University is not the only route into a successful career, one of the UK’s most popular Olympic stars has insisted.
Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill said young people were increasingly choosing alternative paths to the traditional university route.
“We are seeing more of that now and [attitudes are] changing," she said. "People want to do different things; not everyone wants to go to university. A lot of people want to go into [their chosen] field and put [their interests] into practice."
Dame Jessica, who is a London 2012 Olympic gold medallist and three-time world champion in the heptathlon, was speaking at the announcement of the first venue for the new Institute of Sporting Futures (ISF), a sports and education programme for school leavers, which is to be taught at Notre Dame High School in Sheffield.
The institute, which will offer a two-year post-16 programme designed to provide fast-track access to a sports coaching career, will launch in September at schools and colleges in Sheffield, Hull and Leeds. It aims to be “a holistic, employer-led alternative to academic programmes or apprenticeships for school leavers who are passionate about sport”.
'It is about experiences'
According to the Olympic champion, success in sports coaching was “about experiences and actually being out there and doing it".
"It is about going to championships and all of that. It also allows you to get an idea of what it is actually like,” added Dame Jessica.
She said she hoped the new institute would “offer an opportunity for people at that age to experience sports in a different way than they would have if they went to university or enrolled on a college course – to be hands-on”.
According to Dame Jessica, there had been a shortage of grassroots coaching staff in her own area when she started her career as a heptathlete, and she hoped initiatives such as this one would improve access for others.
The institute would create the sort of people for the sport who would “make a real difference”, she said.
“This is not so much about being an elite athlete [than] about giving them an opportunity to get a career in coaching, nutrition or all the support roles that are so important," said Dame Jessica.
"You still have to study, but you can also apply your sport into this field and put it into practice, and come out with a job or the opportunity for further education at the end of it.”
The course at the institute will combine classroom learning with work placements, coaching tours, volunteer opportunities, student events and university engagement. It is designed and delivered by First Step Sports Group, a physical activity and training provider based in Yorkshire. Candidates will obtain a level 3 diploma in sport and physical activity.
Dame Jessica is the key ambassador of the programme, and will be involved throughout the course to motivate and inspire students, while supporting the learning.
James Moore, founder and owner of First Step Sports Group, said: “Academic courses and A levels aren’t right for everyone – and for those with a real passion for sport, our programme is an invaluable first step that opens up clear pathways into the sports and leisure industry, both in the UK and across the globe.
"As a sports-coaching business, we know first-hand what it takes to succeed in the industry, and ISF is here to give students the best possible start.”