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People: Max Whitlock on creating gymnastics opportunities for children

Olympic gymnast

Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 3
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Max Whitlock is a five-time Olympic medallist in gymnastics / © Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images
Max Whitlock is a five-time Olympic medallist in gymnastics/ © Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Tell us about your recent partnership with Everyone Active to launch Max Whitlock Gymnastics
We wanted to set up the partnership to combat the long waiting lists for gymnastics that currently exist around the country. There are so many kids that want to take part in gymnastics but who don’t have the opportunity, because there aren’t enough gymnastics clubs to fulfil the need. We really want to give more kids the opportunity to try the sport and enjoy it.

Our pledge is to get one million children aged four to 11 years old taking part in gymnastics over the next four years. It’s a hard target, but it will be a massive accomplishment. For me and my wife Leah it’s been a huge dream to get the programme up and running and it feels a bit surreal that it’s a reality now.

Training at an Everyone Active centre myself, I know first-hand that their brilliant facilities UK wide offer scope to get children all over the country benefitting from the gymnastics programme. I’m excited to be rolling this out across 30 of their facilities.

How does the programme work?
Leah and I have spent a long time developing the programme from our own experiences within the sport to ensure it’s fun and engaging. It consists of structured sessions that give children the chance to develop and perfect their skills as they progress through the sport and on to competition level, should they choose to.

They can try out lots of different apparatuses within the sport to develop their skills. Parents will also be able to track their child’s progress and we’ve developed our own awards scheme for children to work towards.

You must have inspired many children with your success. Have you noticed this?
It all really started for me at London 2012, but Rio 2016 also had a huge impact. Our country has really come together since the Games, and the interest in gymnastics just keeps on growing.

The results we brought back from Rio as a team made history. I am, of course, proud of my own achievements – coming back with two gold medals, I had kids as young as five coming up to me to tell me that they want to become an Olympic athlete one day.

I started out on a recreational gymnastics programme very similar to the programme I’ve created, and I want to show kids how possible it is for them to achieve and succeed in the sport. To be able to inspire young children to take part in gymnastics is a massive privilege and something I don’t take for granted.

What lessons has sport taught you?
Growing up I was actually really shy, and gymnastics has brought out and boosted my confidence levels. The sport has taught me to be fearless and just go for what you want, as well as strengthening my discipline.

For instance, at one of our launch events there was a young girl who was really scared of heights. She wouldn’t jump off the vault to land on the crash mat, but I supported her through it and she did jump. Her teacher told me that they’ve never been able to get her to jump during her PE sessions at school, so it just shows that programmes like ours in a safe environment can get kids to take part.

I truly believe that gymnastics is one of the best sporting foundations for children, helping them to develop skills that can be used in all aspects of their lives. It’s a sport that has opened many doors for me and I hope it can do the same for others.

What are your current personal goals?
I’ve got the European Championships, which are happening in Glasgow this August and then the World Championships at the end of the year.

The World Championships will also be the first trial for selection into the Olympic team for Tokyo 2020. I’m currently just working on my own performance, training with my team to improve my score during competitions. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and showing everyone what I’ve been working on.

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