At the start of my sports career, others saw my potential long before I did. Two club coaches, Ian and Renee Metcalfe, told me I had what it took to be truly great at archery. As I scoured the long grass for my arrows with help from the club’s trusty metal detector I'm not entirely sure what they saw, but they believed in my abilities and I went along with it. I wanted to be that person they saw so I worked hard, pouring my energy and enthusiasm into it. Every personal best reaffirmed this - had potential and one day I was going to reach it. Two years later, a very exciting letter landed on the doormat. I'd been cd as a SportsAid athlete. This charity supports the next generation of talented young athletes right at the beginning of their sporting career, by providing funding to help towards their training and competition costs. hausting days volunteering in Birmingham. We lived in an environment, just outside the Athlete Village, that had been mocked up to look like Team England’s headquarters. We wore identical team kit, took meals in the communal dining hall, and did not leave the building without our accreditation hanging around our neck. We went to watch sports and talked to the athletes about the pressure of the Games, we discussed brilliant performances, awesome comebacks, and nervous wobbles.
We got a backstage pass to the Athlete’s Village, looking at what life away from the competition field is like. From the food hall, to the medical centre, games room, and gym, they got a better understanding of the amenities available, the size of the complex, and what the living quarters are like. Seeing the accommodation blocks dressed up in each nation’s flags, and experiencing the buzz as teams made their way to training or headed out to compete is something you cannot learn from a book or talking to another athlete.
The next generation of athletes is looking bright. They are ambitious, talented and driven, and it was an honour to take a small step with them on their journey, helping them deliver medal winning performances in the future. A home games provides bigger opportunities for grass roots sports, but the principle is one that I believe applies to all young people. Learning through experience rather than just from third-hand insight gives us a far deeper understanding of concepts and how they relate in a real-world setting. Experiences shape who we are, allowing us to progress quicker and gain a much broader outlook. When working with young people, I find exploring these four areas helps to maximise learning from experience:
Reflection: Experiences are absolutely no use if we don’t carve out some time to reflect on them. Thinking about what we've learned - without passing judgement - and how we can apply it to current or future situations helps propel us forward. This generally isn’t something that comes naturally, especially to young people, so guiding them to their answer by asking the right questions is a good start. I find “how?” a really useful one to get brain cogs whirring and uncover real nuggets of learning.
Widening the View: Our vision is very narrow. We can only take in so much information at once, and we interpret much of this in line with an existing framework of beliefs. Having somebody able to shed some light on our blind spots and let us see things from a different perspective can be helpful in understanding the bigger picture and break down bigger challenges into something more manageable.
Belief: Any journey is much easier to take when somebody believes in you. Of course, we want this to come from within too, but human beings do not truly operate independently and out-sourcing it is never a bad thing. It isn’t enough to say “I believe in you!” dust your hands, and jump back to the task at hand. It’s easy to come up with well-meaning platitudes, but getting that buy in from a young person is altogether more challenging. When you believe in somebody you push them out of their comfort zone - whilst still providing a safety net - support them when they struggle and celebrate when they succeed. And instead of peppering them with compliments, look at the next step, the action piece, together.
Action: Knowing stuff is good, but doing something about it is where the magic happens. Our final step is applying what we've learned. Understanding what to do next, or having the confidence to do it, is sometimes tricky and guidance is often needed. You can support by helping devise this action plan, coming up with tangible steps they can take, tools they can use, or strategies they might want to think about.