Wellbeing Champion- Tom Ullyott

The Sky is the Limit

1- How did you get introduced to sport?

I think with most people who get into anything, generally, it's usually when you're a very young child. So, I think I probably started playing at school when I was 4 or 5, no doubt there would have been kicking a ball around with mum and dad in the garden at two or three, but actually picking up sports for me was probably in junior school. I was lucky enough to play lots of different sports when I was younger, I preferred being outside than being inside, preferred kicking a ball around instead of sitting in front of a TV or doing anything such as music. I'm not very musical at all. You'd hate to hear me on the microphone or on a guitar trying to entertain a crowd.

Being outside and just playing with friends is how I got introduced to it

2- What motivates you to continue to practice them?

I'm ultra-competitive. Some people tell me that I’m too competitive for my own good at times, but I think it's that which motivates me. I’ve always tried to play cricket to the highest level attainable to me, so at that point it becomes quite competitive even at amateur level. Over the years being younger and developing in the team, when there’s a lot experienced older people in the team, that competitive edge is almost instilled in you because you want to achieve and be the best you can be.

Now it's kind of gone full circle and I'm one of the more experienced players, getting-too-old people. There’s young guys coming up, so I think what motivates me now is just seeing those guys improve and develop that drive and determination, as well as the fact that ultimately I've still got that burning desire to want to win everything that I take part in.

I think that's important. I understand that there's the taking part that counts but fundamentally from anyone that plays sports no one wants to turn up and lose, do they? Everyone wants to win, and I understand that there has to be a winner and a loser, but I think that's what keeps driving me to get out of bed and go for a run or go play cricket, football, golf, play tennis, whatever it might be.

3- Do you have a favourite sport?

Definitely cricket would be my favourite, with football very close behind. Cricket in terms of playing would be number one and always has been really. Football did rival that a couple of years ago but I'm getting too old and slow for football now I think.

4- Are your family supportive of you playing cricket from such a young age, did it ever interrupt your studies?

I think my school teachers will definitely tell you it impacted my studies on more than one occasion. Once, when I forgot a history book to class, my history teacher told me that I wouldn’t have forgotten my cricket bag, which is a valid point, I definitely wouldn’t have. But on the whole It didn't really affect anything too drastically.

My family have always been very supportive of what I've tried to do. Looking back now, arguably I probably shouldn't have gone to university. I should have dedicated that time to trying to play cricket as a professional, as much as I could have. I shouldn’t have gone for the big city and bright lights of Newcastle with all the glamorous student nights out. Saying that, it was great and I wouldn't change it for the world. My family & friends always been very supportive, my brother also plays cricket, I'm currently captain of Cuckney; a cricket club in Nottinghamshire and my brother plays and he's the 2nd XI captain , so it’s definitely a family affair. They’re all very supportive and my mother watches one of us every weekend. Not forgetting my sister, who plays netball to a pretty high level.

I don't think my mum has ever picked up any sort of sporting activities, but she's she always encouraged us. When I was playing on Saturdays, she was down there watching from pretty much start to finish all 8 hours of our Saturday afternoon. Anything that any of us have chosen to do in our family, has always been welcomed and supported. Too much at times some people would say, when we were younger, well before we could drive ourselves our mum was driving us from one thing to the next. I think she was delighted when the first of us passed our driving test.

5- Do you follow, or try to follow a certain diet to aid your physical activities?

I'd love to be honest and say I'm very, very strict. I mean, to everyone in the London office, they think I am.  I can tell you, although they’ll always know I’m being sarcastic about it, I’ll always give people a lot of stick if I can see them eating something unhealthy – Pete Weston & Rory Welch in particularly. Obviously, you know always eating something that's particularly bad for them all the time. But nothing too personal, was just a laugh and a joke. Personally, I'll always eat what I want if you know what I mean but always make sure I'm doing the exercise in between times, but don't know, I'm just trying to think of an example. I never eat too badly. Whatever you want to call badly, I wouldn't have a lot of fast food. I don't drink loads and loads. Hopefully that's true and no one I know will argue with that. I'll always try and keep myself in the best possible shape I can.  It enables me to perform to the highest level I can. It would annoy me if I started to become injured or unfit with something like my football, due to my habits, it's something that obviously you can control and keep on top of.

And it's up to you. Everyone is going to be born with a little bit more talent or ability in certain respects, but I think with your diet aside from people with certain allergies and stuff, you can always control what you eat and what you drink. So you can give yourself the best possible chance to be healthy and stay fit so you can perform at whatever level you’re competing at.  

So I think that yeah nothing strict. Monday to Friday, I'll always try and be as healthy as I possibly can during the week. And then you know, maybe a takeaway and a few beers at the weekend if I fancy it, personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

6- Which leaves you feeling the most reenergised / rejuvenated after you’ve played?

Energized I don't know. I feel exhausted after all of them in all honesty! I'm getting to like mid 30s now so it's getting a bit tough just to get out of bed. But no, I don't know. I think there’s a burning desire from within me to play sport and I use sport as a kind of a bit of an escapism. If I'm being honest, if it’s been a long day at work or any personal problems or anything that's bugging you or on your mind, I see and 100% use Sport as a great release and somewhere you can let your hair down. Be yourself and you know, kind of get away from everything else.

I always feel energized afterwards and I always feel like I'm delighted I’ve taken the time out of my day and I've done it. I'm one of those people that will always try and be doing something so I feel energized. If I had to choose, I’d probably say football because you’re the most exhausted after it in terms of actually physically wise. But you know from a mental perspective, cricket is all day. It’s 9:00AM  till 9:00 PM, sometimes on both days of the weekend.  So as it’s all day and there's a lot of thinking that goes on, there’s that aside from the fact that it's not maybe the most physically demanding sport going.

