UK Sport and the English and Scottish Institutes of Sport (EIS/SIS), together with the major football and rugby union authorities, are offering released Academy/Centre of Excellence players the chance to take up a new challenge and switch their talents to Olympic sports via their Pitch2Podium initiative.
After piloting the talent transfer project last year with the English football authorities, the UK World Class Talent Team were so impressed by the quality of the applicants that they have decided to reopen the invitation.
This unique opportunity will also have the backing of both Scottish football and the English rugby union authorities this year.
UK Sport Talent Manager Chelsea Warr said:
“The football players that took part in Pitch2Podium last year were impressive, with over 80% of those tested at phase one being of interest to at least one of our Olympic sports. Interestingly, 39% were of interest to two or more sports, showing the versatility of this talent pool. This demonstrates what good work the football academies and centres of excellence are doing in nurturing their young players.”
“Unfortunately, not all of these players are going to make it to the top of the game, but via Pitch2Podium they could transfer the ready-made skills and abilities they have developed into a new sport, and potentially even progress towards the Olympic podium.”
“The same applies to rugby union, and we are delighted to have them on board this year as this brings another dimension to the skills and abilities we will be able to tap into.”
Pitch2Podium Ambassador Darren Campbell, who trialed with Plymouth Argyle FC before switching to athletics and winning Olympic gold, said:
“Pitch2Podium is a fantastic opportunity. This programme could be the natural choice for many players who do not secure a professional contract in football or rugby union. We saw from the athletes that came through Pitch2Podium last year that these players have trained hard and are disciplined, which provides them with a solid grounding for a potential future in Olympic sport. If nothing else, it can provide a very exciting â€˜Plan Bâ€™!”
James Hoad, a former Watford FC Academy goalkeeper and 2008 Pitch2Podium participant, has been selected for trials in bob skeleton, cycling and hockey.
“After being released, a return to the professional game can never be guaranteed, but now I have a real chance of getting somewhere in elite sport. Pitch2Podium is agreat idea and I would recommend it to anybody who gets the chance after experiencing it first hand â€“ what have you got to lose?”
The Professional Footballers’ Association have been proactive in providing support and grants to enable their members, like James Hoad, to attend Pitch2Podium training camps once they have been short listed by an Olympic sport.
England U21 Football Coach, Stuart Pearce said:
“For any sportsman to be told they won’t make it is a very difficult moment, but this scheme is a fantastic way to give new hope. I was released by my club at 14 but I never gave up and I was able to get into professional football at a later age.”
“You only have to look at the achievements of Team GB in Beijing to see the enthusiasm there is for Olympic sport in this country. That will increase as we move closer to hosting the Games here in London, and this scheme could give a number of people a chance they might never have dreamed of.”
England U18 Rugby Union Coach, John Fletcher, said:
“What if your chosen sport doesn’t work out, through injury or the perception that you might not make the grade? Many are discouraged and leave sport altogether. Understandable in the short term but what a waste in the mid to long term when that person’s skills set might be ideally suited to another sport.”
“Pitch2Podium is a fantastic initiative and one that should be encouraged. If you get the chance to attend one of the Pitch2Podium talent assessment events my advice is simple – take it. Who knows, go along and you could find yourself taking part in the 2012 Olympics!”
Hearts FC Captain and Scottish International, Robbie Neilson, said:
“Pitch2Podium is such a great idea. I would advise any of the players given the opportunity to try out for another sport to grab it and keep their options open. Representing Great Britain at the Olympics would be an incredible alternative for anyone who doesn’t secure a career in football.”
The players will be put through their paces in a battery of physical tests designed to identify those with the potential to thrive in an Olympic sport. The tests will be conducted by EIS and SIS sport scientists and Olympic coaches at one of four Pitch2Podium talent assessment events commencing at the end of the month.
These will be hosted in partnership with LFE’s Progression Careers Events and PFA Scotland’s Careers Day.