If your child starts to show promise in a sport, finding the cash to support them can be a problem. Training, coaches and clubs cost money. So does travel, particularly if your son or daughter starts competing across the globe, and that can happen sooner than you think.
“I got selected for my first world championships, in Greece, when I was five-and-a-half or six,” says Lauren Williams, who is now a youth world champion in taekwondo. At the time, she was a kickboxer.
“That’s about when I started getting picked on in school, so I started taking kickboxing more seriously – going more often, training a bit harder. (“I made a few more friends after that,” she adds, laughing.)
Lauren, now 15, already has a dozen world titles to her name.
“It’s a really big commitment,” admits Tanya, her mother. “We were going around the world with her and we knew that funding would be an issue.”
The family found the solution in a vending machine. Then another vending machine. And then another one.
“My father-in-law used to go to local companies in Wales, where we live, to ask for sponsorship,” recalls Tanya. “But that was hard to do, really – they all wanted to sponsor a big team instead of an individual.
“So what me and my husband decided to do was set up sponsorship through vending machines.”
Despite having no prior experience in the industry – Tanya works full-time in a college, her husband was a police officer – the pair came up with a scheme to install vending machines at various local businesses. The companies would pay for the electricity powering the machines, but the Williamses would do the rest, including stocking and maintaining them. Any profit they made from sales would then go towards Lauren’s kickboxing.
The family saw it as a way of “giving back”, in a sense, to the community – the businesses and vending machine users were getting something out of the deal, and so was Lauren. The scheme worked, but the family now needs funding and commitment more than ever. Lauren has been chosen to join the British taekwondo team full-time.
“With Rio I’m not 100%, because of my age. I’m not sure I’ll have the ranking points or the experience. 2020 is more realistic.” Lauren Williams
She had already built up an impressive kickboxing resume when her father applied for her to join the Fighting Chance programme, designed to let top young athletes transfer into taekwondo – which is an Olympic sport, whereas kickboxing is not.
“In February of last year I had my first selection phase,” says Lauren. “That was one day in Manchester doing a series of tests, fights, some strength and conditioning.
“The second phase was a weekend with more matches, a bit of training and more conditioning tests.
“About a month later, we went up to Manchester again for a week’s boot camp – training three times a day – to test what we’d be like in a full-time programme. At the end of that, I was successful.”
That presented a big problem for her parents. The family live in south Wales but the British team trains in Manchester.
Lauren explains how they coped: “We were given around two or three months’ notice that we had to move up to Manchester, so my mum moved up with me around August-time, so I could start the new school year there in September.”
Lauren and Tanya left her sister and father back in south Wales, splitting the family in two for the sake of sustaining her taekwondo ambition.
“We’re staying in temporary accommodation in Manchester until I’m 16 [in February 2015], when I can move in with the other athletes,” adds Lauren.
Tanya says: “It was quite easy to make that decision, at the end of the day. You’ve got to do what you can for your children, and we’ve only got until next February to go.
“We’ve never pushed, you know. It’s always been her decision, and we’ve been there to back her all the way.” Tanya Williams
“We go home when we can, and my husband and daughter come up here when they can, for the weekend.”
Despite moving to the Manchester area, Lauren is still an hour’s journey from school, so she is out of the door by 6.30am each day for a morning of schoolwork. By 1pm she has left her special half-day school arrangement behind and will be in training an hour later, with physio or strength and conditioning commitments until 5pm or beyond.
“At the minute my ambition is 2020,” says Lauren, who won her world youth gold within half a year of switching from kickboxing to taekwondo, marking her out as a potential star of the future. She now spends time sparring with Jade Jones, the Olympic champion.
“With Rio I’m not 100%, because of my age. I’m not sure I’ll have the ranking points or the experience. 2020 is more realistic.”
Her mum says: “When Lauren won the world title it was fantastic. I was back at home in Wales and we were watching it on an iPad, me and my mother-in-law, crying. I don’t think she’d realised what she’d done when she won.
“We’ve never pushed, you know. It’s always been her decision, and we’ve been there to back her all the way.
“Some children can’t carry on because of funding – it is hard – but when you see somebody this passionate, who absolutely loves it, you know then that you’ve done the right thing. She absolutely adores it.”