GB pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw blogs about the importance of sport on young lives

Born in Preston, the British record holder for pole vault, and training for Tokyo 2020, Holly Bradshaw talks about how she got into sport and discusses why it is vital that young people see the relevance of sport to their everyday lives.

I loved sport as a child. My mum tells a story about when I was 4-years-old, I had so much energy and would do flips off the sofa. So, she took me to football with all the boys - there wasn’t a girls’ squad - I then did gymnastics aged 6-12, then football aged 12-16, ending in Athletics aged 14 to present.

I was lucky as I had a very supportive family. They have never pushed me to do anything, if I wanted to quit, they supported me, if I wanted to try something new, they would gladly take me. Along with my family, I had a really inspirational high school PE teacher who helped me get involved with any and every sport there was on offer at school. I could always turn my hand to any sport at a decent level, but I never found ‘the one’ until the first time I tried pole vault. I instantly knew then that it was the sport for me. 

It is so important we help young people to see why sport can help them to be more resilient

When I think about children today and the fact that fewer than half in England get enough exercise – with only two in five children active for an average of at least 30 minutes of each school day, it is so important that we help young people to see why sport and physical activity can help them to be more resilient and develop basic skills that will equip them for everyday life.

It may not seem so relevant or important to go to PE classes or join the basketball team but some of my best friends, I’ve met through sport. People in sport have inspired me more than any others and you never know what may come of it!

When I was sat in the car park at Blackburn Harriers waiting to go to my first pole vault session, I remember saying to my mum “I don’t want to go”. I was nervous to meet new people and start something I had never done before! Now imagine if I had never got out the car…. where would I be today?

I have had many injuries over my career, mostly after the London 2012 Olympic Games. These were hard things to experience, but I found them relatively easy to overcome as I had been to an Olympic Games and knew how amazing the rewards were for training hard and being focused.

However, in 2009 I broke my foot pole vaulting and needed surgery. I had only been pole vaulting for eight months, I had improved really quickly and had qualified for my first ever GB vest - therefore having to have surgery and miss this was heart-breaking and something I really struggled with. But I made it my mission to list all the things I was really rubbish at, for me at that time it was my core, and I was going to work really hard on this area. 

There were so many times when I wanted to quit. When I have been at my lowest points, I have questioned why do I do this? Why do I keep putting myself through these feelings? But I never quit because my love and commitment to the sport took over every single time. I just reminded myself why I started doing pole vault in the first place – which was because I enjoy and love it. I made sure to write down daily targets and celebrated the small wins. Staying positive was key for me!

Sport gives you confidence

Sport gives you resilience and confidence. On a daily basis I face challenges. Some days it’s really small - like I didn’t manage 10 chin ups, I only managed nine, and other days it’s really big things like I injured my calf and I can’t go to a World Championships!

Whether it is big or small, these challenges add up and make me a better person and athlete by making me more resilient and able to cope with things that happen to me along the way.

I know from experience how stressful balancing sport and education is. I have just started a Masters at University and I was really stressed through October and November - this is normal! I have always studied and trained as I know the importance of preparing myself for life outside of sport.

Being a great athlete and student requires organisation and commitment

You just have to learn to balance things and implement the skills you have as an athlete into your school work. Being a great athlete and student requires organisation and commitment. In order to decrease the stress levels, you need to become a pro at being organised and on top of things - my tip is to have a pad or diary with you everywhere you go. Also, the passion and commitment that you learn to put into sport can also be applied into other areas. Implementing this attitude to your school work will make you a better person and athlete in the long run.

Sport makes me feel energised and proud of myself for what I can achieve. I was quite shy as a child and sport has brought me out of my shell. When I was 14-years-old I had to do a talk in English about three items I brought in to class. I would get really upset and nervous every time I thought of it. If you would have told me when I was 14 that I would speak live on TV, speak into a camera or stand up in front of a school assembly, I would have never believed you! Sport and the people involved in my journey has made me the person I am today.

Holly has recently published an article on overcoming adversity for sports parents as part of her Masters. Read the article here. You can also read more about the Youth Sport Trust's campaign to Reframe Competition here.

Published on 17 December 2019