We talked to Sharron Davies MBE Olympic silver medallist, double commonwealth gold medalist, European medalist and twice sports woman of the year to ask her what it was like for her when he started out in sport…
Did you choose your sport or did it choose you?
As a little girl I rode ponies, did school sport and did ballet but gradually swimming took over and all the other sports got dropped for more swimming training. I was the right size and shape for the pool and it was evident quite quickly I could be good. I was Devon county senior champion at 10 and training every day by then.
Were your parents actively supportive of you doing your sport?
Very much so… we lived close to the pool and to start with it was a safety thing to be able to swim and mum took me but soon my dad took over and eventually he ended up my coach. He coached several other Olympians in the end. He was self taught and a very determined man. A huge amount of my parent’s spare cash was spent on my swimming and getting me to competitions and kit.
When did you start training regularly?
I started with Devonport swimming club to learn to swim at 4-5 then moved to the more competitive club Port of Plymouth when I was about 8 and training most days. I was in the water twice some days by the time I was 10. In those days we pushed our swimmers pretty young. I had wet hair a lot of the time in school, and did my first international at 11.
Did your parents ever think a professional sportsperson would be a good career for you?
Things were very different in those days. It was the 70’s and there was no money in amateur sport, even though we were training as hard and as long as they do now. There was no funding, no lottery and no medical support if you got injured. Everything came out of my parents pocket and they were just nice, normal folk. We had no summer holidays from when I was about 11 because money was being used for me to travel and race. A career in sport wasn’t even an option. I did my school work but the emphasis was put on my sport as my parents always felt I could do more school work once swimming had finished. I went to a private boarding school called Kelly College at 15, that offered me a scholarship, and therefore it was easier to do both.
Were you aware of the sacrifices your parents made for you? What were they?
Yes I think so although I was quite young. I know my brothers, who were four years younger than me, didn’t see much of their dad, and I often feel the guiltiest about that. We were away pretty much all summer and weekends racing or training. We didn’t have a very typical family life, it revolved around my swimming. I once heard my mum say that she needed a new washing machine, my dad told her a trip abroad to race had to come first! She tells me it was fine and she was happy to do it but I think you have to strike a balance for the whole family. It was very tough in those days; it’s easier now with much better support of our athletes once they get to a certain level.
How difficult is it/was it to balance sport and school?
It was ok until about 14 when exams came, I discovered boys and I was in the pool awful lot…. Elite sport is not for the faint hearted, you know there will have to be scarifies and you have to be prepared to make them if you want to be the best. Wining has to matter to keep making those scarifies, and I guess in a way school work was one of those things that had to be juggled. The number of exams I did got reduced to accommodate 6 hours a day of training and it was spread over a longer period. Today we have more help but Kelly was good for me it cut down on travelling time and I was with a lot of like minded people.
What did sport give you as a child?
Everything…. my discipline, my confidence, my target setting, my friends, my focus, my fitness and my worn out shoulders!
Would you encourage your children to take part in sport professionally?
Yes as I have loved my experience. Of course there are things I would do differently but the support and facilities are so much better now. Sport is for everyone, and we will all get different things from it but there is something out there we can all do well, we just have to find it. Some people love team sports others have to be individuals. To be great at sport these days you have to get the physiology right, eg tall if a basketball player, short if a gymnast! It’s so competitive. But I like to think as a nation we are so much better at talent spotting and nurturing. My son did rugby at Millfield School for four years and my daughter is a junior track and field international. He loves his sport but does not have killer instinct she does. Success is often measured by how much you want it. BUT that’s the same in life in general I think. My 7 year old is yet to find one sport so we do lots of different things, and will see what happens, but the choice has always been theirs! My biggest job is as a taxi service these days and now know what my parents felt like…..
Do you think it’s a good idea for a child to focus on one main sport straight away?
I made sure, with my kids, they did all sort of sports including skiing before specialising…i still like them to keep a certain amount of variety. I think a broad base is healthy, and gives better longevity. Luckily we like even our swimmers a bit older these days and have leant to cross train and pollinate ideas. But to be really good it takes huge focus….