Former Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth champion Victoria Pendleton is not one to rest on her laurels. Following her record-breaking cycling career she has appeared in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing competition and is currently battling it out to make it onto the amateur jockey race circuit. Here she talks about the importance of encouraging young people to participate in sport and be more active:
Find me a girl who doesn’t worry about being judged about what she looks like, how good she may be at school work, or how talented in sport. As demonstrated by Sky Academy’s recent research, sadly it seems to be the norm for young people, girls in particular, to feel under confident, but I want to highlight that sport is a time to have fun, be yourself and be the best you can. Those insecurity gremlins are all too common but I believe through sport we can help fight them.
Since retiring from cycling I’ve realised that I have an intrinsic need to be active, which is some of the reason for my dabble on the dance floor in Strictly Come Dancing, and now giving my all in training as an amateur jockey.
I was lucky, I grew up in a sporty family where there was a healthy amount of competition in everything we did, but the path to Olympic medals wasn’t always easy or straightforward. That makes it clear to me that we need to work even harder to reach out to young people who don’t have that same access to sports, regardless of what level they’ll play.
I’ve been campaigning to encourage more girls to be physically active throughout my career and so I jumped at the chance to become an ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust earlier this year and work with the Girls Active programme. The charity is working with schools to harness the power that PE and sport have to help young people fulfil their potential, to be healthy and happy, succeed in life and contribute to society.
Earlier this year the Youth Sport Trust released key findings from its report, The Class of 2035, outlining young people’s relationship with physical activity today and where it will be 20 years from now.
The headlines made pretty stark reading and show that we’re now at a critical time where PE and school sport are an absolute priority in making sure that young people don’t slip down a path along which they are overly dependent on technology, resulting in low physical, social and emotional wellbeing.
This is a challenge for us all – athletes, teachers and parents - to take up. Working with the Youth Sport Trust, it’s exciting to be able to play a part in tackling these challenges and encouraging young people to feel better about themselves through sport and PE.
On a more positive note, the report also highlighted that 75 per cent of young people enjoy PE lessons in school and 64 per cent say they feel better about themselves after doing sport. We therefore need to be offering more opportunities and encouraging even more young people to be active, to build the foundations for a lifelong love of physical activity.
Working with the Youth Sport Trust, I will use my experiences to support young people in all areas of their development. Sport is a powerful thing and I hope that I can help to harness its potential to bring out the best in young people today and in generations to come.