Olympic sports for your children

It has taken seven years and £3.3 billion to get London in shape for the Olympic games; but what are the time, effort and financial costs to prepare your little wonder for a podium finish?

2012 could be the greatest sporting year in our lifetime. In the Diamond Jubilee year, not only is the greatest show on earth happening right here on our doorstep, also England play in Euro 2012 – could this be the year our footballers finally get their act together?

Whether you’re a die-hard sports fanatic who gets a competitive fizz from watching octogenarians play lawn-bowls in your local park, a passive on-looker or sport shunner; the Olympics and Paralympics has something for everyone. It’s the only truly global gathering that delivers a beautiful blend of culture, values and competition.

Communist, capitalist, rich, poor, the talented and the ‘try-hards’ come together to test themselves against one another, representing their respective countries and hoping to walk away with the ultimate glory. Where else would you find the fastest man on earth, who’s been analysed by NASA scientists, racing against a chap from American Samoa, who entered because they couldn’t find anyone else?

From Guatemala to Guildford, there’s one thing that every single competitor has in common; they’ve dedicated their lives to their discipline.

Whilst most of us are snuggled up in bed on a Sunday morning, they’re traipsing around the country racing and competing, hoping to beat their personal best. Their families have gone without holidays for years, just so they can afford to pay their elite coach or on Christmas Day, whilst you and I are polishing off a six course meal, they’re pounding the streets – knowing they’re getting in an extra days training over their competitors.

Ultimately, as parents, it starts with us. Very few four year olds will instigate a ruthless physical regime that could lead to triumph 18 years later.

Pushy father to two legends in the making (Molly, aged 6 – Olympic Gold in Tennis in 2024 and Jack aged 2 – England rugby captain 2034) – a lycra clad Paul Bunker investigates the time, effort and tears involved in developing a little sporting superstar.

Rowing is one of the few sports where Britain can really hold its own. Then again, with 11,000 miles of coastline, you’d hope we’d be better at water sports than land-locked Turkmenistan.

There are a few fundamental issues with rowing; namely, you need a boat and some water. The wet stuff is free but having something to sit in and the equipment to power your vessel isn’t cheap. Rowing clubs offer members the chance to use equipment whilst training and getting to grips with the sport. Generally, children won’t start competitive rowing until they’re 12 as they have to be physically strong enough to deal with handling the boat.

Rowing is a fun and social sport, which delivers some of the fittest humans on this mortal coil; at the elite level, athletes can expect to train 5-6 hours a day. It’s gruelling and their commitment is unparalleled considering the rewards are few and far between. Would you smash the ice on a frosty January morning, just so you can stick to your training regime?

Earning Potential
Nearly all rowers are amateur and rely on scholarships and sponsorship (Lottery or Sport England) to fund their training, or they have very understanding employers.
Superstar Status:
The likes of Sir Steven Redgrave and James Cracknell have brought some pizzazz – Can you name a famous female rower…erm?

Gymnastics is one of the most inspiring sports in the world. A gymnast running, tumbling and somersaulting across a sprung floor makes you question the very bounds of the human body!

The window of opportunity for gymnasts, particularly girls, is very small. 16 is the peak age for an Olympic performer; at that age their bodies are able to tolerate the style and volume of training. Clubs like Gym-mini’s encourage participation from the age of two, with very basic fun activities, where toddlers can flail around in a controlled environment, whilst learning basic skills. From six there are options for recreational, club and elite gymnastics – all demanding more dedication. A six-year-old elite gymnast can expect to train for 8-12 hours a week, by the age of nine this could have climbed to around 22 hours a week. The very nature of the sport means that elite gymnasts will have special dispensation from lessons in order to commit the time to their training regime.

Earning Potential
Very few gymnasts earn a living from the sport. An Olympian could have endorsements or go on to open an academy. Gymnastics is performed for the love of the sport.
Superstar Status:
If you walked past a World Champion in the street would you recognise her? Probably not, unless she was vaulting over a letter box.

For most of us swimming is a recreational activity that involves bobbing around in the local pool, doing the side-ways breast-stroke and talking. For others it’s a watery path to glory.

Although some children make their first splash in the pool at three months, from the age of four children start to develop their technique and by the age of seven can start competing.

Swimming is a very technical sport and to progress from being a ‘floater’ to a swimmer takes years of dedication. Many young club swimmers will train before school because of a lack of pool availability. For parents this can mean getting up with the larks to run their progeny to the local pool for a 5am start – with more training after school. Beyond the cost of the initial lessons and the occasional pair of goggles, the main costs are club memberships, fuel and gallons of tea.

The pool of British swimmers in the running for Olympic glory is the best we’ve seen in many years, and it’s hoped they will inspire a generation.

