Mr Eccles and Mr Cotgreave by Jessica Ennis-Hill

23rd October 2015 at 00:00
In class it was all about hard graft for the Olympic and world heptathlon champion, but on the sports field these two PE teachers gave her the self-belief to succeed

Because I was athletic and sporty from a young age, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I connected with my PE teachers. Mr Eccles and Mr Cotgreave were two of the very best and had a hugely positive influence on me. I have fond memories of a number of teachers at King Ecgbert School in Sheffield but these two stand out.

It was a really good school. I was a chatty student and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t naturally really bright. I had to work hard. I did get the grades but that came from grafting: putting the hours into my studies and creeping my way up to better marks.

I was more of a natural when it came to sport. Mr Eccles was head of PE, and his passion and enthusiasm for every single sport we did was admirable. His energy for everything from rounders to athletics was an inspiration in its own right. He was fairly strict, which meant there wasn’t too much messing around, but he wasn’t scary at all. He walked that line wonderfully well. He commanded respect, but the respect mainly came from his skill as a teacher, not from fear of getting a telling off.

Mr Cotgreave commanded a lot of respect, too, but he was a little more relaxed in his approach. He had a lot of banter with the pupils, and that’s a really strong characteristic because it shows that you’re treating them like adults. It means the teacher knows that kids can joke around for a portion of the time but then knuckle down when they need to. Mr Eccles and Mr Cotgreave were very different in their teaching styles but ultimately both were very effective.

The key to being a good teacher is understanding your pupils. You have to know how to get the best out of them. It’s about understanding that each kid is an individual and you should treat them as such, but also being able to mould the class into a team, particularly when it comes to sport. It’s an incredibly tough job, teaching, and one that I can only imagine takes an awful lot of time to master. But these two mastered it.

Mr Eccles had a clarity to what he was teaching that appealed to us. He had this knack for getting to the point. And on top of communicating well with us, he made sure we communicated well with each other. Teamwork was a massive part of what he promoted and that bonded us as classmates.

We actually really enjoyed going to these teachers’ classes. You’d be looking at your watch at 10am on a Thursday knowing that by 3pm you’d be in PE.

Both men had a wonderful ability to instil confidence in their pupils. Confidence is a huge part of childhood. I’m an ambassador for Sky Academy, which recently did a study that highlights how young kids, particularly girls, really lack confidence in school. Confidence has such a big impact on someone’s life and it can dictate what they go on to do – or not do – beyond education. Teachers who can boost that confidence at an early stage are vital. They really do play a part in what young people go on to achieve, and I think Mr Cotgreave and Mr Eccles contributed to what I have achieved.

I’m still in contact with them, actually. They have kindly followed my career closely and are always quick with emails wishing me good luck or congratulations. So I guess even now they’re boosting my confidence, all these years on.

Jessica Ennis-Hill was talking to Tom Cullen. She is supporting the Sky Academy Confidence Month. Sky Academy is a set of initiatives that use the power of television, creativity and sport to help young people unlock their potential. Find out more at

Front runner

Jessica Ennis-Hill

Born 28 January 1986, Sheffield

Education King Ecgbert School, Dore, Sheffield

Career Current Olympic and world heptathlon champion; former European heptathlon champion; former world indoor pentathlon champion

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