The Mintridge Foundation’s blend of team and one-to-one coaching and mentoring has benefits that go way beyond performance on the field

Alex Wallace is on a mission to harness sport for good via the Mintridge Foundation. From small roots, this has grown into an organisation with a whole host of individual and team athletes on its books. Acting as mentors – and known as Ambassadors – they help children of every sporting ability, so far reaching some 40,000 young people across the UK. Mintridge has also attracted valuable sponsors in the media and corporate world and founder Alex Wallace has picked up an impressive array of awards. 

Like many a great idea, Mintridge Foundation has its roots in a personal experience. Alex Wallace was a gifted hockey player. She was tipped to go far and was put forward for the U16 Trials for England Hockey. But then she wasn’t selected and the impact was profound. “I fell out of love with the sport,” she says. But more than that, she began to re-evaluate her own identity and future. “I struggled with my mental health – I was no longer ‘Alex the hockey player’”.

She came through, but later realised that if she’d had a mentor at that time she would probably have coped with the setback – might even have responded very differently. She started to reflect on the fear of failure that haunts many young people, and also how few role models there are for less well publicised sports.

What the Mintridge Foundation aims to do is to address these issues and more. The Foundation matches sporting role models with young people, helping them to build their physical and mental well-being and life skills. Beyond everything else, its role models work to help young people believe in their own abilities, sporting or otherwise.  

The roll call of mentors on its books includes individual and team players in over 20 sports – from double Paralympic gold archer Danielle Brown and hockey’s Shona McCallin to wheelchair basketball player (and sports presenter) Jordan Jarrett-Bryan and swimmer Lizzie Simmonds. 

Whatever the sport, having stars as mentors has a positive effect on young people. Alex says: “It makes them sit up and listen. They are seen as someone quite cool”. Even better when the Ambassador arrives wearing their Team GB tracksuit. While sporting achievement matters, it is equally important that young people relate to the athletes they meet. Mintridge Foundation covers the sports given less airtime on TV and has a great balance of female role models and athletes with disabilities. It also has female Ambassadors in emerging fields – notably rising English rugby talent Zoe Harrison and racing driver Emily Linscott. 

Alex has always been very careful to reflect diversity and also tap into the challenges young people face. Their role is not to simply turn up, but to devote time and work with the students (alongside their schools and families). “We are very particular in who we want,” she adds. Often these sporting role models are in the early stages or late stages of their career. There is a clear benefit for athletes too. Assisting other young people is a means of giving back and leaving a legacy beyond their own medals and records. It may also help them build their own skills and confidence. Alex remains keenly aware of the importance of helping athletes find their role when they are no longer competing at the highest levels.

There are programmes of various levels available, from a single day hosting assembly and workshops to long-term support. The small team will liaise to select the athlete who best fits the programme the school or club wants. A big USP in the Foundation’s work is one-to-one mentorship. Here, a school or club selects one or two students to be mentored. These may be talented athletes or they may not – the point is that it is tailored to help the individual student. 

Here, there are some wonderful success stories. One that remains a favourite for Alex is when Lizzie Simmonds helped a primary school pupil. The child could not believe she had been chosen as a mentee by her school and was completely overawed – so much so that she had to get her mother to ask the questions for her during early Skype sessions. But the mentorship continued and, by the end of the programme, this desperately shy child was coming to each session brimming with ideas for things to talk about and questions to ask Lizzie Simmonds. “Her mother told us she cried after the final session because she had enjoyed them so much she didn’t want the mentorship to end,” says Alex. 

Working across the country with both state and independent schools, Mintridge Foundation is also helping those young people who may have real potential and here, Alex is sure, there are messages that can be conveyed at the right time to make a difference. “The identity side is huge for athletes, but there has to be a plan B,” she says. Teachers and parents may advise, but hearing first-hand from a professional that schoolwork is still really important for their future career, alongside nutrition and keeping a balance in their lives, may be a game changer in helping young talent to be brilliant but stay grounded. 

Find out more about The Mintridge Foundation