Today Young Ambassadors will be celebrated at a national conference in Wales taking place at the Cardiff City Stadium. The programme is supported by the Youth Sport Trust and funded by Sport Wales.
The scheme was first introduced in Wales in 2010 as a legacy of the successful bid to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since then, the programme has empowered over 20,000 Young Ambassadors as role models who encourage others to share their love of sport.
But as well as the scheme helping to increase levels of physical activity thanks to the Young Ambassadors leading sports sessions in schools, colleges, universities and communities, the impact on the Young Ambassadors themselves has also been remarkable.
One decade in, the scheme has given more young people a voice and developed a generation of well-rounded young leaders who are already making their mark in the next chapters of their lives. Among the former Young Ambassadors who credits the programme for giving them the tools to succeed is Rhys Jones, from the Rhondda. His ambassador journey began as a painfully shy kid whose best friend was his playstation. It ended up with him standing on the start line at the London 2012 Paralympics.
I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, and hated speaking in front of a crowd of people
Being put forward as a Young Ambassador literally changed my life. I owe the scheme so much. It gave me the courage and confidence to show what I could do.
Within two years of becoming a Gold Young Ambassador at St John Baptist High School in Aberdare, Rhys’ confidence blossomed to such an extent that his own sporting talent could be uncovered, with him competing in both the 100m and 200m sprints at the London Games.
“Before, being in front of 80,000 people would have freaked me out completely! Sport has given me a life, and the Young Ambassadors programme gave me the confidence I needed. If it can do it for me then it can do it for others too.”
As another former Young Ambassador proves, it’s well worth taking a chance on the quiet ones who sometimes need more space to develop.
“I always liked playing sport at school but was happy to coast along, and didn’t really challenge myself,” Keira Davies, 22, from Skewen, admitted. “I was so shy and quiet, and never wanted to be the centre of attention.”
Since becoming a Young Ambassador at Neath Port Talbot College, Keira has flourished. Her confidence has soared, she loves coaching netball and other sports, and is now Vice President of the Student’s Union at Cardiff Met.
Keira added: “I’m so grateful that someone saw a spark in me. Becoming a Young Ambassador has opened up so many opportunities that I have been keen to grab. My grandparents say I am a completely different person now."
For Natalie Davies, from Maesteg, the Young Ambassador programme played a crucial role in honing her leadership skills. She was one of the first wave of Young Ambassadors in 2010 and set up her own dance school aged just 16.
“Being a Young Ambassador helped me to become more organised and got me ready for what the real world of work is like,” Natalie said.
She has since travelled the world, accompanying her dancers to glamorous locations such as Paris and Las Vegas.
Plenty more stories of how the programme has benefited young people in Wales during the last decade will be told at the Young Ambassador Conference today.
As part of the tenth birthday celebrations, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Creativity’ and ‘Unsung Officer’ awards will be presented to current Young Ambassadors while one former ambassador will receive a new ‘Legacy’ award to recognise their outstanding efforts in encouraging young people’s voice and promoting healthy lifestyles.
Follow @sportwales and @YACymru for details of all the winners at this year’s Young Ambassadors Conference. Visit www.youthsporttrust.org/young-ambassadors for more information.