Talented islanders chasing their sporting dreams are set to benefit from a far-reaching study focusing on athlete transitions.
As the Commonwealth Games prepares to shine a light on island nations from across the world, a new report has pinpointed key areas where athletes could benefit from better awareness, organisation and support.
And the research, conducted by the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS), is fully supported by representatives of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man — with all three islands in the mix for medals at Birmingham 2022.
Every year scores of aspiring champions face the tough choice between moving off island (and often further afield) or staying home in a bid to boost their sporting careers.
But the wide-ranging TASS study could form the framework for a fresh approach to island transitions following a series of frank interviews with athletes, parents, sport practitioners and education staff.
“My advice would be to go for it and move off island,” said cyclist Sam Culverwell, part of a 28-strong Guernsey team heading for the Commonwealth Games this week.
“It’s the right decision to make due to the greater opportunities you have and, depending on the sport, a better training environment and facilities.
“I found my transition off Guernsey wasn’t too difficult. I enjoy being abroad and don’t become particularly homesick. I also don’t spend all year off island and come back periodically.
“But I don’t have a salary so being able to fund a life away from home is an issue. It leaves me completely dependent on my parents.”
Sam’s ability to transition off island successfully may be a benchmark for aspiring athletes seeking to follow suit.
But the TASS report also raises a number of red flags with the need to properly prepare young people for the challenges ahead deemed to be of paramount importance.
“For the first time ever, a collaborative approach has been made to analyse the unique needs of Small Island athletes,” said John Scriven, Head of Services, Jersey Sport Foundation.
“The research provides meaningful and actionable recommendations for youth athlete pathway formation and policy.
“And the findings provide a vital insight into the wider value, purpose, challenges and opportunities for long term strategic athlete support services locally.”
TASS undertook the Small Island Athlete Migration research in order to explore the decision-making processes and experiences of those athletes from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man who migrate off island.
Many of those questioned combine their sport with education, employment or both and detailed athlete surveys sought to identify common concerns and address familiar challenges.
The final report discussed the different routes taken by athletes and identified the push and pull factors influencing decisions to transition off-island or to continue to benefit from traditionally strong on-island support networks.
“The project undertaken by TASS has been a great help in terms of identifying the key factors which need to be considered by those planning to leave the Island and those supporting them to do so,” said Paul Jones, Performance Coordinator, Isle of Man Sports.
“The research looks into how those athletes can pursue their sporting ambitions and thrive on and off the field if they do decide to move on.
“The findings have also identified key factors for us to consider in terms of those who choose to reside on the Island while pursuing their sporting ambitions.
“Furthermore, the research will also assist other agencies on Island who may have young people looking to seek opportunities away from Manx shores for whatever reason — whether that be for opportunities linked to education, the arts or their careers.”
Key findings revealed that the chance to study at university, access elite sport infrastructures, benefit from a less stressful travel schedule and enjoy new life experiences all contributed to a desire to move off island.
However, the opportunity to access established on-island support programmes, remain with a trusted coach, save money and retain a familiar routine were all factors when athletes considered delaying a move to the mainland, Europe or beyond.
“There are a number of challenges that athletes face when transitioning off island,” explained Grace Harrison, Project Coordinator, TASS.
Grace, a former international gymnast and Athlete Representative on the Isle Of Man Commonwealth Games Association Executive Committee, added: “There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
“Factors such as homesickness, living independently, adapting to a new environment or culture and adjusting to a new training structure can all lead to individual concerns.
“This report seeks to address those concerns, look at ways that island nations can best prepare their talented athletes for the challenges that lie ahead and encourage a collaborative approach to learning and best practice.
“We have made a number of recommendations and we’re delighted that our colleagues on Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are ready to use this research to enhance their excellent support networks.
“One of the key findings of the report was that the majority of on-island athletes feel the support they receive is second to none.
“We are advocating an approach that continues to champion that island-based support alongside provision of athlete development, mentoring and coach development in anticipation of a move off-island.
“This is to ensure that island athletes have the opportunity to thrive athletically, academically, vocationally and personally, regardless of whether they choose to transition off or remain on-island.”
The groundbreaking Small Island Migration Report sees TASS make a number of broader recommendations including a yearly island sport conference encouraging multi-island cooperation, action and decision-making.
There is a recognition that island sport officials need to improve connectivity between schools and sport, underpin existing relationships with UK-based national governing bodies and work more closely with off-island Further Education and Higher Education institutions.
Dr Conor Osborough of the Guernsey Institute of Sport (GIS) is keen to broaden the support available to island athletes and believes the TASS report can complement key strategies already in place.
“The GIS continues to expand the services it provides and is looking to accommodate an increasing number of athletes in the future,” he explained.
“The findings of this research project will help to inform the way in which we support and guide individuals onto National Performance or Professional Sport Pathways going forward.
“In addition, there are good opportunities to work more closely with colleagues in both Jersey and the Isle of Man.
“We are in the perfect position to share areas of good practice and overcome some of the common challenges we inevitably face when trying to support athletes transitioning off-island.”
To read the full report click here