ITV’s Eternal Glory champion, Gail Emms, talks about the importance of embracing competitiveness

by Gail Emms, Youth Sport Trust Ambassador

Sports enthusiasts among you may have tuned in to Eternal Glory on ITV to see eight sports stars emerging from retirement to compete against each other in tough physical and mental challenges. Youth Sport Trust ambassador Gail Emms, former world champion and silver medallist at the Athens Olympic Games with mixed badminton doubles partner Nathan Robertson, was crowned the Eternal Glory Champion. Here she talks about her experiences on the show and how competitiveness is an attribute not only in professional sports but one to be celebrated in schools.  

Before knowing who I was up against on Eternal Glory, I was genuinely scared about looking stupid – particularly in front of my family. The first I knew about who I would be up against was when my seven fellow competitors also arrived at the airport to travel to Croatia.

It sounds silly from a grown woman, but the heightened nerves brought back those feelings from my first day at school.

Fortunately the worries subsided as soon as I met the brilliant mix of people who all turned out to be a good laugh throughout. Through sport we all found ourselves in the same place; not just geographically, but also in adjusting to life in retirement from professional competition.

My competitive spirit was a primary driver for my agreeing to the show, but I was also interested in the range of activities involved as well as being on a level-playing field with athletes from a range of sports including men – particularly the ‘man-beast’ that is James Cracknell (in this context, that’s a compliment)!  Being the girl in the Badminton mixed doubles I always felt viewed as the weak one, but I wanted to prove people wrong. Being so competitive I wanted to show that girls can do it.

My school definitely helped me channel my competitive streak along a positive path, eventually leading to my Olympic dream. It was an ultra competitive girls’ school where across the whole curriculum, including sport, we were taught that women could take on the world.

In practice - as I’m sure all teachers will know - this isn’t always so easy. School girls can be horrible with their cutting personal remarks but I believe that sport and physical education can help address these issues. I wasn’t immune from being on the receiving end of nasty comments from my peers, but my teachers would make us talk our issues through together. My teachers taught a valuable lesson in highlighting the importance of face-to-face communication in resolving conflict.

The scary thing these days is that it is all too easy for students to hide behind a screen. But sport and physical activity can encourage young people out from behind their computers to enjoy time face-to- face and through it build the confidence to resolve conflicts that arise.

Maybe it was my competitive spirit that sometimes caused the problem with my peers, but I feel strongly that competitiveness should be seen and celebrated by teachers, as any other attribute.

It’s also important to see the different guises of competitiveness being embraced by teachers. Students like me with a clear and open competitive personality are easy to spot and any carrot dangled in front of them will be snapped up!  But for others, whose competitive streak is more hidden, it’s important to find what motives and inspires them. I believe everyone has a competitive streak, it’s just that different people present it and respond in different ways – as seen by the range of athletes and their varying approaches taken on Eternal Glory.