BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2015

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

Once again I have the absolute honour to write about my experiences as a member of the panel that decided upon the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, and look forward with great anticipation to the big night on 20 December when the award winner will be announced.

The long list of nominations was incredibly strong this year and it is credit to the performances and potential of the young athletes that the panel was challenged so hard to come to a decision. No matter the winner it is clear that Great Britain has a fantastic crop of emerging athletes across a broad range of sports, and through our work on the School Games National Finals, our National Talent Camp, and supported of gifted and talented young people in schools and through National Governing Bodies of Sport the Youth Sport Trust is lucky to have significant interaction with them.

This time last year I reflected upon three things:

  1. How lucky I am to have the opportunity to be part of this panel
  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

Whilst these reflections hold true, this year I’d like to consider other factors - the measurement or judgement of achievement, and the role that is played by those who support these young people to excel as they do.

The world of sport takes particular delight in defining its specific glossary around achievement and potential; the difference between 'elite,' 'talent,' 'performance,' and 'development' should not be underestimated. The young people in the top 10 of SPOTY are certainly highly talented and are progressing in the world of performance sport, but due to the nature of physical maturation and tactical progression the timeline to becoming elite can vary considerably from sport to sport. This presents a common challenge in supporting youth talent - how good are they, and how good could they become? Given the success of Team GB and Paralympics GB over the last decade one could argue that British experts know this as well as anyone else but this is a refined skill, and accurate predictions of the transfer from successful junior to senior athlete are notoriously difficult.

This is certainly the case in SPOTY and as the panel compared disabled and non-disabled youngsters who had won senior world championships in their sport to 'the next big thing' in a high profile sport, to little known high performers in a less fashionable sport, or the breakthrough talent in mass participation team sport it is ever apparent that we are not comparing apples with apples. So how can we make judgements? What criteria is fair? How should we judge achievement in this context? Coming from a team sport and less fashionable sports background myself I have a lot of empathy within the panel for those incredible young people who simply cannot progress onto the global elite stage at such a young age, but at the same time I have the utmost respect for those young people who handle the pressure and expectation of competing on the ultimate stage with such composure.

At this stage I take great comfort in the Youth Sport Trust philosophy of encouraging and supporting all young people to fulfill their potential.

At the Youth Sport Trust, we have 20 years experience in building a brighter future for young people through physical education and school sport, and a key tool in this mission has been Junior Athlete Education. In addition to the focus on helping young people understand more about performance improvement, goal setting and importantly their 'Team You.' This Youth Sport Trust originated concept helps young athletes better understand and connect with those who are in a position to aid their sports performance, and importantly enables them to take personal responsibility for their performance.

A critical part of 'Team You' are the parents or guardians of the young athlete, and the Youth Sport Trust has expanded our support in this area through the bespoke 'Performance Parent' resource and workshop. These tools are designed to help parents better understand the supportive role that they can play for their child's development, especially to balance the demands of sporting, academic and home or social life.

Developed with athletes who have been there and done it, and their parents, we now use the Performance Parent element of JAE to support not only the parents of young athletes but also young coaches and officials… and whilst the nation watched the BBC YSPOTY for 2015 crowned later this month the YST team will be supporting 350 talented young athletes, coaches and officials from across 10 sports at our National Talent Camp at Loughborough University.