Young people deserve a gold medal

by Hannah Cockroft, five-time Paralympic gold medallist and Youth Sport Trust Ambassador

Young people deserve a gold medalHannah Cockroft is a Paralympic gold medallist and an ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust. This month, she claimed three gold medals at the Paralympics in Rio and here she reflects on the similarities between performing at the highest level of sport and achievement in school life:

It is fair to say I have had an incredible Summer. The Rio Paralympics was an amazing experience and of course winning three gold medals was an achievement I will remember for the rest of my life. Leading up to Rio it had been another hard four years of commitment, sacrifice and tough decisions as I made sure nothing was overlooked in my quest to win Paralympic gold.

As an elite athlete you have to be confident in your ability, resilient when faced with injuries or other challenges, and understand how to perform at your best, especially when you are placed in high pressure and highly stressful situations. Believe me, when the media spotlight is on you and waiting to see your performance you can certainly feel it. I am driven by a desire to be the very best and since becoming an ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust three years ago, I’ve visited lots of schools around the country and  have seen this same desire and determination in many young people. They are aiming for their personal best in school and life but, let’s be honest, school life can be tough and can come with all sorts of pressure.

It is interesting to see that the Youth Sport Trust, supported by Young Minds, has developed an innovative programme — Get to the Start Line — which supports young people to manage their stress as they approach their exams. Get to the Start Line draws on the experiences of elite sportspeople who have to manage pressure to be able to perform at their peak. Inspirational athlete mentors work with the selected young people and share a range of techniques that alleviate stress and enable individuals to perform at their best. The programme also encourages young people to participate in physical activity and adopt other healthy lifestyle habits — such as eating well, sleeping well and relaxing — to improve their emotional wellbeing.

A worrying number of young people are dealing with mental health issues as a result of prolonged stress. School and life become increasingly stressful as young people prepare for exams for example Key Stage 2 SATs or GCSEs. While this affects most young people, Get to the Start Line particularly targets those young people who are beginning to show signs of difficulty in managing that pressure. By supporting these young people early in the run up to their final exams, it enables them to manage their stress rather than struggle with distress.

Click here for more information on Get to the Start Line.

So as I enjoy the success of an incredible achievement in Rio, I can reflect on some of the emotions I went through. The level of stress and expectations on my shoulders were greater than ever. I knew I had to overcome this to be the best and win gold and I hope that young people who feel the same way about their own challenges in life can do the same and win their own gold medal.

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