FE boarders to keep sport talent on track
The country's first state boarding college for elite athletes will open next year in a bid to stop promising young talent from dropping out.
The Elite Performance Centre at Loughborough further education college in Leicester will offer 16 to 18-year-olds the training and support needed to become top competitors without having to sacrifice their education.
The college, which hopes to welcome its first full cohort in the spring, will allow athletes from a range of sports to receive expert training on a daily basis rather than just two or three times a week.
Chris McGeorge, Loughborough's elite sport education officer who is also a former Commonwealth Games 800m bronze medallist, says the new boarding facility will give young sportsmen and women the necessary timetable to keep them focused.
"There are so many different pressures for young people growing up, and it can lead to some very gifted young athletes no longer continuing in their sport and slipping through the net," Mr McGeorge said.
"Hopefully, this centre will go some way in preventing more of those young people from doing that."
The boarding college has been backed by former Olympic athletes including double gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, who said the centre would prevent promising teenagers from dropping out of sport.
"There is a huge drop-out rate among promising athletes at the age of 16 and 17," Dame Kelly said. "When I was 16, I underwent a lot of lifestyle changes and it wasn't a good year at all for my sport.
"Many others, some more talented than I was, gave up their dream around that time. This (the performance centre) will provide young people with the structure and support they need at a turning point in their lives."
The college has been running a pilot with Volleyball England, the sport's governing body, which has shown the players have responded well to more regular training of up to 16 hours a week.
The athletes are identified by each sport's national governing body, and then the college moves in to discuss whether joining the boarding school is the right decision.
"Moving away from home at 16 isn't for everybody. So we talk with the athletes and with the parents, let them stay at the facilities for a day and a night to see if they are mature enough to move away from home," Mr McGeorge added.
The centre will eventually cater for young sportsmen and women involved in all sports including golfers, tennis players and gymnasts.
And the college is currently in talks with Loughborough University to provide 16-19 education, giving athletes the chance to continue their studies on a foundation course at the university.