Olympic hopeful Emily Webb is determined to do whatever it takes to reach the 2020 Games in Tokyo, having taken what she describes as the ‘biggest gamble of her life’ just to put her in with a chance. With her sporting talents having been discovered by the Girls 4 Gold campaign run by British Canoeing early last year, she has since put her university studies on hold, moved away from home and become a full-time athlete. Here she talks about the importance of encouraging participation in sport from an early age and the need to show young girls that they can be whatever they want to be.
I loved PE at school, it was my favourite subject, and I know how important that early enjoyment was in leading me to do what I do now. There is too much pressure on young people now to be pushed into competitive sport – which is something I think you should only do if you’re ready and you have the required level of support around you.
Sport when you’re a child needs to be about having fun, giving everything a go and learning how best to enjoy it. For example, I teach at a gymnastics club in my spare time, and our motto there is ‘fun, fitness, friendship’. It doesn’t matter if a five-year-old kid I teach is going to be the next Olympic champion, that’s not what we’re trying to teach them. It’s about them learning their values – respecting others, having an appreciation of people’s strengths and weakness, improving their discipline and, most of all, making friends and being happy.
If you’re trying to sell the concept of sport to someone, it’s important to consider both the child’s feelings and the parents. It needs to be advertised as both something fun and something that has wider benefits that will set that child up for the rest of their life – that’s how you’ll make the parent part with their money and keep the child turning up.
I think more could be done as well – as adults, we need to act as role models. There are a lot of adults in our society who don’t partake in sport and don’t have an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle. The only way that is going to change is if you engrain this in people from a young age. The education at schools regarding health and fitness – physical and mental wellbeing – could always be better. It’s only by doing this that we can ensure our children are growing up to be healthier, sportier and happier, and then passing that message on to their future children.
What’s disappointing is that, from such a young age, children are expected to conform to stereotypes. As a young girl, the first thing someone is likely to point out to you is your nice dress, your new hairstyle or the colour of your nails, while boys get asked what football team they support. Why should that always be the case? I do understand to some extent, but I think we can at least address the balance and give all young girls a fair chance.
Girls should be able to do whatever they want to do. I don’t think there’s a problem with a girl that wants to be a model or wants to go to college and study health and beauty, but they should know that sport is always there for them and sport will always be there for everyone. That’s an option as well, and it’s important for people to remember that.