Category Archives: Andrew Flintoff Cricket Academy

Do we put too much pressure on young stars?

Jessica Judd

In an era when sporting success is expected at a much younger age and the winning is often much more important than the taking part, there is a lot more pressure on young sporting stars to start hitting milestones much earlier. This pressure comes from a whole range of different sources, including a media that glorifies only winners and winning, ambitious coaches, other members of the team and friends and family who, whilst all they want is for a young sportsman or woman to succeed, may not realise how much that adds to the pressure they are already under.

Evidence has emerged from scientific studies showing that young sportspeople are burning out at an early age when trying to reach impossible goals they have been set. Symptoms such as exhaustion and serious disillusionment with the sport they are trying to succeed in can result in a devaluation of commitment to the sport. These symptoms come from gruelling training regimes, which are often being enforced onto fairly underdeveloped bodies, incredibly busy schedules that leave little time for socialising or down time, and being pushed to be stronger, faster and better at a younger age than those who have gone before. Particularly in hugely competitive sports such as football, high standards are expected from the start and those young athletes who don’t make the grade are simply culled.

This level of stress can have both a positive and a negative effect, depending on the character of the individual. On the positive side, such pressure at an early age can build confidence and coping mechanisms, can be incredibly motivational and can encourage young athletes to reach ever higher and further. On the negative side it can cause an over emphasis on perfectionism and an inability to deal with failure, as well as achieving ‘too much too soon,’ leaving the athlete with little to aim for, or with serious physical injuries from too much training.

A recent example of the dangers of over hype is Freddy Adu a footballer who plays for Bahia in Brazil and who was named ‘the new Pele’ because of his phenomenal skill. However, already his performances in matches is failing to match up to the headlines, something that many commentators are attributing to the pressure created by the hype around him. Rob Denmark, coach to athlete Jessica Judd (pictured above), who has recently seen some fantastic successes said of his coaching responsibility “it’s more important to lay the foundations now for her to develop and be successful in the long term,” indicating that low pressure long term development is his coaching method of choice.

Where stress is kept under control, at every level sport can have a really beneficial impact on children’s’ development, increasing fitness, confidence and keeping weight under control, as well as developing motivation and helping children learn how to achieve goals. Activate Sport runs a series of sports camps that offer some great physical and mental benefits for children of all ages. See our website for more information.

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Best free places to visit around Britain

Watergate Bay Beach

With the summer holidays upon us, for most parents there now looms the challenge of finding activities and entertainment for all the family that won’t break the budget. Keeping the kids entertained whatever the weather can be quite a challenge, however, there are plenty of great ways to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable and action packed summer without spending a fortune. Here are some ideas for free places to visit around Britain this summer:

A local beach – whilst you might think that British beaches don’t really compare to those in Europe or beyond, you’d be surprised how much fun there is to be had making sandcastles and paddling around the UK coast. From traditional pebbly spots, to soft, white sand stretches around the south coast that bear a remarkable resemblance to more exotic climes, there’s a British beach out there for everyone. Find your local beach here.

Free museums – for those days when the weather isn’t quite so bright and sunny, the UK’s plethora of free museums and art galleries provide perfect amusement. From the fascinating Hands on History Museum in Hull, to the range of London options, such as the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, a rainy day is no excuse to sit inside.

English Heritage – whilst history might be a school subject, it certainly doesn’t have to be dull, as the numerous fascinating English Heritage sites around the country demonstrate. Castles and battle sites, Roman mosaics and prehistoric archeological finds provide plenty of fodder for young minds and imaginations, with lots of weatherproof options too. Check out your local English Heritage sites here.

Explore local woodlands – the UK’s woodlands are full of great nature trails, hiking routes, picnic spots and activities such as zip lining and tree climbing, making them the perfect place for kids to burn off some energy during a long, hot summer. Check out your local woodland and see what is on offer near you.

