Interview with Helen Keeling – Founder of Support through Sport UK

A wide variety of sports – children can look forward to something new every week

A-Star Sports’ long term aim is for children to proactively choose sport as a positive part of their lives through individual pursuits, junior clubs and beyond. With this in mind, we have joined forces with Support through Sport UK in order to help families make the transition from the A-Star Sports programme into local clubs that are as passionate as we are in encouraging children, young people and adults to enjoy sport for life. Founder of Support through Sport UK, Helen Keeling, is also an A-Star Sports advisor and talks about her inspiration to set up a sports charity with gusto and the role sport can play:

What inspired you to set up Support through Sport UK?

It’s always been a bit of a dream of mine to set up a minimum-bureaucracy, maximum-impact organisation and I chose to set up a sports charity as I’ve seen first-hand how sport can really cheer people up and help them to get through difficult times. After the success of London 2012, there are now more and more opporunities out there for young people, women, older people, disabled people etc. to take up particular sports and join local clubs and hence the Support through Sport UK volunteers and I are keen to help to raise awareness of some of these opportunities. There are also some amazing UK ‘sport for social impact’ schemes and clubs out there (such as sports organisations for people with mental health issues, sports organisations for the homeless etc.) and thus a big aim of ours is to showcase and raise awareness of some of these fantastic initiatives.

What sports have you played and how have these impacted on your life?

I was massively into sprinting when I was younger and trained two or three times a week; I wanted to be Katrin Krabbe! In adulthood, I run longer distances, I swim, I play tennis, I do watersports and I ski (badly) and play golf (also badly). I’m also a bit of a dare-devil and have tried a range of extreme sports, including mountain biking down ski runs, whitewater rafting, whitewater tubing, paragliding, ice climbing etc.

And how has sport impacted on my life? Well, if I’m ever fed up or having a hard day, I lace up my trainers and pound the local streets or surrounding countryside and I feel so much better and on such a high afterwards! And the thrill of the extreme sports simply makes me feel alive and as though I am living life to the absolute max!

Support through Sport UK encourages people to ‘have a go’ at new or less well know sports – what would you recommend? [Stoolball looks quite good!]

Stoolball is a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening and I also recently tried out underwater hockey, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think it’s quite good to do your ‘regular sports’ but also to have a go at new sports now and again – as you never know what you might be good at or what you might simply love doing or playing.

What do you think makes for a positive club experience?

I think a club that caters for all levels makes for a positive experience. If you’re trying out a new sport for the first time, then it’s comforting to know that there will be other beginners and novices at the club. I also think that clubs with good social sides to them make for better cohesion, understanding and enjoyment on the playing field / court / track. A longer-term aim of Support through Sport UK is to make clubs more accessible to people with disabilities as I think that clubs that can accommodate all ages and abilities are the future.

What would you advise children and families to think about before choosing a club?

A number of things really. Think about the logistics – so how local is the club to you (I’ve joined gyms in the past that were 30 miles away from me and needless to say that I didn’t frequent them very often!). Also think about what evenings your children will be training and whether they might have any weekend match / race commitments and whether that will conflict with any of their, or your, other commitments. I’d also advise trying out a range of sports so that your children can figure out what it is that they really love doing. I think they say, don’t they, that everyone has a musical instrument that they’re particularly suited to (I went through half the orchestra to find mine!) and I think that the same is true of sport. And remember that, at most clubs, you’ll probably be able to borrow or hire out kit for a period of time before having to purchase any.

Support through Sport UK really recommends that children are given the chance to ‘find their sport’ and, hence, if your child is aged between 2 and 10, then we think that the A-Star Sports weekly classes and holiday clubs (which give children the skills needed for ten core sports) are a fantastic starting point for their sporting lives. Once they pass the age of ten, we then recommend that you and they find out about the sports clubs for young people in your local areas via the Support through Sport UK website. Support through Sport UK wholeheartedly concurs with A-Star Sports’ long-term aim for: ‘children to proactively choose sport as a positive part of their lives through individual pursuits, junior clubs and beyond’ and together we believe that we can help to realise that aim.