Beth Tweddle and Rebecca Adlington have joined forces to get children active and believe instilling the values that catalysed their Olympic journeys is just as important as producing Team GB’s next crop of stars.
Working alongside Steve Parry and Adrian Turner, the four athletes run their own sporting academies but unite under the umbrella of Sporting House – an Olympic-led group of companies whose mission is to break down barriers to children achieving their true potential.
Former gymnast Tweddle and swimming ace Adlington scooped five Olympic medals between them but admit finding the next stars of the pool or floor is not their main priority.
They want grassroots physical activity to be as accessible as possible and believe there’s so much more to sport than simply success on the highest stage.
“We’re all just so passionate about giving children the opportunity to do physical activity, whether that is gymnastics or swimming,” said Tweddle, 35, who runs Beth Tweddle Gymnastics.
“But more than just that – it’s about teaching them those other skills. We learnt the swimming element and the gymnastics element, but we learnt so much more from doing our sport.
“All the values that come with that – whether it’s teamwork, friendship or the social element for children.
“I think we’ve all got that same vision, the same dream of engaging children in physical activity.
“None of us are out to create future Olympians – we’re out to create that grassroots level.
“Obviously if children go on and find a pathway to elite level, that’s amazing and we will be proud to say we’re part of that journey, but that is not our sole focus.”
As well as learning how to swim and developing the skills needed to compete in gymnastics, the values and characteristics children learn are vital.
In Adlington’s company – Becky Adlington’s Swim Stars – there is an explicit emphasis on fun, while children receive value awards for attributes such as determination and not giving up and gain more confidence in their skills.
And the two-time Olympic freestyle gold medallist, 31, added: “Even though we’re both part of individual sports essentially, there’s a big team behind you. Both sports are very sociable, they’re very team-orientated, and we work together with the coach and teammates.
“We also have values awards such as not giving up, because some of the skills are really difficult.
“We can relate – just because we’ve got Olympic medals, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t struggle.
“We want to give these kids a little bit of independence. It’s making sure that they have that independence away from mum and dad, and that they have the opportunity to build their own confidence.”
2020 has been dominated by uncertainty and the Covid-19 pandemic has made accessing sport and activity more difficult than ever.
But thanks to the programmes run by the Olympians, just under 20,000 children have had access to physical activity every week.
Like everyone, the business had to learn to develop and diversify when sporting venues were shut for much of the year. Sessions were developed to deliver to the children to ensure that they were staying physically active, while both Tweddle and Adlington have started baby classes in their respective sports too.
And Adlington, who also claimed two bronze medals at London 2012, explained: “You’ve got to be adaptable and flexible as a business, whether that’s with Covid, the facilities you are in, or the sport changing in terms of rules and regulations.
“The best thing is the support that we’ve had from the parents and swimmers, which has been absolutely unbelievable this year.
“They feed back to the teachers, who feed back to us and it all feeds in.”
Tweddle, who scooped a bronze medal in the Uneven Bars at her home Games, added: “We did customer focus groups in lockdown so that we could understand what worked and how we could improve it in the future if it happened again.
“From lockdown one, we improved going into lockdown two – whether it was through communication or the product we were delivering to them during lockdown.”
Despite the challenges faced this year, the Olympic-led group of companies at Sporting House have continued to engage with customers and develop new products to keep members active.
And in 2021, they’re hoping to continue engaging children in activity and removing any further barriers they face.
“If everything goes to plan, we hope to get a more consistent programme run this year,” Adlington added.
“We hope we can get the kids progressing, because normally in a year they’ll have gone up two or three stages but they’ve not had that this year.
“We only launched our baby programme back in October, so we’ve still been in the pilot phase and that’s our big focus this year – rolling that out. It helps that my baby is due in February, so I can join in too.”
Tweddle added: “There’s so many different avenues that we’re hoping to break down the barriers for – whether it’s opening facilities to deliver more classes for our customers or the training of staff so that more and more children can enjoy what me and Becky had a lifetime of passion with.”