Brooke Neal is 28 years old and was born and bred in Whangarei. She currently lives on the North Shore. She was in the New Zealand Black Sticks women’s hockey team from 2013-20. Brooke recently retired from hockey after playing 176 games including competing at the 2016 Olympic Games, and more recently winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, the first time in history this has been achieved. She loves dancing, paddle-boarding, the beach, food (any type), catching up with friends, yoga and her pets, and has a new venture she is now focusing on. Channel's Nikki Davidson finds out more.
What drew you to playing hockey initially?
To be quite honest, I have no memory of the first time I played hockey because I was only three years old! I am told that I wanted to join my big brother’s team and didn’t want to wait until I was five. I guess I’ve always been quite stubborn and not taken no as an answer. It was definitely in the family, since my dad used to play for Northland: he was our coach through a lot of our youth. We also grew up a few kilometres away from the local hockey turf so we always went there to watch, practice or play whenever we had spare time.
How long were you involved?
I started playing in New Zealand age group teams at 16 and debuted for the Black Sticks when I was 21. Since I’ve recently retired, the scary numbers are that I’ve been playing hockey for 25 years, I’ve been representing New Zealand for 12 years, and at the international level for eight. To be completely honest, since retiring, I’ve been really enjoying life away from the sport. Being able to plan my schedule more than a week in advance has been a game changer. For the past eight years, there were about 200 days when we were in camp and travelling. It does take up a lot of your time and energy (but I am grateful I got that opportunity for so long).
Did you have a role model?
Growing up, sibling rivalry drove me – big time! My only sibling, Shay, was the natural athlete in the family. He won cross country without too much effort, made all of the rep hockey teams, even inline hockey. This drove me to constantly try to be better than I was the day before. When he debuted for New Zealand in 2009 I was almost finishing high school and I set my sights on making it too. We both ended up going to the 2016 Rio Olympics, which was an unforgettable experience for both of us and also our parents.
How do you now keep yourself fit?
I am a trained yoga instructor so you’ll often find me there! I love the feeling of getting more in touch with my body in a different way than absolutely smashing it. I also have started running again after going through some pretty big injuries. There’s nothing quite like being able to put my shoes on and just get out of the door into nature. Every Saturday, my friend and I go to boxing to sweat it out and I’ve been loving it. I’m still trying to find the balance between going 100% and just going for an easy session. I’m so used to the all or nothing approach!
What are you doing these days?
I’ve moved full time into my own business. I created All About Balance in 2016 which I have been growing part-time while competing. Now, I feel so inspired since I’ve been able to put my full energy and attention into it.
I help girls who play sport find their balance in life. and share the mindset tools that helped me over the years to conquer anxiety, improve performance, get more energy and gain more confidence. I’ve worked with over 1,000 young women and visited over 150 schools, condensing the decade of learning and performance at the highest level, and coaching what I’ve learned through a range of workshops and courses online and in person.
Can you describe the feeling you get when someone you’ve mentored achieves a big goal?
The feeling I get is one of complete gratitude that I’ve found my mission and purpose and that it’s helping girls who really need it. I often get messages a year or two after I’ve worked with someone, explaining the change that they have had and how some of the advice I gave helped. It is a big part of why I continue to put my energy into this, because if just one girl can realise their potential, or change some negative thoughts about herself because of some simple tools, then my job is done.
In five years-time I hope to…
Look back on this article and say, wow – I’ve come a long way and I was just getting started!
Find out more about Brooke’s workshops at brookeneal.co.nz where you can enrol for a free mini course.