Photo credit: Alex Paske
“It’s so important to be passionate about what you do. That’s what we tell every child we work with, whether that’s in sport or otherwise.”
These are the words of Alex Paske, the founder of the Mintridge Foundation and winner of the 2018 Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Grassroots Award.
It’s Alex’s putting her words into action that saw her deservedly claim that prestigious award earlier this week as she was recognised for the fantastic work she and the charity does inspiring youngsters in sport and life on the whole.
Mintridge is an organisation with 30 ambassadors who go into schools delivering educational sessions on a plethora of topics, from coping with the expectation elite sport elicits to social media anxiety.
The idea came about though with the initial intention of helping up-and-coming athletes cope with not making it to the elite level and planning for a life beyond sport after exactly that happened to her when she was 15.
‘Alex The Hockey Player’ had been obsessed with the game since the age of six and dreamt of singing the national anthem and representing her country.
🌟 About last night… 🌟 #SWOTY.
— Alex Paske (@alexpaske) November 2, 2018
But when the trials for the England U16 team came about she succumbed to the pressure she put herself under and failed to make the grade, a moment that was to prove pivotal in her life.
“I just remember thinking everyone’s going to think I’m a disappointment, from my friends to my coaches to my parents,” she recalled in an interview with SportSpiel ahead of the awards ceremony earlier this week.
“I then started to play because I had to play, not because I wanted to play. I always say my biggest love of all became my worst enemy.
“I haven’t really picked up a hockey stick since, which is devastating to think how much love I had for it.”
All of a sudden, Alex had lost an identity she had proudly exhibited for nearly a decade.
She was no longer ‘Alex The Hockey Player’. She was just Alex.
Not that she immediately recognised it though. Indeed, it was only four years later that she fully realised something was wrong and that she needed to re-invent herself.
Five years later and the Mintridge Foundation was born and has led to a remarkable transformation in her character and outlook on life.
The 27-year-old said: “I honestly don’t think I was fully better until I started Mintridge, which was in 2015 so that was nine years after the initial trial.
“But now I’m seeing the reward and the impact that my story is having on younger people so that is a really good coping mechanism for me and it’s helping me massively.”
More importantly to Alex though, the Mintridge Foundation is having a positive effect on scores of kids the length and breadth of the country.
In just over three years, more than 40,000 children have been inspired by the impressive array of athletic talent on their books, with ambassadors including professional cricketers, two-time world medal-winning judoka Nekoda Smythe-Davis, double Paralympic archery champion Danielle Brown, netball star Pamela Cookey and Olympic bronze medalist Marilyn Okoro.
— Kate Richardson-Walsh OLY (@katewalsh11) November 1, 2018
One of the reasons for taking the athletes into schools is to make them relatable role models to the children and people they can look up to and want to emulate, something which Alex has found to be incredibly impactful when delivering their sessions.
“I want to make role models relatable to individuals,” she stated.
“If we can get an Olympian into their local area, particularly those disadvantaged places where there are low aspirations, with their medals saying “I grew up in this neck of the woods as well and look what I’ve achieved” I think that really helps.
“A lot of the time the messages are the same as what their teachers and parents are saying but the fact it’s coming from an Olympian just makes students listen.
“It’s the ‘wow’ factor – the GB tracksuit, the medal which makes the students want to listen to them. It’s amazing – real life superstars stood in front of them.”
The charity also runs 1-on-1 sessions for athletes, something which has also seen superb success, with one girl selected to represent Great Britain in her sport.
Furthermore, two sisters left paralysed after a car accident were inspired to join an archery club thanks to the confidence and support the programme had given them.
Just had the most phenomenal session trumped only to hear the news that my amazing friend and founder of @MintridgeFDN has only gone and done it!! #winner #grassrootsaward #swoty2018 SO PROUD of you @alexpaske truly a deserved winner LOVE YOU! 💗 https://t.co/o9BTLuWMdZ
— Marilyn Okoro OLY (@mokoro4) November 1, 2018
While this project may still only be in its formative years, it is clear to see that it is already having an incredible impact on the lives of thousands of youngsters in the UK.
It’s also made a huge difference to Alex’s life, giving her a purpose she had been lacking after that disappointment and proving that she can make a difference to our society.
“Growing up all I wanted to do was play for England and for that to be my career but now I’m so much happier doing what I’m doing.
“I can take other people along on this journey whereas with hockey I would’ve been very much on my own.
“Success means different things for everybody and I want people – particularly young people – to realise that and to have the confidence to step away from the mould.
“I can’t describe how much about the little things that give me such a buzz when we go into schools and organisations.”
She may no longer be ‘Alex The Hockey Player’ but she is now ‘Alex The #SWOTY Award Winner’ because she really is one of the most inspirational women in sport.