04 Sep StP Responds to UK Sport Public Consultation
Last month (August 19th) UK Sport’s public consultation into the funding for elite athletes closed with a record 4,293 responses, a clear indication that it has given sport and its key stakeholders a welcomed platform to voice their opinions about the distribution of money to Olympic and Paralympic sports.
Now an independent review of this data will follow, producing a set of recommendations which are scheduled for release in 2019, these will be implemented by 2021 and come into fruition by Paris 2024 – which is also the year UK Sport has given as a deadline for National Governing Bodies of sport (NGBs) to produce mental health action plans for all elite athletes. A coincidence this may be, but a parallel that shouldn’t be ignored says Leon Lloyd, CEO of athlete transition experts, Switch the Play.
UK Sport’s focus on producing medals has undoubtedly helped Team GB to become a formidable force within the Olympic and Paralympic arenas. With the National Lottery and the Exchequer funding £100 million a year, many athletes now enjoy full-time careers competing in sport. This has meant, since the disaster of the 1996 Atlanta Games, which saw Team GB rank 36th in the world, the team has progressed steadily up the medals board to achieve third place in London 2012 and an incredible achievement of second place in Rio 2016.
On the downside, NGBs that fail to meet medal targets have had funding dramatically cut or even stopped, which has meant many athletes have found themselves in desperate need of a new career.
This isn’t the only reason elite athletes are finding themselves out of sport after dedicating their lives to achieving their dream, some may miss selection by milliseconds while others acquire a life-changing injury. Although the reasons may vary, the people usually share the same sense of devastation.
Earlier this year, when UK Sport published its Action Plan for Mental Health, former professional and elite athletes began to speak out about their personal struggles transitioning from full-time training and competing into a life outside of sport. Others spoke about the stress and worry of achieving medals which in extreme cases had caused some athletes to leave sport altogether. Since then it has become apparent that whether retirement is forced or chosen, athletes need support at every stage of their career.
“This consultation provides UK Sport with an excellent opportunity to re-think its definition of success and perhaps place people, not medals, at the centre of its strategy,” says Leon Lloyd, CEO of Switch the Play. “The current model doesn’t always allow coaches, performance directors and administrators to create environments and programmes that focus on developing the person behind the athlete. By measuring success on performance alone, athletes spend most of their time training, and activities such as transition preparation, volunteering and family time are not prioritised as they should be. “
This 100% dedication is all too evident in sport, even though StP points out there is no academic research which underpins a win at all costs mentality. There is no proof that athletes who do nothing more than play-train-recover-play-train-recover achieve more success than those with dual-careers and interests outside of and away from the sporting environment.
Leon continues: “Where National Governing Bodies of sport don’t operate a successful ‘reintegration’ programme for its athletes, both the individual and society loses out. Athletes acquire a highly desirable set of transferable skills such as focus, commitment, determination, and resilience, unfortunately, many are unaware of how these skills will help them create success outside of sport and think they have lost everything when their sporting career comes to an end.
“StP is working hard to reach these athletes by working with NGBs and other sporting organisations to reinforce the fact that athletes develop incredible skills and character which can be transferred into the workplace. We have recently signed a partnership with Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation which will see both past and present players supported through our Masterclass education programme.
“We also work closely with Mintridge Charitable Foundation, delivering Masterclasses to their young sporting ambassadors and have seen athletes flourish when they begin to realise their potential outside of sport.”
The Board of StP are no strangers to transition and include Beth Tweddle, Britain’s most successful female gymnast, Emma Mason, former international badminton player, and Leon Lloyd, former international Rugby player. All of them have enjoyed the highs of elite competition and the lows of leaving the sport they love as change career.
Leon continues, “Now that UK Sport has taken the step to consult key stakeholders and the public about funding, it could also establish new priorities for the allocation of its money. More focus could be put on developing the people behind the medals, rather than primarily developing athletes. Athletes should be actively encouraged to look at their overall well-being, both physical and mental, alongside performance to create an environment that allows a diverse range of individuals (including athletes, support staff, directors, and administrators) to fulfil their potential in and outside of their sport.”
StP suggests introducing an audit/minimum standards system that would make it mandatory for NGBs to ringfence a proportion of their funding allocation to focusing on the person behind the athlete.
“Even changing the language and messaging of the vision and mission of UK Sport to broaden the definition of ‘success’ and ‘inspiration’ could help”, says Leon. “Allowing individuals to fulfil their potential in and outside of their sport and have a greater societal connection and the measurable impact would help to build their confidence. This would need to involve educating all of those involved in sport to buy into this, athletes, coaches and performance directors.”
Leon concludes: “In essence, the system should be an enabler and a facilitator to inspiration where the funding provides a platform for athletes to succeed on an international stage alongside supporting athletes in their holistic development. “