‘I definitely want to go to the next Olympics.’
Thirteen-year-old Lola Tambling has been skateboarding for five years. Living in Cornwall, the teenager recently came in second place at the Skateboard GB National Championships Women’s Park.
‘I was eight when my parents opened up a skatepark,’ remembers Lola. ‘On the first day, I saw all the skaters, thought I wanted to try it and then I loved it.’
Like so many kids up and down the country – and the generations before them – she has been inspired by Team GB’s success in the Olympics. But this year there’s something different.
When 13-year-old Sky Brown took to the podium on Wednesday to receive her bronze medal in Tokyo for skateboarding, she set a precedent for youth all over Great Britain by showing that a child’s beloved hobby can lead to world class level achievement.
And it wasn’t just Sky. Bethany Shriever earned a gold in BMX, while Kye Whyte claimed silver. Meanwhile our swimming team saw success like never before, earning four golds, three silvers and one bronze.
‘The Olympics have been amazing and are creating such a buzz within the team, now that it is finally here,’ says Neil Ellis, Engagement Manager for Skateboard GB. ‘Many of my friends’ children are wanting a skateboard this summer and even more exciting, most of them are girls picking up a board for the first time.’
When Lola first started out, she was kitted out with a Penny skateboard, a cycling helmet, and knee pads. ‘But as time went on, I got the proper things I needed. Skateboarding is really expensive since I travel a lot. My parents help me and I use the money I get from winning competitions to pay for things.’
Now Lola trains four or five times a week after school. ‘I haven’t been getting that much homework recently, so that’s good,’ she laughs. ‘I just go to school and then after, to the skate park.’
While pressure to achieve and ‘land your run’ is sometimes high, Lola insists, ‘It’s not too bad. It’s not all about the winning – it’s about taking part. If you keep falling off, keep trying and don’t give up – because you love it.’
Skateboard GB’s Neil has been a skateboarder for over 20 years and says he found the best thing about the sport is the culture. ‘You go down to the skate park or skate the streets with others and learn new tricks with your friends,’ he says.
It’s something that he recommends as a starting point for kids who aspire to get to the Olympics some day. ‘Just grab a board and enjoy.’
Once a child has decided they want to go down the Olympic route, Neil suggests entering into local competitions to build up to National Championships. ‘Next month, we’ll be launching a Talent Pathway, supporting talented skateboarders if they want to get on the competitive journey.
‘It’s been really exciting to see kids who might not have had their eye on skateboarding before now talking about it after the Olympics,’ adds Alex Barton who who founded and works as a skateboard trainer at ABC Skateboarding, with his friend Charlie Spelzini.
‘When we’re teaching beginners, all we want to do is get them to the point where they can be at a skate park safely and use it independently,’ he explains. ‘If it’s on their mind that they want to become an Olympian or competitor one day, you’ve got to spend 10,000 hours skateboarding. You have to do every element all the time. It’s hard finding the time, but no one has gotten to a higher level on the skateboard without the hours and practising constantly. Repetition is the key. Once you learn a new trick, it’s no good moving on. Keep doing it until you have perfected it.’
Having a facility to skateboard is a ‘very valuable thing’ in a country where there is lots of rain. ‘And know that you are going to fall off, a lot,’ warns Alex.
‘Most importantly, we just want kids to have fun. Everyone we have seen go professional has fun with it,’ says Alex. ‘As long as you’re doing that and you’re dedicated, then you’re going to go far.’
‘Just get out there and skate lots,’ adds Neil. ‘Push yourself to learn new tricks and when you are ready, start entering competitions.’
Sarah Scudamore lives in Bournemouth with her two children – Amelia, age seven and Cohen, age four.
‘Both my husband and I are quite sporty,’ she explains.
‘I’ve always been into team sports, like volleyball and basketball, and my husband is into surfboarding, kite surfing, skateboarding, and longboarding.’
With the influence of their parents’ active lifestyles, Amelia and Cohen have both taken to different sports, but it is BMX that they excel at and feel passionate for.
‘In lockdown last year, we would visit the BMX track right near our house on our daily walk for them to have a little loop around on their bikes. We didn’t really push them towards it – they are just fearless, and they’d try anything.
‘My son in particular is very, very good on his BMX bike now,’ adds Sarah. ‘Everyone looks at him and says “wow!”. When the Olympics came on, Cohen announced he wanted to be a BMXer when he grew up.’
To foster their love of the sport, Sarah purchased everything the kids need to ride – bikes, body armour, and knee and elbow pads. ‘We picked it all up second-hand from someone at the local BMX club,’ she says. ‘People are always getting rid of things as their children grow up so we’ve picked up everything quite cheap.’
With a track so close to their home, although lockdown is now over, Sarah still takes them for a ride after school or on the weekends.
‘We’re going to take them to the competitions at the track and see if Cohen wants to take part in those in the next couple of years,’ she says. ‘When he is school age, he’ll be able to get the coaching offered at the club.’
While Sarah is hopeful for her kids’ futures in BMX, she isn’t pressuring them. ‘It’s just great to see them really enjoying it. I think it’s finding things that they love and just continuing to expose them to it. If it goes somewhere, it does, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But at least they are choosing the things that they enjoy.’
