The Derbyshire Institute of Sport relies on the generosity of sponsors to make a difference to athletes, enabling access to world-class support at an affordable cost. One business in particular, DIS Gold-tier sponsor Wytech, knows exactly why this investment in talented young athletes is important and how it can make a huge difference to every aspect of their lives.
When Wytech’s managing director Mark Jones first heard about the work that DIS was doing with promising young Derbyshire athletes, it immediately struck a chord and he had very personal reasons for offering Wytech’s support for the initiative.
Mark’s daughter Hannah was a world-class snooker sensation, winning the World Women’s Snooker U21 title six times as well as many other prestigious competitions, cups and titles nationally and internationally. She showed demonstrable cue skills from the age of 5; by 7 she had joined a club, started winning, and joined her first league. At 9, she was part of the world ladies’ tour and the competitions came thick and fast. Over the next few years, her sport took her all over the world whilst she was also juggling the usual teenage pressures of school, exams and growing up. By 17, while the world of cue sports was still at her feet, it all became too much for Hannah and she retired with fragile mental health and no love left for the sport that had been the focus of her life, and her father’s, for so long.
Looking back now, ten years after her retirement, Mark and Hannah (who now has a young family and a successful career in marketing at Wytech) can talk openly and honestly about the past. With the benefit of hindsight, they can identify what went wrong and are keen to help other athletes, and their parents, avoid going through similar experiences.
Mark explains: “Throughout Hannah’s playing career I was heavily involved – I organised the logistics of her schedule, travel, sponsorship, coaching … I offered practical support and tried to do all the right things. I was aware of her potential and tried to help her to fulfil it. But I was looking at it all from a very practical, adult perspective. I wasn’t fully aware of how Hannah was feeling and there were things she didn’t feel able to talk to me about. She was a young girl, growing into a young woman, and she felt lost in it all. She was competing internationally with adult ladies and often men, too; it’s a lot for a teenager to cope with.”
“Talking about things now with my dad, it’s clear that we had very different perspectives and different experiences of the same period in time – neither were right nor wrong, just different!” says Hannah. “While I was always grateful of my dad’s support there were things that I didn’t feel I could talk to him about; he often didn’t really know what was going on in my world. Sadly, the DIS wasn’t around when I was playing but I can see that a mentoring and support programme, like the one offered to DIS athletes, could have made the world of difference in helping meto process and handle situations as well as opening up communication with my dad.”
Hannah and Mark both believe that, with the help of an organisation like DIS, their experience could have been very different – and perhaps the outcome, too. “The DIS provides the model to athletes” explains Mark. “They’ve got experts in fields from strength and conditioning to nutrition and psychology teaching kids and young athletes the skills they need to help them through what are inevitably going to be very challenging situations. This not only empowers the athlete but it also takes the pressure off the parents, too. Having a world-class support network around them, in the shape of DIS, allows the athlete to move forward and become self-sufficient as they grow and develop, which simultaneously enables the parents to step back. They can follow, encourage and support their child’s journey, and hopefully enjoy it too, without being too heavily involved. I know from experience how that can end.”
There’s no doubt that competing at the highest level in any sport brings many challenges and countless athletes at the top levels are openly speaking out about their mental health battles. Feeling alone in a competitive world is a very scary place, which is why it’s so important that DIS athletes know they’ve always got a support team around them. The DIS aims to prepare and equip athletes with the skills and resilience they need to navigate difficult situations, to be there for them as they face these challenges, to prioritise their mental well-being as much as their physical health and condition, and to give them the tools they need to succeed as a high-performance individual, both in sport and in life.
It's clear, from DIS athletes' experiences, that this is working. Having supported many young people to achieve great things in high-level sport, athletes and alumni often say that the DIS has played an important part inin their success. Cyclist Dan Bingham, an international medal winner, says “Having DIS continuing to help me reduce the impact of injuries, stress and logistics has a significant impact on my performance.”
DIS Co-founder, Chloe Maudsley explains: “We deliver holistic support from a handpicked team of experienced and world-class practitioners including former elite athletes. This supplements and complements the help young athletes may already be receiving from their own sports clubs, coaches, schools and colleges. Together, these elements of support help our young people to grow and develop not only as athletes but as individuals. Being a teenager isn’t easy at the best of times, and being a parent of a teenager isn’t either, but being a high-performance teen is even more difficult which is why it’s so important for to have the right people in their corner.”
Mark adds: “We’re more than financial sponsors – on a personal level we’re heavily invested in what the DIS has to offer; Derbyshire children are very lucky to have access to this. Their support really is invaluable to both athletes and parents; Hannah and I have learnt this the hard way. Luckily, Hannah is now in a much better place; she has a lovely family, she’s doing well in her career and our relationship is good. As for snooker, well, time will tell… she may decide to bring her undeniable talent out of retirement when the time is right for her.”