British athletes remember their schooldays

Beth Tweddle, gymnast
The Queen’s School, Chester, class of 2003

‘I had a very happy school life, and was fortunate enough to have the full backing of both my friends and teachers. They all went to huge efforts to let me train when I needed to, and then helped me to catch up with the academic work that I’d inevitably missed. It was a great community-exactly as a school should be.’

Top tip ‘Try absolutely everything- you never know where your strengths might lie. Drag a friend along, too- it makes everything more fun.’

Sarah Webb, Yngling sailor (one of the ‘three blondes in a boat’)
St Maur’s, Weybridge, Surrey, class of 1995

‘I loved school and left having had a great time, with a fantastic group of friends. I was on the lacrosse and netball teams and loved athletics in the summer. I started sailing at six, so my main focus from fairly early on was that.’

Top tip ‘Sports were great for just getting outside and having fun, and that’s exactly what they should be-fun.’

Ben Ainslie, sailor
Truro School, Cornwall,class of 1995

‘I played cricket and hockey at school, but had to stop at the age of 11 when my sailing started to get serious. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given many sporting genes, and all those I did inherit were designed for sailing. My parents are both sailors. Roddy, my dad, skippered in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1972-73.’

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Top tip ‘Never give up. That’s the most important thing in sport.’

James Disney-May, Swimmer
Millfield School, Somerset, class of 2010

‘Millfield gave me the opportunity to be a student-athlete by offering me the combination of the highest quality of facilities and a top education. I was lucky enough to train in an Olympic-size pool and have some of the best coaches in the world. The school also taught me to be much more self-sufficient and organised and, due to the diverse student body, I was able to meet a variety of different people.’
Top tip ‘Make the most of the opportunities given to you. Be dedicated, trust your coaches and set goals of what you would like to achieve. And, most importantly, enjoy what you’re doing.’

Frances Houghton, rower
The King’s School, Canterbury, Kent, class of 1998

‘Everyone at King’s was very supportive of my rowing. They helped me get to all the training I needed, even if it involved missing a couple of lessons. Above all, it was a really fun environment to learn the sport in -a lot of the skills I learnt at school are ones I draw on now when I race internationally. The friends I made at the school boat club have remained my closest friends ever since.’

Top tip ‘If there’s someone there who believes you can do it, go with them. Start dreaming, then make a plan for how you’re going to achieve that dream.’

Richard Alexander, hockey player
Bungay High School, Suffolk, class of 1999

‘School taught me to channel my focus at the right times. This really helped me to concentrate more in class and release my excess energy on the sports field, instead of in the classroom during Latin. I really enjoyed representing my school, taking huge pride in being chosen over others. I was very competitive and often found it hard not being one of the best at academia, but found that sport was my strength. School was good for my competitive nature, but also taught me to work as part of a team, especially going from some sports where I was a main player to others where I was less dominant. I began to appreciate the team ethic and learnt to get the best out of both myself and the people around me.’

Top tip ‘Play all the sports you can-I found that, even if you stop after a few years to specialise, so many skills are transferable. Try your hand at everything, as, even if you’re not great at some sports, it gives you a greater understanding of performance in a team, and you’ll be more successful as a consequence.’

Laurence Halsted, foil fencer
University College School (UCS), Hampstead, London, class of 2002

‘The best part of school life for me was the sport. I was able to develop a wonderfully rounded talent for sports at UCS, and if ever I needed to be excused from activities, the teachers always understood. I could tell they appreciated the fact that I was dedicating myself to something, even if it wasn’t ever my schoolwork.’

Top tip ‘Enjoy sport, and look forward to the training as well as the matches.’

Jonathan Brownlee, triathlete
Bradford Grammar School, West
Yorkshire, class of 2008
‘I learnt that hard work would be rewarded. I also learnt self-discipline and how to motivate myself and that there is lots of time in the day-I had to fit in training and schoolwork and didn’t want to compromise either of them.’

Top tip ‘Try and enjoy it all. Don’t get too serious about one sport too early, and keep doing as many as possible. The skills will transfer. Focus on one sport when it feels right.’

Rebecca Adlington, swimmer
The Brunts School, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, class of 2007

‘Brunts was really a performing-arts school, so sport wasn’t a massive deal.
But everyone was supportive when I followed my sisters into swimming. Both my coach [Phil Turner] and my parents had the same approach, which was not to push me. I think they might not have needed to, to be honest, because I’ve always expected so much of myself. My parents just encouraged me to enjoy it.’

Top tip
‘Balance your life as best as you can. You need the help of your coaches, teachers and your parents.Find a system that works for you.’

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