Marcus Bloomfield, is lead BMX coach for the Great Britain Cycling Team and coached Bethany Shriever and Kye Whyte.
‘These Olympic Games have been very, very surreal in that everything came together at the right time,’ he says.
‘You plan for the best and that’s what you work toward, but it’s very rare that it all comes together at the same time for two athletes on the same day.’
‘It’s very easy for kids to get caught up in how the elite train,’ Marcus adds, referring to some of the social media posts many athletes share of their extreme training regimes. ‘But actually, what they need is to do the same things that Bethany and Kye were doing when they were 10 years old, and improve on that with the facilities we now have in place. If we copy what elite athletes do, that’s not necessarily the right thing for kids.’
Marcus admits that there aren’t any failsafe methods for kids to get to a competitive level in BMX due to the technical aspects, which require a certain degree of maturity to attain, however, he adds that if a child does show an unusual drive or talent, take them to the nearest BMX club.
‘A club will give you a support network so when you decide you want to go to a race, it will be the right race and they’ll make sure you’re OK. It’s that massive family environment that you get with a club that keeps people in the sport.
‘You don’t have to be at a certain level to sign up for a race,’ he explains. ‘You could enter a kid in a race as a novice, and on the following weekend, they could go to a local regional event.’
Not sure where to start? Here’s some useful websites…
Cycling and BMXing – British Cycling has a list of local clubs and events
Skateboarding – Skateboard GB’s website can point you in the direction of nearby parks, where to get lessons and even offers handy tips for starters
Climbing – The British Mountaineering Counsel has information on local courses, climbing walls and events
Swimming – Outdoor or indoor, Swim England is the place to visit if you want to look for places to swim, clubs to join and events to take part in.
After winning silver, Kye Whyte says that the BMX club where he trained was inundated with enquiries.
‘Instantly all 100 bikes were hired out. We have made the BMX sport cool and back in the limelight once again,’ he says.
Making the leap from a BMX rider to Olympian was not as difficult as it may seem, adds Kye. ‘I was lucky that I had so much confidence as I was winning every competition, even out beating the older kids from an early age.
‘Also, at the age of 13 I had a really bad accident on the bike, which left me in an induced coma and changed my life. I refused to let it stop me from riding again though, so when I returned to the sport at 14 I put my heart and soul into it.
Even after that accident, I never let fear get in the way of a ride as I am very chilled naturally and believe in fate so whatever happens, happens. However, being in the right mindset is vital and I know that more than anyone.’
The Olympian admits that as a child he was a bit of a ‘naughty boy’.
‘Even when I started to progress on the BMX circuit I was a bad athlete, had no discipline when it came to following rules,’ Kye remembers. ‘Then something changed in my head and I knew I had to focus on being serious in the sport, which included everything from following a nutrition plan to getting enough sleep.’
However, he says he refuses to let medal-winning success go to his head.
‘Growing up in Peckham it was so multi-cultural and mixing with people from all sorts of life has shaped me. It means the world that the young kids at the Peckham BMX club were supporting me at 5am. It is nothing but love they gave me and so coming home and returning to the club to show them my medal was unbelievable.
‘I had promised I’d bring something nice back to Peckham before the Olympics so it was good to follow it through.
‘The BMX circuit is like one big family,’ Kye adds. ‘My parents sacrificed such a lot for me to excel in the sport. I remember one time we travelled to an event where I slept in a friend’s house and they slept in the car just to be there for me.’
It’s the accessibility of BMXing that coach Marcus has loved being a part of since starting his career at the age of four.
‘Just let kids have fun. I think that’s the biggest thing,’ he says. ‘Let them make mistakes without fear of consequences. That’s the best way to learn. If they are in it for the long term, figure out what is going to get them success and spend time working on it. Just because it doesn’t go right straight away doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path – it just means it may take more time.’
Also making its debut this year at the Tokyo Olympics alongside skateboarding, is sport climbing. It’s an activity that has received extra funding and a growth in popularity among children over recent years and according to the British Climbing Association, there are now over 400 climbing walls in the UK.
Ishtar Witt is a 26-year-old sport climber in South Wales and coaches climbers of all different ages and ability levels. ‘Some of the youth I work with are competing at the national level and some at a local,’ he says.
‘The first thing I do with anybody approaching the ambition of competing is get them to imagine the craziest possibility for their future that they can think of because the biggest limitation in climbing is the mind.’
Once his students have nailed down a dream, Ishtar works to evaluate their climbing fundamentals to figure out where to start with training. ‘A lot of it is just strengthening their resilience to working hard so we up the physical and mental pressure.’
‘To see climbing become an Olympic sport is a dream come true for Leah Crane, Team GB’s Sport Climbing Head Coach. ‘It has been a wild ride for us to get here,’ she says with a smile.
‘My advice to a young person wanting to start climbing is find your nearest climbing wall and simply have go. Joining a club or group session at your local wall is a great way to meet new people, make friends, and find people to climb with.
‘Getting to the Olympics can be a long journey and training with friends is way more fun. I honestly believe the key to success in climbing is to have fun and work hard. It’s a winning combination.’
Ishtar agrees. ‘For me, when it comes down to who succeeds, it is purely the person who tries the hardest and puts the most time in,’ he says. ‘Set your ambitions high and work hard.’
Additional reporting: Suzanne Baum
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