Meet the talent

Meet 14 of the talented athletes currently progressing through the various pathways across a range of sports

Issa Batrane

If it wasn't for the eagle eye of a coach during a school volleyball session, we might not have got to witness Issa Batrane's prowess on the court. And after watching the top players first-hand at London 2012, Issa was inspired to get serious about volleyball.

He was soon chosen to captain England South in the 2012 UK School Games because, as coach Vangelius Koutuleas puts it, "no matter the situation, Issa has the energy".

The list of his achievements has since snowballed. Issa has travelled the world and represented England at various age group championships, both at European and world level.

Support from our Talented Athlete Sponsorship Scheme (TASS) combined with a volleyball scholarship from Bournemouth University have enabled Issa to capitalise on this success, with his sights set on qualification for the Commonwealth Games 2018

Shona McCallin

Despite being just 18, Shona has already experienced many highs and lows already during her hockey career.

After starting out with her home team, Newark Juniors, Shona moved on to Beeston Hockey Club at the age of 14. Her career flourished from there. Under the Team England coaching guidance, Shona reached the pinnacle of captaining her national side at the Junior World Cup in 2013.

In addition to influential coaches such as Nick, Tina and her Midland team mentor, Kim Barlow, Shona has been the recipient of SportsAid funding and support from Lincolnshire County Council as part of the Leap programme.

Laura Sugar

Laura was far from a one-trick-pony in her early sporting years. She played all sorts of different sports outside of school, including rugby, cricket, football, netball and horse riding.

Hockey and athletics turned out to be Laura's calling cards once she went to secondary school, and within 12 months of starting hockey she landed a place in county hockey team.

It wasn't until she turned 22, just after London 2012, that Laura discovered an existing foot condition made her eligible for Parasport. She tried her hand at running and soon became a sprint finalist at the 2013 World Championships. That success continued with European bronze over 100m and then 200m.

"My parents were my biggest motivation as they encouraged me to get involved in loads of sports even though they were told that I would never be able to be a sports person when I was born."

Through support from Sport England and British Athletics, as well as a great network of friends, family and coaches around her, Laura is able to receive the physio, nutrition and psychology support she needs to compete at the highest level.

Jaxon Simmons

Jaxon was in primary school when he was scouted by one his teachers and invited to join the City of Peterborough Swimming Club. Jaxon, who is visually impaired, has big hands and impressive height that enable him to train (and hold his own) with able-bodied swimmers.

Bolstered by the support and belief of his coach, Ben Negus, Jaxon reached the finals of the 400m freestyle and the 100m butterfly events in 2014, despite finishing the race with broken fingers.

Displaying his vast potential in the pool, Jaxon broke the British record in the S13 classification over 1,500m freestyle in December and progressed to become one of 22 swimmers on podium potential funding the following year.

SportsAid has also helped fund Jaxon's journey. Given his rapid rise up the rankings to date, who would bet against him making the grade in time for the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020?

Yasmin Kaashoek

Since playing for Team Bath in the Saturday league as a junior, Yasmin's promising talent has blossomed. She joined the England Volleyball Programme at the age of 12 and has already stepped up to represent the senior England team at the CEV Continental Cup in Sochi last year.

Support from the Advanced Level Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) and SportsAid has helped Yasmin make the grade and stand out in senior competition.

"AASE really forces you to think about personal goals, which was really helpful while I was able to use the financial support from SportsAid for simple things like training, travel and kit.

"I wouldn’t have been able to get to the World Champs without SportsAid.”

Monthly summer camps for beach volleyball, and winter camps for the indoor version of the sport, have seen Yasmin flourish under the guidance of new coaches and provided the chance to test herself against her peers. The 16 year-old is well on her way to achieving her goals of more senior tour events, with Toyko 2020 as the ultimate goal.

Molly Renshaw

The disappointment of narrowly missing out on a home Olympic Games in 2012 has spurred Molly on to even greater performances in her pursuit of major championship success.

The 20 year-old has been putting in the lengths in the pool since the age of six. Coaxed into the water by her parents, who wanted her to learn to swim, Molly hasn't looked back since jumping in with her local club, Ripley Rascals.

Under the tutelage of Mark Rose at the Derby Squad, Molly started to train up to eight times per week before climbing the next rung on the talent pathway. Guided by her new coach, Andi Manley, Molly qualified for the Senior World Championships in Shanghai at the age of just 15.

Despite her rapid rise through the talent pathway, London 2012 proved to be something of a turning point and the catalyst for change. In training with different and other high-achieving swimmers – and under the coaching guidance of Kevin Renshaw – in Loughborough, Molly's career has reached a new level, which has included winning double-Commonwealth Games bronze in 2014 and then silver a few weeks later in the 200m Breaststroke at the European Championships.

Shona Richards

Shona's success in athletics dates back to a pentathlon appearance at the English Schools Championships at the age of 13.

Fast forward almost a decade and she's since scooped English Schools silverware, been a finalist at European age group championships, bagged a pair of silver medals at World Juniors and played a pivotal part in the team that set a British age group record in the 4x400m in 2014. But her rise through the rankings hasn't been without important people around her.

"My coach made a huge impact when I broke my shoulder in 2015. I went through a period where I had a complete lack of self-confidence. She referred me to a book called ‘Mindset’ to help me to regain some self-esteem but helped ensure I was realistic at the same time."

The support and "huge boost" from SportsAid, British Athletics, TASS and other partners has been vital to Shona's development and helped her rise to the top of the sport.

