Two more British Para table tennis athletes are taking part in the True Athlete Project (TAP), a pioneering athlete mentoring programme that aims to bring about a more compassionate culture of sport. It matches young, aspiring athletes (aged 15-24) with world-class champions for a year-long learning experience to develop skills beyond their sport performance based on five themes – performance, identity and values, mindfulness, community responsibility and nature and connectedness.
World and Commonwealth champion Ross Wilson will mentor 15-year-old GB fencer David Sosnov and 18-year-old Pathway athlete Grace Williams will be mentored by Olympic pentathlete Heather Fell, who won silver in Beijing 2008. Wilson and Williams join 70 other athletes, from a total of 34 sports and 10 countries, who are taking part in this unique, global programme. They will work together with their mentee/mentor for a year, with 1-1 mentoring sessions taking place every 1-2 weeks.
This is the second year that BPTT has worked with TAP. In 2021 Kim Daybell mentored 16-year-old fencer Adekunle Taiwo and Jack Hunter-Spivey was mentored by former World snooker champion Ken Doherty.
“Over the last year we have had both a mentee and a mentor progress through the TAP programme,” said BPTT head coach Greg Baker, “both commenting on the positive journey and developmental holistic approach to performance. We were keen to explore more athletes to experience this journey, especially new athletes coming onto our programme to give them more support with transitions/inductions. I very much believe in a holistic approach to performance and using ex and current senior athletes to help our next generation of athletes develop, grow and excel through the World Class Programme. We look forward to working with TAP over the next 12 months.”
Mentees get the majority of their ‘training’ through the mentors, supplemented with some group workshops throughout the year, whilst the mentors receive an array of training in mentoring and communication skills; how to work with their mentee on the themes of the curriculum, and the key elements of the TAP approach and philosophy.
“The aim of the programme is to support the person behind the young athlete, and prove that when the person flourishes, so does their sporting performance,” said TAP’s CEO and founder Sam Parfitt.
Hunter-Spivey took bronze in the men’s class 5 singles at the Tokyo Paralympic Games last year – his first medal at a major championship – and he is in no doubt that working with Doherty was a contributing factor.
“TAP was amazing because it was catered around what we could do,” he said. “When I met Ken we hit it off straight away. He lives around the Sheffield area so we were meeting up regularly and we struck up a relationship that really worked for us. It was a massive impact on last year for me and I really did take a lot from it and continue to do so.”
As a three-time Paralympic medallist Wilson is keen to help a young athlete benefit from his experiences.
“It’s really important to me,” he said. “I think a lot of athletes should give back and can help other athletes as well. You can be in different sports but a lot of the time you are going through similar experiences like being away from friends and family. As an athlete you sacrifice those times with those people to get your results and it is about managing those sorts of things and just making sure you have a good balance.
“TAP have been really supportive with their training and have a holistic approach to everything - to mentoring and to life - and a lot of it is about how you are more than just an athlete, which I really believe in. I met David my mentee at the beginning of January and I have already learnt things from him just about his development and how it differs from mine a little bit. You can look at it from a different perspective – when you are in a different training environment you will have different experiences.
“Last week we started doing some mindfulness as a group and that was really interesting as you learn that you can maybe add some of those things to your life. A lot of the time it is just speaking about things and being very open; it is a time when you can allow yourself to be vulnerable to different points of your life and that is what I want to improve myself and help my mentee with as well. Speaking to him is really interesting and making me learn a lot about myself as well.
“Kim (Daybell) is a great role model and mentor and it is great that he wanted to help someone on their journey and I think that is what you can do for people. It is such a nice thing to be able to do and if I can even have the smallest impact then that’s why I’m doing it.”
Williams, who is combining her table tennis with studying nutrition at university in Sheffield, is already benefiting from the experience of Fell.
“We met for the first time at the commencement for mentors and mentees and we’re just getting to know each other,” she said, “but we have already had conversations about time management with deadlines for Uni, training and competitions. I was talking to her about that because she also went to Uni, and it was nice to have that first talk and we actually delved deep into what she thought I could do to help with that.
“I’ve not really had time to think about what I want to get out of TAP but at the moment I’m hoping that it will develop me as a person. I just want to develop and get myself out of my comfort zone - do more things that are better for me as a person that I can work on as a player as well because working on me as a person also helps me as a player.
“I’m not very confident in myself and learning about what actually deep down I’m not confident in - not just as a player but as a person - will help me grow because I know what my weaknesses are and I can work on them outside and inside the training hall.”