A dashed dream spurred on Alex Paske to build The Mintridge Foundation, a sport mentoring charity that is benefiting young athletes

Like so many young people, Alex Paske had a dream to play sport for England. And for a while it looked as though that dream might come true when she qualified for the Under-16s England hockey trials. But she got injured, and following a long recovery, she no longer found pleasure in the game. “I ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself,” she says, “I felt like I hadn’t achieved my goal and I wasn’t good enough anymore. I had an incredibly supportive family, but they didn’t really know what to do when I didn’t get in.”

Paske stopped playing hockey for good. It was, she says, “an incredibly negative experience” but she was determined that other young people would not be put off achieving their goals by similar setbacks. She says: “If I’d had a mentor who had been there, done that, got the scars, someone who told me that what I was going through was normal, I would still be playing hockey today – and enjoying it.” So in March 2015, she set up The Mintridge Foundation which places professional athletes in schools, colleges and sports clubs to inspire and mentor budding athletes.

A registered charity since April this year, the Mintridge Foundation now has a team of 28 ambassadors, including Olympians, paralympians, England netballers, professional basketball players and more. By July this year, the charity was running 142 programmes, and has helped 37,818 young people. The Mintridge Foundation has three programmes: Bronze, Silver and Gold; each one aiming to enhance the life skills of young people through sport.

The Mintridge Foundation

The Bronze programme sends an athlete into a school, club or college for a day, where they will talk to students about anything from diet and nutrition to their own journey and sporting career. With an aim of promoting the physical education and development of young people, as well as helping to build essential life skills, the school and The Mintridge Foundation will agree on an activity before the athlete arrives: this might be teaching a coaching session, or leading an assembly for the school. But it is Mintridge’s Silver and Gold programmes that sets them apart from other charities with a similar objective.

If the school decides that they would like offer a student a greater level of mentoring, they can opt for the Silver programme. For this, The Mintridge Foundation will allocate an athlete to work with a chosen student who has shown particular flair in their sport, and the athlete then mentors this student remotely over a period of six months by supporting them in their development. Using either FaceTime, Skype or email, the selected student can expect to have a minimum of one hour a fortnight of contact, and focusing on a specific programme target decided upon by staff. In short, they are receiving the support that Paske felt she did not have when she needed it the most.

For the Gold programme, The Mintridge Foundation will offer the opportunity for mentees and their families to go and watch their mentor in a sports event, with travel paid for by the Foundation to further spur mentees on to achieve their goals. It’s obviously a formula that works. Clemmie Cooper from Ampleforth College was selected to represent Great Britain in the Laser Run World Championships following a six-month programme working with Heather Fell at Mintridge. Heather won the silver medal in the women’s individual event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the pentathlon event, and Clemmie has put her selection down to the confidence and set of skills that she learned through Heather.

Paske is also dedicated to the empowerment of female athletes: something that she feels has been lacking in previous years. She notes, “I look back and think that my role model was Johnnie Wilkinson, the England rugby player, which is great but I wasn’t a rugby player and I didn’t know who the England hockey team were because a foundation like Mintridge wasn’t there for me.” One of her biggest drives has been to make sure that young female athletes are mentored by similar female athletes.

The Mintridge Foundation is expanding fast, with an equal number of state and independent schools taking part. Paske says Mintridge ambassadors adapt to the facilities on offer, so staff from inner city schools are not taught sport techniques that they cannot carry out in a limited space. With Paske the driving force behind Mintridge, it seems that the sky really is the limit for its young athletes.

For more info visit: http://www.mintridgefoundation.org.uk