Grassroots youth sport is awash with kids – and their parents – harbouring dreams of making it as a professional. We all have hopes and dreams. For kids in sport, hopes and dreams are a natural byproduct of the enthusiasm and devotion to the sports that they enjoy. What young boy or girl kicking a ball around hasn’t dreamed of scoring the winner in a Wembley Cup final? What junior cricketer hasn’t dreamed about hitting the winning runs in an Ashes Test match? But what happens when those dreams run into trouble or, worse, are dashed – and how can we manage those dreams at a time when some sporting industries, particularly football, are becoming increasingly brutal and treat sporting children like commodities?
We all hear the success stories, but seldom hear of the disappointments and the difficulties faced in chasing sporting success. In chasing that dream of professional sport, innumerable hurdles must be overcome. For parents and kids, hours upon hours can be spent on the road travelling to training and fixtures, with weekends – and even weekdays – revolving around sport, while everything else takes a backseat to the often obsessive pursuit of being discovered. Sport should be enjoyable, but the pursuit of sporting dreams can be fraught with peril.
One of the greatest impediments to fulfilled dreams – injuries
One of the reasons elite sport is so well remunerated is the fact that a career in sport is so short and, critically, so fragile. One of most common impediments to dreams fulfilled is, of course, injury. Injury pays no heed to whether you are a youngster trying to reach the top, or whether you’re Tiger Woods.
In 2015, we went to meet Charlotte Ogden – a triple jumper of enormous potential and one of the very best in her age group in the country. Charlotte, who had dedicated so much of her childhood and teens to athletics, was about to start at Loughborough University, the UK’s premier sporting academy. At the end of her first year, we spoke to her again and discovered a frustrated athlete after a hamstring injury followed by a torn tendon in her ankle had put paid to much of her season. It was a stark illustration of just how precarious things can be for a brilliant, aspiring athlete.
Sadly for Charlotte, the injury problems haven’t gone away.
Unfortunately it hasn’t been amazing since we last spoke. A few weeks into winter training in September I had a pain in the side of my lower tibia, which turned out to be a stress fracture. So I haven’t been able to train properly since. Ever since then I have been extremely frustrated as I am not where I want to be mentally or physically, and just as I start to recover from one thing, something else becomes a problem.
Injuries are an inevitable occurrence in any sport – but the difficulties in coping with injuries, especially for young sportspeople, can be enormous. Athletes invest so much in achieving optimal performance that their self-worth is often inextricably linked to their performances – and when the ability to train and compete is taken away, it can be devastating.
I had a chat with my coach as I was very frustrated and felt I was just training for the sake of it as I couldn’t train to my full potential, could only train certain things, and with no end goal as I couldn’t triple jump due to the pain in my leg. So my coach and I decided to have a year off as it was obviously causing me more problems than anything else. For now I have decided to try and focus on left leg long jump, so I at least have something to work towards and focus on. Although it isn’t painful jumping as it’s all left leg based, the injury is still there – but I’m in the process of it being looked and scanned by a specialist.
Countless budding sportsmen and women fall by the wayside because of injury and the various travails that go with it. Charlotte, however, has been able to take solace in the sporting environs of Loughborough University, and maintains an admirably positive attitude despite her injury troubles.
It’s SO frustrating you don’t even understand. Especially when you feel you really have potential to do well, and my coach has no doubts about my ability to jump over 13m. But due to injuries I’ve never had the chance to properly go for it. If I’m completely honest I think if I lived at home or went to a different uni I would’ve just given up by now. But due to the training environment at Loughborough, my training partners and other athletes around Loughborough being in a similar situation definitely makes it easier.
In life we undertake much of our learning through making mistakes and experiencing disappointments. Defeats, injuries, rejection and other setbacks are a fundamental part of sport – but it’s how we respond to them and learn from them that makes us truly successful.
While it is great to dream, and to dare to fail, it is critical for parents and children alike to temper expectations and go into that pursuit of a sporting dream with eyes wide open – and never lose sight of the idea that, principally, sport is to be enjoyed.
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