Free festivals – when the weather is fine there’s simply no better place to be than outside in the sunshine enjoying an event like a free festival. The UK has a number of great, free festivals, many of which are very family focused and designed to help parents enjoy themselves whilst keeping kids safe and happy. From Shoreditch Festival and the Notting Hill Carnival, to Norwich Pride and Stockton International River Festival there are events all over the country that kids – and big kids – can get excited about.

Activate sport runs summer camps for kids aged 7-16 across the country in a variety of sports and multi-sport styles, giving children the chance to get healthy, build confidence and pick up some new skills. See our website for more information.

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Energy Foods to Eat before Exercise

Activate Sport Bowl of fruitEvery athlete and sports enthusiast knows that nutrition plays a key role in getting the most out of exercise. What we eat before we play a sport or take part in any exercise can have a big impact on what we get out of it, as well as on the kind of performance that we can achieve. Nutrition generally – as well as the kinds of fluids we consume – has a significant effect on the general health of those who regularly participate in sports and proper nourishment can help avoid issues such as tiredness, cramping muscles, mood swings and restless legs.

Ideally, for anyone involved in sports, a meal before and a meal after the session is going to provide the optimum nutrition. Carbohydrates provide pre-sport energy and maintain blood sugar levels, which means that muscles can perform properly, and protein is also crucial to a good session. Foods rich in B vitamins will help to boost muscle function and energy, and Vitamin C is an essential part of having a great game or workout. Pasta, cheese and salad are always considered a good balanced meal pre-sport, as the dish contains the 70% carbohydrates that athletes need to take on before getting active. Wholemeal bread is another good source of carbs – sandwiches with leafy greens, chicken or egg, or peanut butter can provide a good energy boost, as well as lean steamed salmon, brown rice and a selection of vegetables. Incorporating calcium rich snacks like cottage cheese on ryvita, spiced broccoli and tofu, and sardines on toast can help combat the bone stress of exercise.

Whilst these foods and snacks are a good idea for nutrition generally, some sports need a slightly more specific approach to food consumption pre-match, event or game. Endurance sports such as a marathon or long distance running, for example, require an athlete to maintain energy levels over a significant distance, so bread, cereal, bagels, low fat yoghurt and low fat cheese provide sustenance without being too heavy. For sports that tend to require short, sharp bursts of energy – such as sprinting – stocking up on energy drinks and water to keep hydrated is essential, as well as potassium rich foods such as bananas and sultanas that will help prevent muscle cramps. Finally, with team sports like rugby and football it’s best to avoid high fibre and wheat based foods, as these can cause bloating and sit heavy in the stomach during a time when you need to be active. Porridge, an omelette and salad or a jacket potato with tuna or salmon provide starchy carbs without too much fat intake.

Activate Sport offers some fantastic courses where these types of nutrition can be put to great effect, with academies and camps in everything from dance to rugby. See the website for more details and sign up today to avoid disappointment!

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Specialisation or Diversification – Which Route To Take? Part 1


The question of whether or not children should play a range of different sports when they are young, or whether they should specialise from an early age is one that often troubles parents. It is also a conundrum that has been hotly debated in the sporting world, with athletes, trainers, and industry experts often coming down on different sides. In the next two blogs we will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of diversification (playing lots of sports) as compared to specification (choosing one sport and training for it year round from an early age).

To begin with, let’s take a look at diversification (or ‘sampling’ or ‘delayed specialisation’). As you might guess from the name, diversification is essentially where a child samples a wide range of sports when young, before selecting one on which to focus to achieve elite performance. The process usually takes at least a couple of years, during which a child will normally try a variety of sports, narrowing the choice down to two or three and then finally choosing the sport to specialise in at around the age of 15 or 16.

There is a considerable amount of research that indicates that diversification is often the method of choice for some of the world’s best athletes and that those who opt for this route actually spend less hours participating in the chosen main sport before being selected for a national team. So, what is it about diversification that makes it effective?