Harry Jones

Harry's list of career highlights already makes for some seriously impressive reading. The 2014 Volleyball England Junior Grand Prix winner and UK School Games champion has since added a ninth-place finish – England's best-ever – at the 2014 U18 European Championships in Norway to his growing list of achievements.

After taking up the sport at the age of nine thanks to his dad's involvement as a beach volleyball coach, Harry stopped playing for a few years and took up kickboxing. When his half-brother, Louis Lepp, started running a lunchtime volleyball club at his school, Harry returned to his first love.

Under the guidance of his coach, Vangelius Koutuleas, Harry has learnt that "you have to be prepared to work hard to be as good as you can be".

With funding from his local county sports partnership, SportsAid and our Talented Athlete Sponsorship Scheme (TASS), Harry's hopes of making upcoming world and European age group championships look well within his grasp.

Joie Leigh

Bristol University undergraduate, Joie Leigh, switched her main sport from tennis to hockey around the age of 13 because of the team aspect involved. She hasn't looked back since.

Joie's path is one well-trodden. She started out with Wakefield Hockey Club and moved on to the Pennine Pumas before having to literally move outside her comfort zone to Repton Sixth Form as a 16 year-old. The time away from home benefitted Joie hugely and allowed her to learn the art of looking after number one while being thrust into a team bonding environment.

England honours have followed since. Under the guidance of top regional coaches as well as the 1984 Olympic bronze medallist, Norman Hughes, who encouraged Joie to play with freedom and try new skills during her early hockey years, Joie's success has skyrocketed.

With vital support from us during university through our TASS scheme, which includes regular physical screenings and physio support, Olympic dreams are in her sights.

Sophie Szyszko

Sophie followed in her dad's footsteps and took up volleyball as a youngster, starting out at Hillingdon, West London before moving on to Ashcombe in Surrey. Sophie was transfixed by the fast pace of the sport and climbed the ladder from UK School Games to county, regional and national competitions.

By age 15, she developed professional ambitions and was picked for the England Volleyball cadet squad. Monthly camps and international indoor competition fuelled her desire to reach the top and with our Talented Athlete Sponsorship Scheme (TASS) support, Sophie is well on her way to achieving her future ambitions of BUCS silverware and senior international honours.

"TASS has been really beneficial because it means you are able to 'beat the queue' for physio and get one-on-one treatment around psychology, lifestyle and nutrition.

“You are treated as an individual and it has definitely helped me develop as a player."

Siobhan O'Connor

Like many, Siobhan first started swimmming at the age of seven, joining her local club in Keynsham near Bath. Her talents in the pool were spotted early.

After achieving a regional qualifying time and subsequently trialling for the Team Bath Age Group squad at age 10, the talented youngster soon graduated to the England Talent Programme three years later.

The talent pathway training camps provided the perfect environment for the aspiring young swimmer to shine. Motivated by training alongside her peers, the expertise of her coach, Dave McNulty, has also been instrumental and his guidance has inspired her to be the best she can be.

Siobhan describes a training trip to Dubai at the age of 13 as a "massive experience" and further talent pathway support has helped support her rise to major championships, including an eighth-place finish in the women's 4x100m Medley Relay at London 2012 and an impressive six-medal haul at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Lucy Bryan

It's thanks to the discerning eye of a PE teacher that Lucy Bryan first tried pole vault. After being spotted in her first year at secondary school as having a little more spring in her step than the rest of the class, Lucy's first competition saw her give the vertical jump and high jump a go in indoor athletics.

School, county and international honours followed and her third-place finish at World Youths in 2011 stands out among an impressive roll-call of achievements. Lucy's coach, Charles, has been pivotal in her rise to podium potential. As are her parents and brothers.

"My mum used to drive me to training five times a week, which was a 50 mile round trip each time. Without her I would not have been able to train half as much as I did."

But the bank of mum and dad can only stretch so far. Through TASS and the Futures programme, which has allowed Lucy to access facilities and physios, her dreams of world success remain alive.

Ellie Robinson

Ellie was first spotted at a Paralympic talent identification event run by her local county sport partnership, Northamptonshire Sport, in partnership with the Amateur Swimming Association. The 14 year-old hasn't looked back since.

Under the guidance and expertise of Mitch, Belinda and Andy at Northampton Swimming Club, Ellie has come back from injury and developed into one of the best butterfly swimmers in her classification.

Her rise has been astronomical: from attending her first regional competition in 2013, Ellie has already gone on to win international medals and break records for the S6 classification 50m, 100m and 200, Butterfly.

The support from British Swimming Fund and SportsAid has helped fund travel and accommodation to swimming events and training camps, without which she wouldn't have been able to access 1-on-1 technical coaching and workshops on nutrition, time management and lifestyle.

James Albery

The hockey talent pathway has been instrumental in James' rise through the age groups up to senior international honours.

After starting out with his local side, Broxbourne Hockey Club, at the age of five, the now 20 year-old has played at camps and competitions from U13 to U18 level. Playing alongside his peers and benefitting from top-level coaching and technical feedback, James has been able to progress his game and bounce back from disappointments.

The support and expert coaching of Nick Thompson at the Leys School and Cambridge City Hockey Club also transformed the way James viewed the sport and Nick remains one of his biggest influences on hockey and life.

A regular fixture of the senior England indoor squad, training with the Olympic squad on selected days throughout the year, the Nottingham Trent University undergraduate receives further support from UK Sport. The sky's the limit for James.