JACK Waller may have been out of the country for a large part of his university year, but the young hockey star insists that juggling his studies with his training is all part of the balancing act.

The history student, who has just passed his second year at Durham University, is a member of the England under-21 hockey squad which will head to Spain in August for the European Championships.

The centre-back and occasional midfielder has recently enjoyed a successful season playing for his university side, which finished top of the Northern Conference League – the table below England Hockey’s Premier Division, after an unprecedented 18-match unbeaten run.

“When I first joined the team in first year, we were struggling a bit and down in the relegation zone so to win the league this year in the way that we did has been a monumental turnaround,” the Surrey player said.

Waller remains on course to achieve a first – a testament to his conscientious work ethic – as he heads into his final year but claims that it is hard graft that enables him to achieve results both on and off the pitch.

“It is tough trying to balance all my uni work with my hockey. I was in Malaysia for two and a half weeks and India for three weeks this year. It is quite tough but I’ve learnt how to manage it better now.

“I was quite lucky because my time away playing abroad didn’t coincide with any of my deadlines. !Some of the guys had to do essays during the tournaments – I’m not sure if I could have done that.

“Sometimes it is slightly surreal. During my first year at university, I went out to Malaysia to play for a while and ended up missing the first three weeks of the new term, but I’m managing it better now.

“I kind or rocked up in the first term and didn’t know anyone, so it took me a couple of weeks to settle.

“Coming back from playing for England under-21s side in Malaysia to playing on a cold morning in Durham was a bit weird.!

And that isn’t the only surreal thing that has happened to Waller, who recently took part in a training camp at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis centre – the home of Olympic Hockey for the London 2012 Games – where he played against the Argentina and Malaysia national sides.

“To have that level of experience at the Lee Valley, playing against two top senior sides and some of the best hockey players in the world was just incredible,” the hockey player said.

After heading to Valencia for the under-21 European Championships in August, Waller will turn his attentions to transitioning to the senior set-up of the England squad as he continues to progress in the sport.

And his ambition to one day feature for the senior national side has now been given a massive boost after he was identified as one of 50 athletes to be included onto the SSE Next Generation programme, with Olympic and world champion cyclist Katie Archibald one of its alumni.

The hockey player will be supported in everything from travel costs to lifestyle management through various workshops run throughout the year.

And Waller admits that competing in the sport that he loves best simply wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the support of SSE and the Next Generation programme.

“The scheme has really come in handy, especially with helping me out financially,” he added.

“Most of the other guys in the under-21 squad have had a job or are working during the summer period, but during my first year, I had a sports scholarship from my university.

“From a financial aspect, the scheme has really me helped a lot with my funding – it’s the amount of time it gives me which I think is the most important part.”

Since 2013, SSE is proud to make a difference to young people, their families and their communities, by investing in the future of sporting talent through the SSE Next Generation scheme. Keep up to date @YourSSE.

By Fiona Tomas, Sportsbeat