Backing The Best athletes benefit from Olympic and World Cup winning advice

Young talented athletes supported by the ground-breaking Backing The Best programme received expert insight and guidance from double OIympic champion Rebecca Adlington, Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi and Team GB canoe slalom legend Richard Hounslow at a workshop last month focusing on equipping them with new skills for their future careers in sport. Backing The Best is managed by SportsAid for Sport England.
26 June, 2017

Young talented athletes supported by the ground-breaking Backing The Best programme received expert insight and guidance from double OIympic champion Rebecca Adlington, Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi and Team GB canoe slalom legend Richard Hounslow at a workshop last month (4 May) focusing on equipping them with new skills for their future careers in sport.

Backing The Best, managed by SportsAid for Sport England, aims to support athletes who would face difficulties progressing through their sport’s talent development system without critical financial help. 70 athletes were supported during the first year in 2016, producing world, European and national age-group level champions, with 95 up-and-coming stars now benefiting from the scheme’s second term.

The Backing The Best athletes descended on the National Water Sports Centre, based at Holme Pierrepont Country Park in Nottingham, as they were provided with advice on performance lifestyle management, nutritional intake and dealing with the media. Parents also had their own specially adapted sessions as well as the opportunity to hear from Kay Adlington – Rebecca’s mum.

Swimmer Rebecca, 28, who won gold in the 400m and 800m freestyle at Beijing 2008, acted as a mentor alongside former Saracens Women’s flanker Maggie, and Richard, a two-time Olympic silver medallist, as they talked to athletes and parents about their experiences. Rebecca, Maggie and Richard were all recipients of SportsAid support at the beginning of their careers.

“These workshops are about absorbing everything around you - almost like being a bit of a sponge,” said Rebecca – who highlighted the importance of her relationship with coach Bill Furniss to the athletes. “When you’re getting into those teenage years, that’s when you’re coming into your own as an athlete, so it’s about taking on lots of advice and opinions, but figuring out what works for you.”

She added: “The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was trust. That’s across the board because for me when I moved to Bill (Furniss) at 12 years old, they didn’t only put their trust in him but also me wholeheartedly. They said this is your journey and they left me and Bill to find our balance and our relationship. It’s very hard to do that when your child is just 12 to take that step back.

“They trusted Bill as the expert and never questioned any decisions we made. They would ask why, of course, but from a very young age they allowed us to understand each other as a coach and athlete. It also enabled me to trust my gut as an athlete because it’s me that has to stand on that block, not my parents. I always believed in myself and what I was doing 100% because they never doubted me.”

Backed by £5.5 million of National Lottery funding over a four-year period, Backing The Best presents annual awards of £5,000 per athlete to help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills, as well as extra support from coaches. Many of the first set of awardees have now progressed on to Athlete Performance Award funding with UK Sport.

All athletes must demonstrate outstanding ability to be eligible for the bursary, as well as their family’s financial situation, to gain the funding. This year, athletes from across 32 different sporting disciplines are benefitting from the scheme. 41 athletes from the original 70 have been renominated and are continuing on Backing The Best. Therefore, 54 new recipients have joined the programme in 2017.

Great Britain sprinter Souleyman Bah is one of the athletes receiving support from Backing The Best for a second year. The 18-year-old, who competes over 100m in the T13 category, has been partially sighted since birth and lives with his mum and four siblings. He is currently studying for his ‘A’ Levels and has set the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a long-term target.

“Originally athletics was just a hobby for me, but when I started competing seriously, I realised there were so many more costs involved,” said Souleyman. “My family weren’t financially able to do that, so when my governing body [British Athletics] put me forward for funding from Sport England and SportsAid, I couldn’t be much happier as my ultimate goal is finally something I can realise.

“Backing The Best funding has covered every single aspect of my sport, from coaching and facility fees, to nutrition, spikes and warm-weather training. The recognition has given me a lot of hope and confidence in my pursuit towards being at the top of my sport. My next aim is to compete at the IPC Athletics Junior World Championships in Switzerland this summer.”

You can see a photo album from the Backing The Best workshop here.

