Long Sutton twin sisters promote the values of sport as fun and character building
The sporting lives of Long Sutton twins Connie and Emmy Gittins (both 17) are just as paired up as their relationship at home and school.
Both teenagers are currently playing a crucial role in Long Sutton ladies firsts' current run of five games without defeat in Division 2NW of the East Region Hockey League.
Connie and Emmy also have more than a passing interest in the fortunes of Long Sutton seconds' cricket team, helping their side to avoid relegation from Division Two of the South Lincs & Border League by just nine points.
Emmy said: "We played a lot of sport at Long Sutton Primary School when its teachers were trying to encourage more girls to take part.
"It was netball at first before the school ran a Chance to Shine course which introduced me and Connie to cricket."
Connie said: "We did a year of cricket at Long Sutton Cricket Club and then one day, John Sullivan from the hockey club came over during a session and asked if any of us was interested in playing hockey."
Jenny Gittins, the sisters' mum and self-confessed "taxi driver" in taking her daughters to and from training sessions, said: "There was quite a sporting group at Long Sutton Primary School and it was nice that the juniors played together in mixed teams.
"So there was never an issue for the girls and if it wasn't for cricket, Connie and Emmy wouldn't have played hockey."
Long Sutton Primary School's Chance to Shine initiative has resulted in Connie and Emmy becoming dependable members of the town's ladies firsts hockey team.
The regard in which the twins are held became apparent at the club's most recent awards evening in April after a 2018-19 season for which Connie was named both top scorer and young player of the year, while Emmy was voted players’ player of the year by her team-mates.
Ladies firsts' captain Jo Bland said: "Connie and Emmy are both absolute assets to the club and they have come on so well in the last few seasons.
"They are both very talented and they have both flourished at our club, but for them it's all about giving back, not receiving."
Emmy said: "The award was a surprise and I wasn't expecting it.
"But when everyone votes for you, it makes you think that your team-mates are relying on you and that you've done such a good job to help them out during the season."
Connie admitted: "We're both very competitive, even at school where we ask each other what marks we've got for our work.
"But we end up with pretty much the same marks so we've recognised that we're as good as each other."
Jenny and her daughters point to the influence and example of husband and dad Mark for what they described as his children's "sporting genes".
"My husband played a lot of football when he was younger and after leaving school, he was given a semi-professional contract at Lincoln City when he was 16," Jenny said.
"Mark went on to play for them and Leyton Orient until an injury left him with nothing to fall back on.
"He always has sport on the TV but he's also able to say to Connie and Emmy: "Enjoy sport because it's good, but also concentrate on your education'".
This proved to be a challenge for Connie about two years ago when she was called into Lincolnshire Cricket's Junior Emerging Player Programme (EPP).
Branded as "the pinnacle training environment of the county cricket representative pathway", promising young players aged between 12 and 16 from across the county are put into an "elite performance environment focusing on the key performance areas of technical, tactical, physical, mental and lifestyle".
From playing cricket at primary school under the Chance to Shine banner, Connie and Jenny found themselves having to juggle education and hockey training with a high-pressured sporting culture that also tested a child's strength and conditioning, psychology and nutrition.
Jenny said: "When Connie was selected for the Junior EPP, it meant a journey to Lincoln on the same night as her hockey training.
"They would run tests and measurements and then report back to Connie on how she was doing.
"But it was having an impact on her school work so we were glad when they told her that she wouldn't be progressing any further on the programme."
Both sisters still juggle with hockey and cricket, but this time entirely on their terms, with some emphatic results in Emmy's case.
She said: "In the last game of the season for Lincolnshire Girls' under-17s, I took six wickets against the East team in a game played at Long Sutton Cricket Club.
"All the people from the hockey and cricket club were there which made it really special."
But hockey, along with the first year of sixth form studies at Spalding High School which Connie and Emmy both attend, is the sporting priority for the twins at the moment with Long Sutton ladies' firsts now above their South Holland rivals Spalding in the league.
Emmy said: "We've grown up in a period when no one is bothered about the rivalry with Spalding.
"While there's an element of tactics against certain teams, it's ultimately up to us how we played.
Agreeing with her sister, Connie added: "We have a lot of friends who play for Spalding and we go to school in the town, but I don't think rivalry should determine how you play your game anyway."
Nevertheless, it was Long Sutton Cricket Club where Team GB's 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic hockey gold medallist Crista Cullen chose to hold her masterclass for junior hockey players in September 2016.
Connie said: "It was really good when Crista came because it gave us someone to look up to.
"The fact that someone like Crista came to our club, in the middle of nowhere compared to hockey clubs like Cambridge and Peterborough, really meant something."
Emmy said: "Crista Cullen has proved that it's possible to achieve things in sport and there's no reason why anyone else can't do the same things as she did."
More by this authorWinston Brown