As with the start of any new Olympic and Paralympic cycle, the next few months will see an influx of new athletes joining World Class Programmes of various summer sports.
With the environment that they are joining likely to be different to anything that they have experienced before, we’ve asked some of our current and former members for their advice on getting used to the new challenges and opportunities which come with becoming a World Class Programme athlete.
Here, Commonwealth champion judoka, Nekoda Smythe-Davis, talks about relocating for your sport, and getting used to life in different surroundings.
“I grew up in north west London with my mother and brother for pretty much all my life. I did relocate for a couple years to west London after college to live closer to my judo club; Ealing Judo Club, and I also had a few jobs in west London to pay my way whilst I trained, but my judo club as well as my coach Jo were the backbone of my support network and judo career.
“We are a little family that goes above and beyond just sport. Relocating away from my club and coach to the national centre in Walsall, when I was 20, was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.
“At the time I felt it was the best decision for me. It offered the best full, rounded approach to everything I needed support-wise to be able to focus solely on judo. It also offered financial stability so that work wasn’t taking away from crucial training and rest time – it was essentially confirmation that I was going to completely dedicate the next few years of my life to my sporting goals; and that the other things that people of my age were doing – such as going to university and exploring other career paths, would take a back seat for now.
“This is a move that many new World Class Programme athletes will be making in the next few weeks, and my advice would be to just take each day as it comes. New situations and training environments take time to adjust to both emotionally and physically.
“Try to enjoy what you are doing and embrace all the new challenges and demands on your body. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel overwhelmed or super tired and you need a rest. Those feelings are normal for newbies.
“Yes, it is supposed to be challenging but you should not feel broken in your first few weeks and months. In time you’ll be able to tolerate more and more training and a good programme will allow for that steady increase in training load.
“My other bit of advice would be to scout out your surroundings and get to know the area if you don’t already know it. It’s a good opportunity for you to get breaks away from the training environment and do something that feels normal and fun, and it’s also a good way of bonding with your training mates.
“Work hard and no doubt you will begin to see consistent improvements; keep a diary, whether just to keep a track of training or to write down any feelings or thoughts. It’s great to hold yourself accountable but also to look back at to see how far you have come over time. The best trait you can begin to build is ownership over your own training – knowing what works for you and why. Your input into your own programme is going to be your most valuable asset in years to come.
“I found the move to be challenging, because I was in a completely new area, and had completely relocated my whole life. I didn’t know what to expect going into it. It was hard to leave my family and judo club as well as adjust to the idea of working with a new coach.
“But overall, I was just so ready for it and excited for what was to come. A new chapter could not have come at a better time for me. There were lots of newbies just like me going to the centre, and having that in common really helped us all settle in. We were all going through the same feelings and thoughts. We were all tired from training together so shared experience brought us closer together and we became even better friends than we were before.
“Looking back, I would not have done much differently. I took each day as it came and gave my very best in every training session. I took the time and effort to build relationships with staff and my peers which meant I had a good support network in no time.
“Ultimately, moving away to join a World Class Programme is a huge opportunity, and a massive validation of your ability and potential as an athlete, so I would encourage anyone currently in this situation to throw themselves into it wholeheartedly. It’s a special kind of job that you should be so proud of. Take every bit of learning and opportunity with both hands. You’ll never know just how far you can go in your sport with the right kind of support around you.”
New athletes can access the BAC’s independent, confidential support by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.