Behind every athlete there is a circle of support.
In the background, a team of coaches, technical experts and administrators – some volunteer, some professional – combine resources to give them every chance of succeeding.
Each member of that circle is vital, but many athletes also benefit from the support of their own family, which can be especially pivotal in their teenage years.
Sport First met up with the parents of some of Scotland’s leading young judo players to discover more about the commitment it takes for them to support their children’s sporting endeavours – and why they do it.
It’s 7.45am on a Sunday morning in mid-January. Dozens of families have braced the cold to accompany their children, some of the best young judo players in Scotland, to a JudoScotland Talent Development (TD) training day at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Half an hour later, the TD squad members (aged 11 to 16) are being put through their paces on the sprint track by Greg Valentine, sportscotland institute of sport physical preparation coach.
In the nearby tribunes, the parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters of the aspiring judoka are listening as Euan Burton and Gary Edwards talk them through the day ahead.
Euan, recognisable to most people as judo gold medallist and Team Scotland flagbearer at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, is now national high-performance coach. Gary is national talent development coach. Between them, they are introducing the expectations of a high-performance environment.
Later in the morning, the parents will be given information on the judo pathway, UK Anti-Doping and the role of the parent in supporting a developing athlete.
They appreciate the importance of this day and the unique opportunity it provides. Getting up early on a Sunday is one of the many ways in which they support their children in fulfilling their potential.
Dad’s view: Bernard Lappin
“My son Andrew is 15 and my daughter Heather is 12, and they are both heavily involved in judo through Southside Judo Club in Glasgow.
“We encourage them at all junctures of their journey, hopefully getting to the top of the sport. A lot of times we let them take the decisions on the part they want to do and continue.
“It is a big commitment but you do get a lot of support through our club, which is a tight-knit club, and we get support through other parents. Commitment-wise [we take them] to the club maybe four times a week.
“With Andrew being in the [TD] squad there are lots of foreign trips to Belgium, Luxembourg and Denmark, but he seems to enjoy it and obviously the commitment that we show is reflected in his and Heather’s continued enjoyment of the sport.
“It's a large part of our family's life. Andrew is a bit further on than Heather but both of them are at a high level. Heather is the Scottish champion at the moment and Andrew is the British champion at the moment for his age group.”
Supporters and influencers
For the coaches, one of the priorities of this testing day is to set the scene for what the judoka need to work towards at this stage of their development. This message is as much for the benefit of the parents as the players.
Euan Burton says: “Players in the transition group are, as the name suggests, in transition – from club judo to the international environment, from school to further education or work, from the family home to a more independent environment where they have less hands-on support.
“We know that during this period of their lives, their parents are still their biggest supporters and biggest influencers, so it’s vital that we engage with the parents as much as possible.
“That’s why it was so important to invite parents of the TD athletes along to today’s session and strengthen our relationship with them. We want them to know that we are going to continue engaging with them along every step of the pathway.”
Mum’s view: Valerie Sommerville
“My son David is 15 and he is a member of the Clyde Judo Club in Renfrewshire.
“I go to all the competitions and support him in any way I can – he’s our only child so I’ve got the time to do it for him. I enjoy it and he works hard so that’s the main thing.
“I take him to all the training sessions and competitions. I really love it, especially seeing how he’s progressed over the years. It wasn’t a sport I knew anything about so I’m learning every week with every competition.
“It’s mainly myself because my husband works for himself but it is five, six, sometimes seven days a week that he trains, so it is a lot – but it’s well worth it.”
Player’s view: David Sommerville (15)
“I want to be the best I can be and win all the time. Physical fitness is very important and I train every day, twice a day, five times a week.
“Today’s testing is very important so you can track your progress as you go up the ranks. Meeting the older athletes is helpful too as they’ve been through it all.
“My parents take me everywhere and with all my trips and my weekly club training, there’s no way I can do all this without them.”
A route to the top
Intelligent training is a phrase that comes through loud and clear in the morning session. It means training with clear purpose and monitoring your own progress and it leads naturally into a series of sophisticated physical profiling tests.
These tests were a key part of the approach taken by SIS and JudoScotland to help Sally Conway prepare to win a bronze medal at the 2018 Rio Olympic Games, and their purpose is two-fold:
- to create data that can be used to benchmark each athlete as he or she progresses towards the senior ranks
- to provide simple judo-specific physical exercises that the athletes, with the support of their parents and coaches, can do to help them be better prepared for the demands of top-level judo when they get there.
Olympic medallist’s view: Sally Conway
“The physical testing today is great because it’s a benchmark of your training and everything you do, then when you come to re-test it’s a good marker to see how much you’ve improved over the passing months.
“Having this kind of support is great because you get to know the people who are above you to see how they are acting and performing and I think it’s great to have those people to look up to.
“My dad used to drive me and my brother up and down the country taking me to different training sessions and competitions.
“If it wasn’t for my mum and dad supporting me from a young age, all the way through to now, I don’t believe I would be where I am today.”
Stuart Ferrier, sportscotland institute of sport performance pathway and talent manager, explains: “Having identified the characteristics of Olympic judo medallists, we have worked back through the pathway and explored how we foster the development of these characteristics in our younger athletes.
“In judo we have identified that TD judoka aged 11-16 have erratic levels of physical conditioning. We believe that by setting an expectation in five specific exercises, with the support of their coaches and parents, judoka will be able to physically prepare themselves for the transition into the senior ranks in a more meaningful and consistent way.
“Greg and Euan’s expertise has been vital in creating and using a simple testing protocol to create physical benchmarks our judoka can then take back to their clubs and build into the work they are doing.
“It’s not only going to help our current athletes, it will inform the work we do with future athletes. It is a simple and effective addition to the programme of development for the next generations of Scottish judoka.”
Euan Burton adds: “The aim of a sport like judo is pretty simple. You learn to throw for ippon, which is victory in one move, and to win in newaza, which is ground techniques.
“To do this you need to be creative and find a way, and the complexity comes in the variety of ways in which players can achieve this, which is what makes it such an interesting and dynamic sport.
“Since I’ve taken over the institute programme, I’ve become more and more aware that the bulk of the work we are doing is with the 16-22-year-olds in our transition squad.
“In the past, high-performance coaches spent most of their time working with senior athletes who are in their mid-20s and upwards – people who no longer rely on parental support.
“At JudoScotland we are doing more and more work on keeping youth judo players engaged, and part of that is getting away from the attitude that competition is everything. But we also know that people enjoy the sport more when they are raising their level, and that is what are always aiming to do in the performance team.”