BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2014

by Will Roberts, Head of Sport at the Youth Sport Trust

This week I had the privilege to be a part of the panel that discussed, debated (at length!) and decided upon the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year.

It was great to see so many nominees with names familiar to me not only because of their profile, but also due to their interactions with Youth Sport Trust.

This is my third year on the panel and on each occasion I have reflected on three things; 1) I am very lucky to have this opportunity, 2) there are some phenomenally talented young sports people in the UK, 3) we must ensure we provide these young people with a strong foundation throughout school.

This brings me onto Junior Athlete Education (JAE) - one of the Youth Sport Trust's longest standing areas of work. Essentially it is designed to help any young person navigate some of the enduring challenges synonymous with being a teenage so they can achieve the right balance between academic, social and sporting life.

We place significant focus on ensuring that this model of support is used not only for talented young athletes but also young coaches, officials, team managers, volunteers and leaders. This approach treats all these roles equally. It understands that an aspiring young coach goes through similar challenges to a talented athlete - and that they could potentially learn lots by working together.

As a matter of course, why do we not encourage athletes and coaches to understand the perspective of the officials? How might competitive sport look if athletes, coaches and officials empathised more with each other? These were some of the questions that prompted us to develop our National Talent Camp, which takes place just before Christmas.

The camp will see 300 of the nation's best young coaches, officials and athletes - selected by 7 National Governing Bodies of Sport - come together for a four day camp at Loughborough University to explore these questions and more.

When debating the merits of the different nominees for BBC Young SPOTY with the likes of seasoned sports journalist John Inverdale and Paralympic star Hannah Cockroft, these were questions that entered my mind. Selecting the top 10 athletes (who were revealed today) was a tough exercise. No stone goes unturned and the debate often verges on the fractious as opinions vary.

In the Sainsbury's School Games, we base the Athlete Education Programme on the principles of JAE and ask two simple questions of the 1,600 athletes each year:

  1. Do you know what it takes to be the best?
  2. Can you perform at your best when it matters most?

Evidence suggests that experience provided by the Sainsbury's School Games does help. Around 160 Games alumni competed at Glasgow 2014, 59 of them winning 84 medals in a feat that would have seen them finish 4th in the medal table.

Should we try to take credit for that? No. That would be incredibly naïve and diminish both the personal achievement of the athlete and of their team.

But should we be proud to have supported them in what is clearly a significant spring board to future success? Should we interrogate the data in detail to find out what that difference is, and apply it back into school sport? Yes, absolutely!

And do I get a tingle of excitement to see alumni of Youth Sport Trust programmes littering the top 10 of BBC Young Sport Personality?

You bet I do!!