As with the start of any Olympic and Paralympic cycle, the next few months will see an influx of new athletes joining World Class Programmes of various summer sports.
With the environment that they are joining likely to be different to anything that they have experienced before, we’ve asked some of our current and former members for their advice on getting used to the new challenges and opportunities which come with becoming a World Class Programme athlete.
Here, Paralympic champion track cyclist Sophie Thornhill describes getting used to, and then utilising the abilities of, the network of support staff which surround athletes.
“Like a lot of new athletes to World Class Programmes, I joined British Cycling at a fairly young age, and found that I quickly had to adapt to a number of things.
“We were one of the bigger sports, and all of the Olympic and Paralympic track squad trained together in Manchester, so one of the first things to get used to was the sheer number of people who were in the building, in track centre and performing their role whilst we were training.
“At first it was difficult to get used to the number of people. I met pretty much everyone in my first week, as we had five days of sessions to introduce the various staff members and learn their roles – physio, nutritionist, biomechanist, strength and conditioning coach, performance lifestyle advisor, as examples.
“I must admit it took me almost a year to really learn who people were.
“I would often be walking down the corridor, and someone would say ‘hi’ and I wouldn’t have a clue who they were. I’m glad to say this won’t be the case forever – you will get your head around it.
“Despite this learning curve I never had any issues trusting the staff. I believed that they were the best person for their job, or they wouldn’t be there. I trusted the staff completely and this was the right thing to do. They want the best for your performance.
“As I began to settle into my new surroundings, I got to know the staff well and built good, strong relationships with them.
“The person who taught me the most at the beginning of my career was my coach. He improved me as a bike rider but taught me how to work with the other support staff and why they are so important. This has always stayed with me, that the rider or the coach cannot be an expert at everything, so we need the other staff there to impart their respective knowledge.
“The life of an athlete usually revolves around your training facility, and then when you’re away competing, your competition venue and hotel. You see the same faces more or less day in, day out, and building that bond with your team-mates and support staff can be really important.
“By the end of my career the staff member I was closest to was my physio. I’d had an injury that took almost a year to heal fully and therefore I spent most of my time with her. That relationship allowed me to have someone to talk to if training wasn’t going well, but gave me another person to share the joy of a world title defence with. Having those relationships with the people around can really help in all kinds of situations and boost amazing moments even more.
“My advice to new athletes to World Class Programmes over the coming months would be to embrace everything and everyone around you and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question!”
New athletes can access the BAC’s independent, confidential support by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.