Maggie, who is a member of the Backing The Best awards panel, retired from rugby after England’s World Cup triumph in 2014. She now works as a mentor in both sport and business, in addition to her commitments as a broadcaster for ITV Sport, and supports SportsAid and Sport England by providing oversight and guidance on the operational delivery of Backing The Best with her fellow panellists.

“I’ve had 25 years’ experience of being a top athlete and won the Women’s Rugby World Cup, but there were many challenges along the way,” said Maggie. “There’s been ups and downs, and I think it’s important if I can give that knowledge to the next generation of athletes coming through. Hopefully they’ll learn from my experiences and I can support them on their journey towards the top.”

Katie Crowhurst, 13, is a member of British Swimming’s Para-Academy who competes in the S13 classification for visually impaired athletes. She had to move to a club further away from home to take advantage of better facilities, longer training hours and more advanced coaching. Her mother Lucy revealed the family has really felt the impact of the funding from Backing The Best.

“The move [change in club] meant a huge increase in car mileage every week and Katie's dad having to finish work early each day to take her,” said Lucy. “I don't know if Katie would have been able to continue with her swimming for this long had it not been for Backing The Best. She has been able to compete up and down the country and to have the equipment she needs.”

Phil Smith, Sport England’s Director of Sport, highlighted the difference Backing The Best is making with the costs young athletes are facing: “In an ideal world, talent and effort alone would determine who gets to the top in sport. The reality is, being a talented athlete can be expensive. In the talent system, athletes and their families now have to find an average of over £6,000 a year.

“This is out of the reach of many, and puts others at risk of dropping out, and not fulfilling their potential. Thanks to National Lottery players, we’ve been able to help another 94 young athletes through Backing The Best so we can take some of those financial barriers away. We want these potential stars of the future to be able to concentrate on what matters most, their sport.”

Tim Lawler, Chief Executive of SportsAid, said: “There will always be a next generation of young talented athletes looking for the opportunity to prove themselves and reach their potential. For some, difficult financial challenges mean they have to give genuine consideration as to whether they can continue to pursue their sport or not.”

“Backing The Best has already made its mark by relieving some of that financial pressure and helping a range of young athletes towards achieving their goals. It’s exciting to see the programme growing as we look to provide these athletes with the support their talent deserves. For us, Backing The Best is quite simply a game changer.”

Here is the list of Backing The Best award recipients in 2017….

