It was way back in June that I saw a post about an interesting-sounding webinar from England Athletics. With not much else to do in June, I watched the webinar. It was about a programme for talented athletes based at Birmingham University. You had to be, I think, 18 to 23 to take part. So my son was too young. But, during the webinar, they mentioned another programme for younger athletes – athletes in year 12. That sounded very interesting.
So I watched more webinars to find out more… The Youth Talent Programme is for talented year 12 athletes. It takes place at eight hubs around England and is coaching support for the athlete and their coach. As well as the coaching, there is advice from experts on strength and conditioning (aka the gym), sports psychology and nutrition. The aim is to identify upcoming young athletes to compete on the international stage and to give them the very best support to fulfil their potential. It sounds amazing.
It is a two year programme and is for boys and girls and all athletics events – sprinting, endurance running, jumps and throws. So the likelihood is that they wouldn’t take many long jumpers.
Watching the webinar, I felt like a fraud. Nobody knew who my son was or who I was. People asking questions seemed to be known by the coaches. They were probably already successful youth athletes and I was just the mum of a kid who’d once come second in the South West region in long jump. I felt like we weren’t good enough to be there.
But would my son be good enough? I didn’t know. His PB at the time of 6.51 was good, but it had the ‘w’ next to it (wind assisted), which always cast a slight shadow over it. And while certainly pretty impressive – especially as he’d been only 15 when he achieved the distance – I wasn’t sure if it was ‘good enough’ for a programme looking for the next crop of athletes to compete internationally.
His indoor performances this year (the only data we had for 2020, back in the days before the world shut down) hadn’t been great. But they had shown an improvement and his 6.29 at the national indoors was showing a return to form. And he still had his 6.51 from last year to fall back on.
Importantly, there was room on the application to write about injuries, so his performances for early 2020 would be explained by recovery from a fractured pelvis.
Applications opened in early July and closed in early September. We were paranoid about forgetting, so we did the application in early August. All applications had to be supported by a coach, who also needs to be willing to give up some of his/ her time for the programme. Importantly, they will also get support too, which will help the athlete on the programme, but should also help their other athletes.
My son’s coach was very nice and helpful with the application, but he was honest that he thought it was a long shot. My son is undoubtedly very good at long jump. But there are a handful of boys of his age who have jumped over 7 metres this year. In the coach’s opinion, my son was ‘regional good’ rather than ‘national good’.
A few weeks after we’d submitted the application, but before the closing date, my son jumped 6.63. He’d improved massively on his best jump this year of 6.29 and also removed all the uncertainty around his PB of 6.51. He’d also lifted himself a long way up the national rankings.
Luckily, the organisers of the Youth Talent Programme could access all of an athlete’s results and they would check them once the applications closed. So it didn’t matter that this result wasn’t on my son’s application.
We would hear if he’d got in early in October.
Then right at the end of September, I heard a sound like a herd of elephants coming through the roof. It was my son sprinting across the landing. Something bad must have happened.
He thundered down the stairs and skidded into the room.
HE’D GOT ONTO THE YOUTH TALENT PROGRAMME!
He was so excited and we are so excited (and proud) for him. This has taken away a lot of the disappointment at the lack of competitions this year. The online induction is this Saturday and then there is another online session early in November. He also has permission to book training sessions for free at the indoor High Performance Centre in Birmingham (where he did a couple of competitions at the start of this year). I hope at some point sessions will actually be in real life and face-to-face.
I have a feeling the Youth Talent Programme will be just what my son needs to really fulfil his potential in athletics.