Young people learn from two British sporting heroes
Have you ever wondered how heavy an actual medal from the Olympic Games is or what it feels like to captain your country? Well, this half-term, young people from Six 21, Harris Academy Tottenham and St John's Wood found out during a brilliant event exploring sports psychology hosted by EYLane4 in their skyscraper offices at Canary Wharf.
The medal in question — which, for the record, weighs an absolute tonne — belongs to Anyika Onuora, who competed as a sprinter for Team GB at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Anyika talked to Behind Every Kick's young people about resilience and how her ability to confound not only injury and illness — including contracting malaria ahead of the Rio Olympics — but also those people who said she wouldn't make it powered her to a brilliant 4x100 relay bronze in Brazil.
Anyika also explained that her path to the pinnacle of her sport was not inevitable but began with her grasping an opportunity. Aged 11, while excelling in the classroom, she kept her track and field prowess on the down low. It was only on her school's annual sports day that she showcased her sprinting talent. A scout from Liverpool Harriers was watching and asked her to come and train at the famous club. The first year he asked, Anyika turned him down. But a year later, when the scout made it clear he couldn't wait for her forever, Anyika grabbed the opportunity with both hands. With that decision, the direction of Anyika's life was transformed. Her message to the young people in attendance was to avoid regretting what might have been, to seek out chances to shine while doing what you love, and to find those people who want to help you on your way.
After everyone had been able to lay their hands on her precious medal, Anyika safely tucked it away in its case before handing the metaphorical baton over to former Wales Rugby captain and British Lion Ryan Jones. Ryan — who had drawn some brilliant answers from the group by asking them if they were a vegetable what one would they be ("a cucumber because I'm underrated" was Davika's magnificent rejoinder), then explored the characteristics of high-performing teams.
Ryan explained how teams are only as strong as their weakest performer and shared how he felt that while he was never the most talented player, he was world-class at being a team-mate. He confided how suffering a bitterly disappointing defeat to Fiji in the 2007 World Cup was the catalyst for a complete change in team culture for Wales. The squad found a new unity of purpose and respect for each other that saw them sweep aside England, France, Ireland, Italy and Scotland to win the Six Nations Championship just six months after their lowest point. Ryan attributes his success as captain — and that of the wider team — to their ability to focus on the things within their control (Being on time, work ethic, effort, body language, energy, attitude and doing extra rather than doing enough).
Ryan brought this to life for Behind Every Kick's young people with a tennis ball — well, actually, a bagful of tennis balls. He challenged the group to circulate the ball without passing it directly to the person next to them. Easy ... at least on paper. After a breakdown in communication on the first go, a quick team huddle to reinforce the importance of Message, Audience, and Delivery soon resulted in the ball flying around the group in less than 12 seconds. Then Ryan upped the ante to 10 balls. Attempt one failed, and the team reviewed and reset. A few minutes later saw nine balls safely thrown around in sequence. The tenth ball started its journey. Unfazed by Ryan's attempts to psych them out with some chat from the sideline, Acacia confidently caught Anyika's throw to complete the task in style. This prompted one final bit of advice from Ryan to the young people that proved to be the perfect message to end a fantastic day: "Always make sure you celebrate your successes".