Amy Gott, 16, Boston (Archery)
Jacob Boden, 15, Sleaford (Archery)
Kieran Shirley, 16, St Helens (Archery)
Lauren Bann, 16, Hadleigh (Archery)
Lauryn Jewkes, 17, Kilburn (Archery)
Megan Tinkler, 17, Doncaster (Archery)
Ryan Holden, 19, Ramsgate (Archery)
Shaimaa Colaiacovo Abdelhalim, 13, London (Archery)
Joseph Dewar, 21, Ilford (Athletics)
Jessica Hunter, 20, Aylesbury (Athletics)
Sam Talbot, 18, Guildford (Athletics)
Joe Brazier, 20, Pitsea (Athletics - Disability)
Souleyman Bah, 18, Surbiton (Athletics - Disability)
Blake Hoang, 12, Ipswich (Badminton)
Chad Warren, 14, Ledbury (Badminton)
Coby Hargan, 16, Ulverston (Baseball)
Conor Baker Lathan, 15, Liverpool (Baseball)
Rich Amos, 30, Hucclecote (Boccia)
Cameron Paul, 16, Radlett (Boxing)
Caroline Dubois, 16, London (Boxing)
Chantelle Reid, 18, Derby (Boxing)
Connor Butler, 19, Liverpool (Boxing)
Ellie Scotney, 19, Catford (Boxing)
Jade Ashmore, 19, Chesterfield (Boxing)
Joseph Kerrison, 16, Harleston (Boxing)
Lewis Coley, 17, Sutton Coldfield (Boxing)
Muavia Nasim, 17, Rochdale (Boxing)
Renee Myburgh, 17, Richmond (Canoeing)
Raffael Benitez, 15, Sheffield (Diving)
Tyler Humphreys, 14, Shoeburyness (Diving)
James Russell 18, Petworth (Fencing)
Kamal Minott, 19, London (Fencing)
Maia Fashokun, 16, Lelant (Fencing)
Yasmin Campbell, 16, London (Fencing)
Nicole Douglas, 16, Staines (Football)
Caleb Nanevie, 23, Sheffield (Goalball)
Dan Roper, 29, March (Goalball)
Filmon Eyassu, 29, Cambridge (Goalball)
Laura Perry, 26, March (Goalball)
Matthew Loftus, 23, Blaydon (Goalball)
Enrique Dimayuga, 15, Epsom (Golf)
Halimat Adio, 19, Muswell Hill (Netball)
Shelby Harris, 15, Worthing (Netball)
Mari Durward-Akhurst, 23, Amersham (Para Equestrian)
Cameron Vearncombe, 14, Plymouth (Para Swimming)
Katie Crowhurst, 13, Maidenhead (Para Swimming)
Kieran Williams, 12, Newquay (Para Swimming)
Felicity Pickard, 22, Burnley (Para Table Tennis)
Brooke Bradley, 18, Exmouth (Rugby Union)
Brooklyn Clarke, 18, Worcester (Rugby Union)
Connie Powell, 16, Ipswich (Rugby Union)
Ellie Mulhearn, 18, Bristol (Rugby Union)
Kayleigh Waller, 16, Hull (Rugby Union)
Leah Teague, 15, Coleford (Rugby Union)
Maddison Craggs, 16, Sunderland (Rugby Union)
Shauna Bennett, 16, Westbury (Rugby Union)
Sophie Bridger, 16, Wincanton (Rugby Union)
Tilly Churm, 16, Castleford (Rugby Union)
Harriet Rogers, 16, Lymington (Sailing)
Ellie Seward, 19, Chard (Shooting)
Katie Gleeson, 21, Worthing (Shooting)
Bradley Fry, 12, Nottingham (Skiing)
Thea Fenwick, 15, Whitby (Skiing)
Scott Walsh, 14, Liverpool (Snowboarding)
Chelsie Robison, 18, Newbury (Softball)
Alice Green, 16, Billericay (Squash)
Elise Lazarus, 16, London (Squash)
Jasmine Hutton, 17, Brighton (Squash)
Katie Malliff, 13, Aylesbury (Squash)
Lucy Turmel, 17, Ipswich (Squash)
Jamie O’Connor, 17, Margate (Swimming)
Amirul Hussain, 13, Manchester (Table Tennis)
Jamie Liu, 13, Reading (Table Tennis)
Jasmin Wong, 13, Hull (Table Tennis)
Joshua Weatherby, 13, Sunderland (Table Tennis)
Ellie Bowden, 16, Bradford (Taekwondo)
Simone Abley, 16, Spennymoor (Taekwondo)
Jimmy Kershaw, 21, Nottingham (Triathlon)
Christian Ioannou, 15, London (Volleyball)
Faye Hills, 17, Chelmsford (Volleyball)
Mithuran Prabhakaran, 17, London (Volleyball)
Nasir Khan, 14, London (Volleyball)
Reggie Lathbridge, 18, London (Volleyball)
Isabella (Izzy) Goode, 16, Maulden (Wakeboarding)
Jack Battleday, 20, Bagshot (Wakeboarding)
Joe Battleday, 17, Bagshot (Wakeboarding)
Liam Peacock, 17, Crowthorne (Wakeboarding)
Ryan Peacock, 19, Crowthorne (Wakeboarding)
Connor Carpenter, 17, Rotherham (Water Polo)
Dylan Green, 20, Royton (Water Polo)
Tom Manley, 16, Ashburton (Water Polo)
Jade Loughlin, 23, Bristol (Wheelchair Basketball)
Lee Fryer, 16, Gillingham (Wheelchair Basketball)
Lewis Edwards, 18, Littlehampton (Wheelchair Basketball)
Toni Cave, 17, Pontefract (Wheelchair Basketball)