The dedication, resilience and adaptability of Great Britain’s most talented young sports stars has shone through in SportsAid’s annual athlete survey as they look to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings, delivered by Nunki Solutions, highlight the impact of lockdown on the lives of athletes with a heavy focus on training adjustments, competition cancellations and changes in spend. The survey also reveals how they’re feeling about 2021 - with restrictions starting to ease for both indoor and outdoor sports by mid-April - and whether their future ambitions remain the same.
There was a total of 327 survey respondents - each having received financial support from SportsAid in 2020. These athletes are the country’s brightest prospects having been nominated to the charity by the national governing bodies of more than 60 sports. The survey was completed by athletes in December 2020 and January 2021 to allow respondents the opportunity to reflect on the year as a whole. This provided particularly strong insight on the differences between the first lockdown (23 March - 3 July) and the period which followed afterwards (including the second lockdown).
The survey reveals how athletes reacted to lockdown by setting new short-term goals as they continued to train twice a day and moved their sessions to more sociable hours - rather than the early starts and late nights typical of pre-pandemic times. As expected, the findings show how the amount of miles travelled for training and competitions dropped significantly, major costs changed and that average spend was way down on previous years. Interestingly, more respondents were looking for advice from their NGBs on how to spend their SportsAid award with a notable increase in specific kit and equipment being bought to maintain fitness levels at home.
Athletes said that balancing the different areas of their life was the biggest challenge they faced. Many had to adjust to home-schooling, GCSEs and A-Levels being cancelled and uncertainty around university degrees - on top of the obvious impact on their training and competition schedules. SportsAid hosted over 40 online workshops for athletes in 2020 to support them during this time - as well as providing them with free access to BelievePerform - the world’s leading source of performance psychology, wellbeing and mental health content for the sport community.
The outlook of talented young athletes is overwhelmingly positive for 2021 despite all of the challenges posed by the pandemic! Nearly half of the athletes stated that they are feeling more committed and determined than ever to achieve their sporting ambitions with a large proportion having worked through their initial doubts to keep striving forward. Naturally, there is still an element of nervousness and apprehension for what the future may hold, but they have big hopes with the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics being a key target for many. The pandemic has also seen many athletes putting more of an emphasis on their education and alternative career opportunities.
SPORTSAID’S ATHLETE SURVEY 2020 – THE FINDINGS IN FULL
There was a total of 327 respondents - each of whom received financial support from SportsAid in 2020. That’s a response rate of 54%. There was a near even gender split (46% male, 54% female) overall. 76% of respondents were non-disabled with 24% having a disability. 16% of respondents came from ethnically diverse communities. The athletes are spread across more than 60 different sports. 80% of athletes are still in education - college or sixth form (41%), school (31%) and university (27%). 21% of respondents have full-time jobs and 29% are in part-time employment. ______________________________________________________________________________
The majority of athletes understood and adapted to the cancellation of competitions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 38% accepted the situation and developed new short-term goals to focus on. 30% found it difficult to accept but still developed new short-term goals. 13% accepted the situation but were lacking short-term goals and 12% found it difficult to accept and continued to feel frustrated.
35% felt the first lockdown (23 March - 3 July) had a severe impact on their training situation as they were unable to replicate their schedule in any meaningful way. A further 60% had to make significant changes which allowed them to continue training to a certain degree. The remainder of the year (including the second lockdown) saw just 9% severely impacted as restrictions were eased.
Regardless, athletes were still training twice a day throughout 2020 as 31% undertook 10-14 hours a week, 20% did 15-19 hours and 10% completed over 20 hours. The remaining 39% were training less than 10 hours a week (compared to 5% in a ‘normal’ year). Training has been taking place in more sociable times of day (between 9am and 5pm) rather than typical early starts and late nights.
How many hours of training, on average, do you complete each week? Athletes were asked to provide answers for a standard year and specifically for 2020.
Under 10 hours – 5% (S/Y), 39% (2020)
10-14 hours – 31% (S/Y), 31% (2020)
15-19 hours – 36% (S/Y), 20% (2020)
20-24 hours – 18% (S/Y), 7% (2020)
More than 25 hours – 11% (S/Y), 3% (2020)
S/Y = standard year
What times of day do you train? Athletes were asked to provide answers for a standard year and specifically for 2020.
