“Originally athletics was just a hobby for me,” says Souleyman Bah.
“But when I started competing seriously, I realised there were so many more costs involved.”
Being a talented athlete can be expensive. Families now have to find an average of over £6,000 a year to be able to fund their child's sporting ambitions.
For a lot of young athletes and their families, the financial challenge can often be too much to overcome – and the rising cost has led to some of England’s top up-and-coming talent dropping out of sport altogether.
Backing the Best is looking to change that.
Meeting the challenge
The National Lottery-funded programme, which is managed by SportsAid for Sport England, is now in its second year and is helping young athletes on the road to realising their sporting potential.
Young athletes that are put forward by their national governing body receive an award of £5,000 that goes towards essential costs, such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills.
Souleyman – a sprinter for Great Britain – is one of 95 up-and-coming stars now able to meet the financial challenge of performance-level sport thanks to this support.
Backing the Best recognition gives me a lot of hope and confidence in my pursuit towards reaching the top of my sport
Souleyman Bah, Great Britain sprinter
The 18-year-old, who competes over 100m in the T13 category, has been partially sighted since birth and lives with his mum and four siblings. He is currently studying for his ‘A’ Levels and has set the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a long-term target.
“My family weren’t financially able to meet all the costs involved – so I couldn’t be happier as this funding means my ultimate goal is finally something I can realise.”
Round two of funding
Backing the Best funding is already going some way to helping young stars achieve their ambitions.
Many of the 70 athletes that received an award in 2016 have already gone on to become world, European and national age-group level champions, including footballer, Nicole Douglas, gymnast, Taeja James, and taekwondo fighter, Bradly Sinden.
For Souleyman, the support goes beyond the material costs.
“Backing The Best funding covers every single aspect of my sport – and the recognition gives me a lot of hope and confidence in my pursuit towards reaching the top of my sport.”
Souleyman is one of the 41 athletes that have been nominated for a second year of Backing the Best support.
In addition, 54 new athletes have joined the programme this year – which means Backing the Best is now making an impact on the lives of 95 athletes from across 32 different sporting disciplines. A selection of the athletes are pictured above.
Tips from the top
Backing the Best is about more than just financial support.
As well as helping with the rising cost of sport, the latest wave of awardees also received tips and advice from elite-level athletes during a recent workshop at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham.
The young stars and their parents were treated to talks on performance lifestyle management, nutritional intake and dealing with the media from double Olympic champion, Rebecca Adlington, Rugby World Cup winner, Maggie Alphonsi, and Team GB canoe slalom legend, Richard Hounslow.
The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was trust
Rebecca Adlington, double Olympic champion
Adlington, who received SportsAid funding at the beginning of her career, said: “When you’re getting into those teenage years, that’s when you’re coming into your own as an athlete.”
“It’s all about taking on lots of advice and opinions, but figuring out what works for you.
“The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was trust,” added Rebecca.
“They didn’t only put their trust in my coach, Bill (Furniss), but also me wholeheartedly.
“They said ‘this is your journey’ and they left me and Bill to find our balance and our relationship.”