Dina Asher-Smith: National Talent Camp 2015

by Glen Harrington, Youth Sport Trust

It’s been an incredible twelve months for sprinter Dina Asher-Smith. After winning the IAAF World Junior 100m title in 2014, the 20-year-old has shown continued progression by producing the best performances of her fledgling career – scoring back-to-back British records in the 100m,  200m & 4x100m, a World Championship final appearance in Beijing and, just last month, the British Young Sportswoman of the Year award.

This Friday, she will be the special guest at the Youth Sport Trust National Talent Camp, which is funded by National Lottery money from Sport England. Here she talks about the importance of the event, which brings together 350 of the most talented young athletes, coaches and officials from across England, and discusses the pressures on today’s elite athletes – as they try to balance sport with their academic studies:

"To come out of 2015 as a triple British record holder, World Championship finalist and Young Sportswoman of the Year has been really, really special. I’ve definitely surpassed my expectations and this year has just been absolutely amazing. Of course, I’m also studying for a history degree at King's College London, which means that I really need to perfect my time management skills. I’m still learning how best to work efficiently and how best to strike that balance, it’s a unique challenge for young athletes, and I think it makes me very relatable to the young people attending the camp.

"I’m lucky, because I really enjoy them both. It sounds really nerdy, but I really do like my degree and I obviously love going to training, seeing my training partners and taking part in athletics. I know that I don’t necessarily lead a normal life for someone of my age, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to be different, which is why camps such as this are so valuable – we can all be different together! We’re all trying to achieve our own goals. I might want to go out and party every night or eat lots of pizza, but that’s not going to help me, and sometimes we all need to make sacrifices.

"The fact that we’ve got so many young coaches and officials attending again this year – the second year in a row that the Youth Sport Trust has extended invitations beyond just young athletes – is really cool. It’s really important that we help develop their pathway into elite sport, because we’re always going to need great coaches and officials, and sometimes the door might not open quite so naturally for someone like that. I only need to look at the impact my coach, John Blackie, has had on my career. I’ve known him since I was eight years old and I really don’t think I’d be where I am today without him. Honestly, I’d go as far as to say that I owe pretty much my entire athletics career and all of my achievements to him. He’d tell me not to say it, but that’s how truly instrumental he has been for me.

"Every aspect of sport – including coaching and officiating – can be vital to your development as a well-rounded person. It gives you a unique outlook on life. It helps keep you healthy and shows you the importance of eating well and balancing everything else that’s going on. Being an athlete – you can use it like a reset button. If I’m struggling with an essay, then I know that I can take my mind of it for a few hours and come back with a whole new perspective. Sport gives you a great skill set and it teaches you not to throw your toys out of the pram when something isn’t quite working!

"I’ve surprised myself with how far I’ve come so early on in my career. I would never have believed it if you’d told me two years ago that this is where I’d be today – but it’s all come with an incredible amount of hard work. I’m still getting my head around the idea of being referred to as a role model, but I hope that my experiences will allow me to have some valuable input at the camp. I’m not that much older than the attendees, I’ve had many of the same experiences and I know how stressful they can be. It’s a unique bond and a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to help give them the support and encouragement that they so richly deserve."