By John Bishop
Managing Director, Evolve
As Great Britain’s Olympic heroes arrive home from Rio, it’s notable how many are publicly crediting mentors from their schooldays for playing a big part in their medal-winning feats.
It’s often a teacher, coach or a Health Mentor that ignites a child’s lifelong love of sport. Their passion, guidance and influence provide the impetus that can kick-start an eventual career at elite level.
Although clubs and elite performance centres refine young athlete’s skills, without that initial spark at grass-roots level, those gyms, pitches, tracks and courts would remain empty.
Mo Farah, who completed the ‘double double’ in Rio by winning both the 5000m and 10,000m titles for the second Games in a row, has made no secret of the effect his former PE teacher Alan Watkinson has had on his career.
The pair met at Feltham Community College in London when Farah was an unruly teenager, having failed to settle in England following his move from Somalia. Watkinson was not just a teacher, but mentor and guiding hand.
“Alan has been a big part of my life,” reflected Farah. “He told me to join a running club and I was like ‘No!’ But if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he told the Daily Mirror.
“He changed my life. If more kids had a PE teacher like Alan I know it would be different for them too.”
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, the all-conquering triathletes from Leeds, have also credited their former teacher Tony Kingham at Bradford Grammar School for sparking their passion for running.
“At lunchtimes, he’d encourage us to get our trainers on and take us out. It was a brilliant feeling of freedom, to be part of the outdoors and to get the opportunity to run during the school day,” they said in their joint autobiography, Swim, Bike, Run: Our Triathlon Story.
I believe Team GB’s record-breaking Olympics success underlines the importance of sport playing a prominent part in a school’s curriculum.
The enduring effect of early influences on a child’s future are a legacy we see first-hand through our mentoring work at Evolve.
The value of mentors at grass roots level and, particularly within schools, cannot be underestimated.
The last fortnight has shown what can be achieved through sport but Health Mentoring is not just about sport and physical activity. Through building positive relationships with both pupils and staff the mentors’ short-term benefits of boosting emotional wellbeing are likely to extend to a healthy future life and higher academic progress for pupils.