams playing in the Shell Bicentennial Women's World Cup 1988/89. (From left): Anita Beecheno-van Lier (Netherlands), Mary-Pat Moore (Ireland), Lynette Ann Larsen (Australia) holding the winner's trophy, Jane Powell (England) holding the runner's-up Trophy, Lesley Murdoch, nee Shankland (New Zealand).

Pioneering at Lord’s

Jane and her England teammates proved history makers when they played Australia in a One Day International at Lord’s (below) in 1987 – a time before women were allowed to be MCC members. Players would normally come down from the changing rooms, pass through the Long Room, and then head out on to the pitch.

Jane Powell

 

At this point, women weren’t allowed in the Long Room, which posed an obvious problem. The players were originally going to have to use a rear stone staircase instead, which they would have to take somewhat gingerly with their spikes on.

Jane said: “They were timing us to see if we could do that in the time allocated because as all cricket fans know you can be timed out. If you don’t get out on to the field of play within three minutes, that’s it you’re out. We were trying to do this the day before the match and none of us could really do it. It was very close to the three minutes and too dodgy to even be considered, so they did relent and let us through the Long Room.

Jane Powell

 

“I can remember walking through the Long Room and some of the old gentlemen in there, who it must have been a real shock to, going ‘Tut, tut, tut – never in my day did I think I would see a woman in the Long Room’. You think ‘I’m going out to bat for my country, for your country…’.”

Coaching in Iran

After 25 years of teaching, Jane decided to go into full-time coaching. Having coached cricket in India in 2005, she then had the opportunity to do the same in Iran the following year.

She said: “Those were the days when you didn’t know what nuclear weapons or anything else was going in in Iran, so I was a bit nervous.”

However, Jane opted to go and received her visa within two days.

“I flew into Tehran,” she said. “I had to cover my head and wear long clothes. I can remember getting off the plane and thinking Jeepers, what have I done? I said ‘Father, if this is part of your plan, you are going to have to show me now!”

Jane Powell

 

Despite having had plenty of email correspondence with her employers, the driver who collected the new coach had “Jane Power” on his sign.

Jane said: “To me, it was an answer to prayer. It was God saying ‘I’m the power here, you just step out with me’.”

She added: “There were some good players. I felt sorry because they had to play dressed in too many clothes really. They were a great bunch of girls.”

Jane has made a name for herself as a successful and influential coach and she feels blessed to have the role she does. She has been England Lacrosse’s performance director since 2013, during which time the men’s and women’s teams have improved their rankings. As she continues on this next leg of her sporting journey, why not pray for Jane to keep representing Christ and taking every opportunity she has to speak of Him?


 

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Ed Mezzetti

 

Ed Mezzetti, City of York Athletic Club
Ed runs for City of York Athletic Club and is Digital Content Manager for Christians in Sport. He is a member of St Thomas' Church, York