Snowsport England athletes part of ‘Backing The Best’ benefit from Olympic and World Cup winning advice

Snowsport England athletes, Thea Fenwick and Bradley Fry, who are 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.  

Freestyle skiers Thea Fenwick and Bradley Fry, along with snowboarder Scott Walsh, are all part of Backing The Best, which is managed by SportsAid for Sport England, and 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.


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.”


Thea Fenwick said during the workshop: “I still get the thrill from competing and always want to better myself. There are a few people who have influenced my skiing quite a lot, like McRae Williams, who is number one in the world – he’s an amazing skier. I want to get to the 2022 Olympics. That would be my main goal.”


Bradley Fry commented: “Funding is really important for me, I wouldn’t be able to carry on without SportsAid, and we can use it to pay for my lift pass which enables me to ski more. Being in the Olympics would mean the world to me, I’d love to be there. If I keep on going then I could make the 2022 Olympic Games. My sporting hero is James Woods, he shows a lot of style when he is skiing and he really inspires me. I’ve met him before and he told me to be cool and to carry on doing skiing as much as possible. It would mean a lot to me because I love to ski. It’s going to be really fun to watch PyeongChang and to inspire me to watch more.”


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. 


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 a link to the video about the day:

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