Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne, Team GB weightlifter Zoe Smith and ironman John McAvoy starred at the latest Backing the Best workshop.
The trio provided specialist advice to the 115 recipients of the National Lottery-funded programme at a special event at Loughborough University.
Backing the Best, which is managed by SportsAid for Sport England, financially supports young athletes who would otherwise face difficulties progressing through their sport’s talent development system.
115 young athletes in the Backing the Best campaign
Youngsters that are put forward by their national governing body receive an award of £5,000 that goes towards essential costs, such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills.
All Backing the Best athletes must demonstrate outstanding ability, as well as their family’s financial situation, to be eligible for the funding.
This year, 59 new athletes have joined the programme and they, along with 56 from the 2017 intake have been who have been renominated, benefitted from the experience of the panel at the event.
“Every child should be given an opportunity in life to be successful,” said John. “There is no greater waste than being able to do something but not being able to access the pathways to do it because of money. That’s not fair.
“These athletes have all got aspirations, they want to do it and Backing The Best is allowing them to go off and achieve their dreams, go forward and be very successful people."
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Zoe, who benefitted from Backing the Best funding at the start of her career herself, said the programme provided key support to the athletes at a vital stage of their lives.
“It’s totally overwhelming at 17 as you don’t know which way your career is going to go,” she added.
"You start needing to make the best decisions for yourself and your career and outside of sport too. You’re a baby still in most sports, still starting out, and you’ve got lots of other life choices to make like university, education, career, relationships, friendships, family – there’s so much to think about.
“To have the right kind of guidance and a person that can point you in the right direction, and to know who you can ask these kind of questions to, is so important,”
Para-dressage rider Mari Durward-Akhurst is one of the athletes continuing to receive support from Backing the Best.
The 24-year-old, who aims to win gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, has cerebral palsy, hyper mobility and lax ligaments. She is a qualified sports therapist but relies heavily on Backing The Best as the effects of her disability have prevented her from being able to work.
“It’s been an enormous amount of help and support,” said Mari. “Backing the Best meant I could keep training, having two sessions a week with my trainer – it’s also allowed me to have strength and conditioning and physio support to help stop the deterioration.
“I couldn’t have done it without the funding and I would have dropped out. I was always concerned and worrying about it, whereas now it’s in place, it takes the pressure off my parents which makes me a lot happier and I can fully concentrate on the sport and doing what I love.”
Phil Smith, our Director of Sport, highlighted the difference Backing the Best is making.
“Talent and effort alone should determine who reaches the top in their sport. Yet many aspiring high-performance athletes have had to consider whether they can continue to pursue their sporting ambitions due to the mounting costs of competition, training, travel and specialist equipment facing them and their families at critical points in their development.
“These challenges often coincide with other educational pinch-points and lifestyle transitions and therefore it’s imperative that there is relevant and targeted support available to enable athletes of all backgrounds and circumstances to continue their journey and fulfil their potential.”
Here is the full list of talented young athletes receiving Backing the Best support in 2018
Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #BackingTheBest
Find out more about Backing the Best here.