Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken some time out from the sporting world and although it’s been great to travel and relax, sitting still has never really been my strong point, so I’m excited to be back in the UK and ready to take on some new challenges! Retired life has its benefits and having an extra five hours of freedom each day means I no longer have an excuse not to apply myself to other pursuits!
Right now, I feel very driven to use my experiences from elite sport to give back in some capacity—to assist, advise and educate, ultimately helping other people achieve their own goals. In fact, the general theme of this whole blog is around normalising transition, with a view to help others going through major change. It’s strange for me to be on the ‘other side’, but I feel it would be somewhat negligent to leave sport completely at this point, letting 15 years-worth of sporting expertise go to waste…
With this in mind, I’ve started running masterclasses and workshops across the country, where I can share my personal experiences and advice, alongside pool-based technical tips. I also sit on the BOA Athlete Commission, giving perspective to Olympic initiatives and athlete support programmes, which is incredibly interesting and great fun to be part of, and I hope to continue to be involved in sports governance roles.
As a new personal project, I’ve created a mentoring programme that will link young, developing athletes with an experienced elite-level athlete, giving them access to the expertise and advice that only a career in elite sport can afford you. It’s a great opportunity for me to add real long-term value to the lives of young sportsmen and women across the UK, and I’m really excited to start working with some of the superstars of the future!
Young athletes face a uniquely challenging journey before they make it onto the senior circuit, often having to learn through trial and error. At a key developmental age, they’re trying to balance education, sport, and social demands, whilst managing increasing pressure and dealing with growing expectations, successes and disappointments. A secure support network (parents, coaches, teachers and close friends), is paramount but, without a guidebook or any real instructions, it can be a stressful journey for everyone involved. I know my own parents found managing ‘15-year-old Lizzie’ tricky—not because I became a rebellious teenager, but because I was uncompromisingly hard on myself, which can be just as difficult for mums and dads to deal with!
All this arrives at a time when performance tends to be improving rapidly. This is exciting because PBs often come thick and fast, but it can also be challenging as raised performance brings raised competition and new hurdles to clear. I’ve spoken to numerous parents and athletes who feel overwhelmed by these new pressures and the yet unknown skills needed to take performance to the next level. There are hundreds of questions that can cause anxiety for a young athlete and, even with the absolute best intentions, not all of them can be solved by asking parents and coaches (or the internet!)
“How can I manage my pre-race nerves?”
“How can I develop a nutritional strategy that fuels my training sessions?”
“How do I balance the increasing demands of training with my education?”
“I don’t manage failure very well—how can I deal with disappointments?”
“How do I communicate with my coach and parents in a constructive way?”
“How can I make sure I’m focusing on my goals every day?”
“I lack self-belief and confidence—how can I gain these?”
Creating practical solutions to challenges will never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach—every athlete is unique and tackling issues must also be done in an individualised, methodical way.
For some athletes, successfully navigating this tricky time seems to come naturally, but I wonder how many potential stars didn’t quite make it because they or their parents never managed to find the right answers? There is some great support already available to young athletes, but sporting bodies naturally have to focus their limited resources on performance metrics, meaning many athletes miss out if they don’t hit early targets. What if individuals could reach out for the specific answers they need?
The key outcome of my mentoring programme is to give young athletes holistic guidance, helping them (and their support network) to minimise costly mistakes and allowing them to fulfil their potential, both within sport and in other areas of life. Success is achieved by creating a structured, personalised programme, regularly tracking progress, and solving arising challenges before they become insurmountable. The programme will run in sync with the young athlete’s training programme, complementing existing support from parents and coaches.
The end goal is not to produce sporting robots, but to empower young athletes to manage their own challenging routine, taking responsibility for their own goals and aspirations. By working closely with someone who has competed at a world class level, the young athlete is given an insight into the world of professional sport, and the opportunity to understand the mindset and supplementary skills required to reach the very top. Over time, with guidance and advice from their mentor, the young athlete can start to develop their own unique skillset, allowing them to become an empowered, professional, happy individual, ready to take on the challenges of sport and life.
Right now, most athletes and coaches will be taking a well-earned summer break, reflecting on a long year of training and competition, but September will bring new goals and challenges as the next season kicks off. As an athlete, what changes do you need to make to reach the next level of professionalism? As a parent, how could you alter your support to help them excel? As a coach, do your athletes ever struggle to reach their potential in ways you can’t address with your limited pool time? For more information, email email@example.com