5am-9am – 25% (S/Y), 17% (2020)
9am-1pm – 38% (S/Y), 49% (2020)
1pm-5pm – 42% (S/Y), 54% (2020)
5pm-9pm – 82% (S/Y), 63% (2020)
After 9pm – 12% (S/Y), 9% (2020)
S/Y = standard year
• Athletes found balancing the different areas of their life (70%), money due to the cost of sport (46%) and performance pressures (25%) to be the three biggest challenges they faced.
• Athletes each travelled 2,594 miles for training and competitions throughout the entire year. That equates to just 50 miles per week – in comparison to 373 miles per week in the 2018/19 survey.
“I’m so excited to get back to training and competing again but nervous about how lockdown has affected my level. I also feel uncertain about what we will be allowed to do and I don’t want to get my hopes up. I will be committed and motivated to make the most of every training session and game.”
“The pandemic has been a challenge that I embraced and feel much stronger having done so. It gave me the opportunity to strengthen areas of my game which otherwise I would have not been able to do so in a full, competitive year. I'm focused on my goals and what I want to achieve.”
“Throughout the pandemic I have had time to consider what I value and how much things mean to me. I have realised how much I want to succeed with my sport and have come back more determined to achieve this. I have also thought more logically about how I can work on my swimming.”
The overall average spend for a SportsAid athlete was £4,638 in 2020. This amount fell significantly as a result of the pandemic – in large part due to the cancellation of competitions and restrictions on international travel. There was a 35% drop from £7,089 recorded in the 2018/19 survey. It is also the lowest total recorded since the survey began in 2007/08 – when the average spend was £4,885.
58% of the athletes revealed their costs had fallen with 21% still saying they had risen. To compare, just 3% said their costs had fallen in the 2018/19 survey and 72% felt they were on the rise at that time. The most common areas for spend in 2020 were travel (88%) and kit and equipment (88%). Coaching fees (53%), nutrition (52%) and accommodation (51%) were the next biggest outgoings.
73% of athletes bought a particular item or piece of sporting equipment as a direct result of the lockdown. Weights, mats, resistance bands and squat racks were among the most popular purchases with bikes, treadmills, pommel horses and rowing machines also mentioned. Interestingly, in the 2018/19 survey, 48% of athletes used their SportsAid award towards a specific piece of equipment.
• 98% of athletes considered the SportsAid award they received to be essential or helpful.
• 65% would not have been able to train and compete as much without a SportsAid award.
• 14% (that’s 46 athletes) would have had to consider giving up their sport without SportsAid.
• 7% (23 athletes) would have been forced to stop their sport without a SportsAid award.
• 47% had advice from their NGB on how to spend the award (17% in the 2018/19 survey).
Nearly half (43%) of the athletes are feeling more committed and determined than ever to achieve their sporting ambitions following their experiences during the pandemic. 26% revealed they had initial doubts but had managed to work through them whereas 13% said they had felt no impact on their future goals at any point. However, 18% stated that they have been left confused and uncertain about their future in sport.
Over half (51%) of SportsAid athletes have the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics in their sights as a key target. This is a particularly big goal for disabled athletes with 83% striving to reach the Games in three years. The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games are also on the radar for 32% of respondents and 31% of disabled athletes are still pushing hard to compete at Tokyo this summer.
The outlook of athletes is overwhelmingly positive for 2021. They feel determined (72%), motivated (68%), committed (60%), excited (57%) and optimistic (39%). However, there does still remain an element of nervousness (22%), apprehension (20%) and concern (16%). The pandemic period has also encouraged 52% to become more focused on their education or alternative career opportunities.
“When faced with a total inability to snowboard I thought that I had missed my window of opportunity. I put more into my academic studies and was looking for alternative futures. The longer lockdown went on, the more I missed my sport, and the more I realised that it is what I want to do.”
“COVID-19 has given me an opportunity to learn and practice subjects at school whilst being at home. This has resulted in me bumping up my grades which gives me more opportunities outside of boxing. I’m going to college next year - I would have never had the opportunity to until I got higher grades.”
“I think COVID-19 has made me realise that there are so many things out there that are available to me. I have been looking at university choices over lockdown and it has enhanced my enjoyment for education - making me want to work harder to achieve the results that will get me further in life.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented young athletes can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future!