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The big show

Our head of talent inclusion, Alex Alexander, blogs on the role we play in England's sporting success and how our strategy is key to this.

24th July 2021

by Alex Alexander
Head of talent inclusion, Sport England

It’s performance night of the show you've been working on for over 10 years of your life, the expression of who you are and what can be achieved when someone continually pushes their boundaries and lives outside their comfort zone; it’s climbing Everest; it’s traversing the Arctic; it’s the pinnacle event which showcases years and years of hard work and dedication.

It’s the Paralympic and Olympic Games.  

Hannah Mills and Mo Sbihi carry the Union Flag at the athletes' parade at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The athletes who perform at these games have travelled a long and arduous path which often begins in talent development pathways. Pathways that in the talent team at Sport England we’re extremely proud to invest in.

When hearing the words ‘talent pathway’ many may think of a ‘Sport HQ’ inhabited by a crack team of experts who will turn you into a lean mean winning machine. They think of athletes training daily, giving it their all, singularly focused on being the best, winning every day, on a conveyor belt destined for success at the Paralympic or Olympic games.

There's a story behind every athlete

In the talent team at Sport England we think about how it all begins and talk to athletes on a talent pathway years before they are selected for senior England and GB teams. We discover they are very often a young person, they go to school, they study, they have friends and family, they have interests and worries, they spend a lot of time on social media and they also love sport.

In most circumstances they train in their local club or with a coach and at certain times in the year they may be invited to a national governing body (NGB) training camp, where they’ll receive first class training, work really hard, get to know other athletes or teammates and learn about training load, nutrition, and wellbeing. They’ll most certainly travel a lot, to training and competitions, and will be very tired from the demands of being a young person managing school, training, competitions, and life.

Their path will not be linear and there will be lots of ups and downs. Of the 60,000 athletes on formal talent pathways and 200,000 more on the periphery, only a small number – this year it will be around 600-700 – will get to represent Team GB or ParalympicsGB in Tokyo.

Athletes are also just young people living their lives

Athletes on talent pathways are young people, just like other young people – the only difference is they do A LOT of sport! They will spend a large proportion of their formative years intensively practicing sport or physical activity, so it’s important that the experience is positive and inclusive.

As such, the ‘big issues’ in our Uniting the Movement strategy, such as ‘positive experiences for young people’, ‘connecting communities’ and ‘recover and reinvent’, are so intrinsically linked to our talent pathways.

We know young people’s love of sport begins in the community and that’s where they’ll train for many years with the support of amazing leaders, coaches and friends.

Inclusion is critical to future success

We know that currently talent pathways are not representative of modern British culture and that’s why the focus on tackling inequalities is so important in talent pathways. We think that Paralympic and Olympic sports should be relevant to everyone, not just the few. That’s why we’ve been working with organisations that are routed in the community and working with NGBs of sport to think about how talent pathways can be more accessible and have a culture of inclusion. 

As we deliver Uniting the Movement we’ll be thinking about all the different routes into talent pathways and linking NGBs in with inclusive organisations within the sports system.

In our talent team we believe inclusive talent pathways will provide positive development experiences for young people that will help them achieve their full potential in life, as well as sport.

Inclusive and accessible pathways will ensue England’s true sporting potential can be unleashed by the development of a contemporary, world-leading system which consistently develops globally successful national teams that represent the true range of modern British culture.

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