But you know, there's all the mental side of it that comes in. I think that's important because a lot of sport is mental as well as obviously, like you say, the physical aspect and staying in shape and all the rest of it. Football is non-stop. You don't really get a chance to think about anything apart from just trying to pass the ball to your own team rather than the opposition, I guess is the main aim, which I can tell you now, I tend to struggle with at the best of times.

7- Do you think sport has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing?

I would say absolutely. You know, I'm very lucky that at my mum's house up north where I am right now and not speaking to you from my flat in London, we've got quite a big garden and my brother's been around. So, it's been easy to get out in the garden and kick the football around, or just knock each other a catch or whatever. But I would say it's massive to my mental wellbeing. Being sat, you know cooped up in a small flat in London is what I was initially doing at the start of lockdown, it wasn’t remotely fun and for all sport to instantly stop and stuff like that, wasn’t easy. All of a sudden I just had to go out and just walk or you run once a day so it was quite tough.

I think everybody at different ages needs to recharge, no matter what or how old or how busy you are, I think getting out and about is very important, just to give yourself some downtime as well.

And obviously if you want to play that competitive level that obviously can be a mental release as well because you're testing yourself at the highest level you can. So I think yeah, it's very, very important to me.

8- Do you prefer team sports or individual sports?

I think from school and from university and counting every age group of cricket or years I’ve gone through life. I would say I probably always played some sort of team sport. I play golf which as you know is individual. I play more socially and I wouldn't claim to be a golfer of any sort really. But yeah, I think the team aspect of it is something that drives you on to carry on playing with a lot of your friends. I’d say with football and with cricket when you play kind of a very good level, inevitably the people you play with almost become your friends because you spend so much time with them. I think when you've got a collective goal where you want to win together, automatically  it binds you as a team and you become dedicated to achieving the same end goal.   For example therefore it becomes a massive aspect of how you approach your game and the sporting day - whether or not you go out the night before. Obviously as you could go out in London or if you go to university, I’d rarely go out the night before on a Friday because at the end of the day you're giving up your Saturday and so are they. So it's got to be kind of a team collective and a team spirit there so you have to work together. It’s your responsibility to yourself and to your team mates to be prepared and not let the side down.

You know this is a classic. There's no I in team, but if you look hard enough there's a me. But it's never all about you. So I think even with cricket you know when you’re batting there's only two of you out there against 11, so it's two against 11 at that period of time. But at the end of the day, this score is a collective team effort. And you know whatever you do it's not really that important, it's more what the team and goal is, and I think yeah, it's massively important.

9- What’s your proudest sporting achievement?

Apart from Liverpool winning the league last year, which is nothing to do with me, but as a fan are obviously great, but I don't know what I’d pick as the proudest moment.

I played at Lords recently, so for anyone who’s a cricketer would know it’s a big deal. In May actually, I captained the MCC for the MCC North versus the MCC South, any chance you get to play there, it was a huge moment for me in the sense that I was indebted to the MCC for allowing me that opportunity. It was an immensely proud moment in terms of the actual achievement and the sense of fulfilment I got out of it.

Yeah, I don't really want to blow my own trumpet, but for my own cricket club we got to the Sky Sports Finals day with Cuckney Cricket Club in the National T20. So we played on Sky twice which was pretty big deal for me and massive for the  club and helped us get to where we are today as a club. So yeah that was massive achievement. I was literally playing with probably ten of my best mates and to me there was no greater feeling in my mid-20s. Yeah, you're live on Sky. The bright lights, the pink ball and all the rest of it. We got put up in a hotel for the night and I just think that togetherness that got us there and all the rest of it was incredible. But I'll never ever forget that, that's probably as important to me as you know my individual achievements or whatever. That was probably more important. I remember that much more from that point of view. I've still got the DVD from 2009. I think it's actually over there on the shelf and I'm not going to tell you I put it on all the time. But it's definitely an immensely proud moment for me.

10- What advice would you give to someone wanting to start getting active?

I just think you kind of got to approach everything with a bit of positivity and determination, no matter what it is. You know the Sky's the limit right? Ultimately everyone’s got to start somewhere. And obviously I think it's easier if you start younger. There's no hiding that truth. I think if you start younger and it's just ingrained in you, before you even know yourself, then obviously it's something you've always known and been able to do, so you try and excel at it. But if you're just picking it up, then it’s not as easy. If it's something like exercise you know, I think the most important thing is that unrelenting determination.

So you’ve just got to stick at it. There's going to be good days. You're going to lose games of cricket. You're going to win games of football or whatever. You're going to struggle on a run one day if you just decided to get fit all of a sudden, having not ran for 10 years or whatever it might be. You're going to have bad days when it's going to be really hard and you're going to want to walk or you're going to slow down and throw the towel in. But I think ultimately it's a mental strength. It's a physical strength and determination, it just needs to keep firing you to keep going. So when you come back in and you take your trainers off after a run, you can just say you know what? I gave it my all and tomorrow night I'll give it another go and hopefully it'll be easier. The harder it is at the time, the easier and the more kind of the self-gratification you feel at the end of the day, you feel so much better about yourself even if it’s a short run you've gone on. It’s better than nothing and everyone’s got to start somewhere. So I think the only advice I could give would just be yourself and convince yourself to stick at it, be as determined as possible and the results will come. Nothing in life is easy or free, no matter what we turn our hand to, you have to be resolute and tenacious. At the end of it all you’ll feel so much better about yourself and a huge sense of achievement.

Like I said right at the start, everyone's got different levels of talent and ability, but everybody is capable of anything if you want to set your mind to it.