Playing a wider range of sports allows a child to develop a broader spectrum of physical skills, many of which are transferrable from one sport to another, such as the ability to quickly go from being motionless to sprinting, which is useful in athletics, as well as games like tennis. There are also likeness between the movements in many sports and some broadly similar concepts allow for transfer of learned skills – for example the set up of a football pitch where the idea is to get the ball into the opposing team’s net, and a hockey pitch where the aim is the same but using a stick. Skills such as passing, anticipating the movements of an opponent and looking for an opportunity to put an object into a goal, or over a net, are also common to a wide range of sports.

In addition to encouraging transferrable skills, diversification can maintain an interest in sport in general, avoiding early burning out or giving up, and there is evidence that acquiring a wide range of skills in this way may actually speed up elite performance of a single sport when it is selected. Then there are the general life benefits – qualities such as tenacity, endurance, mental agility and strength are key to any sport, as well as to living a successful life in general, and acquiring the ability to understand and play more than one sport can also build confidence.

In terms of the disadvantages of diversification, these tend to be few. Most of the evidence points to the fact that this approach doesn’t prevent elite performance in athletes, which only leaves the logistics of getting a child to numerous training sessions, sports practices and games, as well as the cost.

Tips for a Healthy Lunch Box

AS_Healthy-Lunch-blogIn a world dominated by the constant temptation of sugary snacks, fizzy drinks and supersized junk food it’s often hard to remember what a balanced diet should look like. When it comes to lunch boxes, getting this right is pretty key, as lunch has to provide fuel for the entire day, particularly an active and sport-filled one. But what do all the elements of a balanced diet look like?

Carbohydrates, found in pasta, bread and potatoes and grains such as barley and millet, provide essential energy and are also responsible for delivering fibre, iron and B vitamins to our bodies, all essential nutrients for functions like digestion. Fats in dairy products such as milk, olive oil, lean red meat and poultry are key to the absorption of certain nutrients. However, remember that consuming too much saturated fat such as that in cheese, cream, butter, sausages and cakes leads to high cholesterol and weight problems. The Minerals food group is where you can go crazy as fruit and vegetables make up the largest part of it and bring only good things like calcium for bone strength and iron for blood health to our daily diets. Protein is another essential element in the daily diet as it delivers growth and also enables the body to repair itself after an accident or injury. Lean meat and fish, eggs and dairy products are a good source of protein, as are beans and poultry.

Getting the balance of all these elements right in a packed lunch can be a challenge for any parent but a healthy, tasty lunchbox is by no means out of reach. Here are a few ideas on how to get it right:

Don’t underestimate the power of fruit and veg. We all know that most kids would prefer an ice cream to a carrot, but the bright colours, the crunchy, juicy textures and the fact that they can be grabbed by little hands make fruit and veg a great healthy lunch box tool.

Try to include two pieces of fruit a day – a box of raisins, some dried apricots, fresh strawberries, a sweet mini banana, tinned peaches or a fresh pineapple slice are all more interesting than the standard apple option.

You can make vegetables much more attractive by chopping them into batons and making them into dippers for hummus or salsa, or provide all the tools for dipper wraps – slow release carb wholemeal tortillas, veg such as celery, carrot, baby spinach, cucumber and red pepper – and let kids make their own wraps to dip. And don’t forget your ‘5-a-day’ is a MINIMUM recommendation, not a limit!

The ‘treat’ is essential – but it doesn’t have to be a high fat, sugary treat. Low fat fromage frais, a small handful of peanuts, salted popcorn, low fat custard or rice pudding can deliver an equally satisfying sweet hit without the energy low that can follow consumption of lots of sugar.

Opt for energy – particular if your kids are running around all day at a sports camp they need energy giving foods to keep them going. A tub of brown rice salad, cold wholewheat pasta in a rich tomato sauce, mini frittatas packed full of veg, pitta breads stuffed with lean proteins and grated vegetables, or bagels with fish such as salmon are an easy way to do it.

The combination of a fresh, balanced diet and plenty of exercise is a great way to make sure that our kids grow up healthy and happy and free from issues such as obesity and depression. Activate Sport runs an exciting series of summer sports camps that are perfectly suited to inspiring an active lifestyle – see our website for details of everything from dance to cricket camps, and more great healthy recipe ideas.

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