Sporting excellence is the product of raw ability, relentless commitment and an enduring passion. No champion can be expected to emerge overnight. Therefore, grass roots sports programmes must lay the foundations for the future David Beckhams, Paula Radcliffes and Jonny Wilkinsons. But can the pressures of elite athletic life emerge too early in a child’s life or is that the price one should expect for the slim shot at sporting greatness?

Great Britain in comparison to the likes of the athletic giants of the sporting world such as the USA and Russia seem to provide a less pressured focus on the development of youth sport.

The academy infrastructure in America, for instance, promotes sport as a lifestyle and career rather than a hobby or pastime. The Russian extremist coaching views sees talented young children train away from their families in order to improve their performance.

These major sporting countries churn out hundreds of champions and world record holders each year, which would suggest their youth sporting ideology is correct and necessary to succeed. A trend that appears to show that blood, sweat and tears as a young athlete will stand you in good stead for world success.

However, those who don’t and can’t make the grade are left without a normal childhood and commonly, a respectable education which is essential in the real world. The dream of a championship or world title can be lost in seconds on the sporting field, yet young athletes’ train hard and extensively suppressing any fear of injury in pursuit of gold.

From a personal perspective, life on the international stage is fuelled by ambition, determination and a true love for the sport. Without this you run the risk of falling into the ‘former athlete’ category.

When I began Softball as a ten year-old, my only reason for taking part was for enjoyment. At that point, I was unaware of how far it could develop.

This particular grassroots programme opened up a world of positive opportunities, becoming part of All-Star squads, national championships, travelling across America and Europe and being able to compete for your country. Though this seems ideal, at 13 years-old on the brink of your European championship debut, the pressures of dealing with training, funding and normal teenage life was stressful to say the least.

Weekends away from home, covering up multiple injuries through fear of missing out on tournaments and the eventual removal of the sport I had given everything to from the Olympic roster confirmed my premature departure. In this case there was little more to achieve and it seemed time to hang up my glove so I wouldn’t resent the years I’d spent on the field and miss out on life’s opportunities.

Champions stem from underlying passion not forced training.

For the young elite, it must be demanded that they are competing for the right reasons; a complete passion for their sport and the confidence in themselves that they can reach the very top of their chosen sport. Competing cannot be controlled by a fear of letting others down; otherwise the years spent on youth sport will be resented and worthless. 


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