It wasn’t exactly love at first game for Cambridge Blue and Wales lacrosse goal keeper Erin Walters, however, and luckily for Wales, Brown University, Royal Holloway Uni and Cambridgde (to name a few), she was shown how to play in goal and the rest is history. In amongst co-captaining a double BUCS winning Cambridge squad, training with Wales, be nominated best goal keeper in Europe, preparing for the upcoming Lacrosse World Cup and now being president-elect of Ospreys (Cambridge’s sportswomen society), she some how finds time to do her PhD too.
Why and how did you get into playing lacrosse?
I started playing lacrosse when I was 10, at clinics run in my hometown and then in a local league. My hometown is known for its lacrosse legacy, so we were all given sticks at a young age. I was alright at lacrosse when I started, but was definitely not the star. I had played football for years before that and was in love with that sport—lacrosse was secondary in my young mind. I developed over time into a pretty good attacker, but it wasn’t until I started playing goalkeeper when I was 13 that I really fell in love with the game.
What’s the training schedule like?
Playing for two teams this season, I have had quite a busy training schedule to fit in alongside my PhD. With Cambridge, we had daily trainings, whether they were fitness sessions or field practices, as well as weekly matches. We would also supplement that with tactical video sessions and team meetings— I’m a firm believer in the idea that all the physical training cannot reach full potential if you don’t train your sporting mind! In addition, I have my Wales duties, which include squad training weekends a few times a month, longer training camps, competition tours to the USA, and individualised fitness programmes. We are now in full preparation mode for the World Cup, so the intensity is high all around. I love the fitness sessions, especially as for the first time I have a programme specifically tailored to my needs as a goalkeeper. I have some great coaches, both with Wales and at Core Cambridge where I train locally, who very much understand the hows and whys of position-specific fitness. It can be very demanding to balance all this with the separate careers my teammates and I have, but we do it for each other.
What’s been your greatest sporting achievement so far?
This is actually a really tough question, as different achievements have meant equally powerful things to me, mostly because of the unique and incomparable bonds I shared with teammates throughout them all. I’ve taken a somewhat unconventional road to success, as due to a variety of factors such as injury I took a few years away from the game. That was an incredibly heart-breaking decision, but it turned out to be the best choice. On a level of personal growth, I might say that ability to internally reconcile my struggles, come back after years out, and reinvigorate my love of the game has been immensely rewarding. I always knew lacrosse would be there for me, waiting for me to rediscover my passion—which I did, in a big way. I think that’s something that’s often overlooked and needs to be highlighted, especially for women: not everyone, not even all elite athletes, has this complete love-love relationship with their sport. There are ups and downs, and those downs are ok. I don’t mean to sit here and pontificate about the right and wrong ways to approach sport, but I do want to highlight the fact that there’s no one way to achieve or define success. So I suppose my greatest sporting achievement is the fact that I’m doing something no one would have predicted of me five or six years ago. I’m on my way to a World Cup this summer with two BUCS National Championship gold medals, a European silver, and a few personal awards hanging in my room, and have the privilege of being part of two of the closest and most devoted, supportive, inspiring teams ever imaginable.
How have you found it being a woman in sport? Have you come across any difficulties, sexism or people having different attitudes towards you because you’re female etc?
Lacrosse is a unique sport in the UK in that it’s probably better known as a woman’s sport. Both the men’s game and the women’s game are growing, but in schools and overall it’s bigger at the women’s level. There is a lot of mutual support between the men’s and women’s sides of the sport, but they are innately very different games at different stages in development. This makes for an interesting situation relative to what there might be in other sports; in the lacrosse world, I am respected because I am a woman. In fact, it wasn’t until too recently that I realised that people view female athletes as less than their male counterparts; growing up, being a sporty girl was a good thing. I love male professional sports and knew lots of girls growing up who could talk shop with the best of the boys, and whilst we did recognise that women’s professional leagues weren’t really there, we saw other goals within each sport as the equal pinnacle of successes. Now, I realise that there are disparities that need clearing up, but within my personal experiences I have faced miniscule negativity as a female athlete. The only real time I faced major ‘difficulties’ based on my gender was when I was once barred from playing in a men’s lacrosse league, but they said it was because I was too good (ha!). That said, I realise that I’m very fortunate to be in this situation and know it is not the privilege of everyone, especially in other sports. That’s why blogs such as this and other similar organisations are so crucial. I’d love to make my experience the norm, not the exception!
Why do you think media coverage of women’s sport is important?
So many reasons for this, so little time! I think it’s crucial for younger girls to have women to look up to, to see that there are women like them who have succeeded in the sport they also love. The ‘role model’ label is thrown around a lot, perhaps so often that it’s become a tired cliché, but it’s important we are there as figures to support the passions these young girls are growing for themselves. When I was growing up, playing sport was considered the ‘cool’ thing to do for girls—our popularity at school was in part based on how good at sport we were. Not that this is the be-all of anything, but a lot of this was based on the number of older sportswomen we had to look up to. Whether they were local high school girls who were winning championships, coaches at lacrosse camps, or athletes on the national level, they were universally respected. This went a long way in the development of my own game, knowing that there were all these women who loved the sport I loved and were considered strong, powerful, and accomplished as a result of it.
There’s also the financial aspect: more media coverage would lead to more funding for women’s sport overall. On the one hand there’s the professional female footballers making a tiny fraction of what their male counterparts make, and on the other hand there’s the national lacrosse teams who are heavily self-funded. We have support from a variety of generous donors, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to play internationally without the support of these wonderful sponsors and Cambridge’s sport bursaries; for that I am inexpressibly grateful. Even still, we all have busy day jobs and the financial sacrifice to play at elite level is considerable. Increased media representation would help publicise the hard work we do and accordingly the positive and profitable impact women’s sports have. I think we are headed in the right direction, with many university teams having corporate sponsorship, but there is still a long way to go to reach a stage where the finances aren’t a worry, let alone to a point of equality with national and professional men’s sports.