Earning Potential
Most swimmers are amateur and rely on sponsorship or grants from the Lottery or Sport England.
Superstar Status:
The elite aspire for gold at The World Championships, Commonwealth Games or the Olypmics. It’s hoped Rebecca Adlington will make a splash this summer; she’s the UK’s brightest swimming star in years.

The beauty of Athletics is that there is an event for every shape and size. If you’re short and powerful there are field events (discus, hammer, javelin etc), if you’re tall and leggy, there’s the high or long jump.

Many of us are scarred by two words “Cross Country” – i.e. the PE teacher was too busy smoking, so ‘persuaded’ us to run around a swamp for an hour. Taught properly, athletics teaches fundamental skills that are found in many other sports and is brilliant for children’s discipline and learning the importance of winning and losing.

Children who show promise at school are referred to local athletics clubs who offer specialised coaching and the opportunity to compete at events like the Sainsbury’s Schools Games. Although the cost of equipment in most disciplines is negligible, the real cost comes in the form of time and effort – particularly when attending meetings around the country.

Athletics is renowned for welcoming late starters – so there’s hope for us yet!

Earning Potential
The crème de la crème earn plenty from sponsorship and endorsements. The IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) does offer $100,000 to world record breakers.
Superstar Status:
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is a physical phenomenon and billions of eyes will be watching him this summer.

Cycling is becoming one of the UK’s favourite sports. With the government throwing oodles of cash behind cycle lanes and the heightened profile of the sport through professionals such as Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy (3 gold medals in the 2008 Olympics), it’s a sport that’s appealing to more and more people.

It’s fun, relatively cheap to get up and rolling, environmently friendly and is a great way to get/stay fit. Most children love learning to ride a bike from the age of four, and second-hand bikes can be bought from as cheap as £5 from ebay or bike recycling initiatives, whereas professional racing bikes cost more than the average family car. British Cycling looks after the entire sport, from track sprinting to mountain-biking and BMX. “Go Ride” is an initiative encouraging youngsters to get out and about on their bikes safely – in the hope that some may take up the sport competitively. Local cycling clubs open the door to competition and tuition/coaching to higher honours.

Earning Potential
Professional team cyclists are reported to earn £150,000 a year through sponsorship and winnings.
Superstar Status:
Most people wouldn’t recognise a Tour De France winner if he was cycling down their street, but the likes of Lance Armstrong have helped to develop cycling’s global image.

When Tiger Woods appeared on television for the first time, putting a golf ball into the hole, the live audience were astounded. He was 2 years old and still wearing a nappy!
He’s had a few issues lately, but from prize money and endorsements he’s reported to be worth more than some countries. Golf is an immensely technical game, where stance, swing, grip and fitness can have a huge bearing on performance. The difference between a good club player (who pays to play) and a professional (who gets paid a fortune) can be minute. Most children start playing golf because of an enthusiastic parent, but pros like Lee Westwood run academies for children aged seven and upwards. These programmes nurture young talent and provide equipment and guidance for the dinky devotee. Initially golf can be costly, but it’s a social sport and your child could go on to make a tidy living from travelling the world whilst walking sedately with very little chance of getting injured!

Earning Potential
Astronomic. Woods is the only person to earn $1billion + from sport. Playing golf for a living and never having to work a single day in your life certainly has an appeal to it.
Superstar Status:
Plenty of fame within sport circles, but most golfers aren’t poster campaign material (with the exception of Tiger, of course).

Whether it’s show jumping, dressage or eventing, this is a sport that is dependant on a creature that has a mind of its own. You can make all the preparations in the world, but if the horse doesn’t want to perform, you’re going nowhere! Children as young as two can begin to familiarise themselves by riding ponies but, for most youngsters, seven is the age that they’ll show the mental and physical maturity to take control of a horse in their own right. With this maturity comes the sense of responsibility of caring for their steed. As intelligent as horses are, they haven’t quite mastered the art of mucking out and feeding themselves yet, so they need some human assistance. Looking after a horse isn’t a cheap business either, livery, feed, injections, worming, insurance and hay costs between £100 – £1000+ a month. If you’ve got Olympic aspirations, you’ll need to buy a horse at some stage and that can cost anything between £1500 and £9 million, depending on which model you fancy.

Earning Potential
There is some prize money in Equestrian, but most riders are dependant on generous sponsors/parents.
Superstar Status:
The only British rider most of us could name is Zara Philips. She could feature at the Olympics this summer, she won gold at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

The entire nation is on its knees begging for a Brit to serve up a win at Wimbledon; it’s been 76 long years since some home-grown talent won the men’s title! A beginner’s racquet is less than £20, but finding somewhere to play is another story. Very few schools have their own tennis courts, and some public courts are lichen covered accidents waiting to happen. That said, the Lawn Tennis Association is investing millions of pounds in building more indoor tennis centres to make the game more affordable and accessible to children of all ages.

Serena and Venus Williams’ father started coaching them at the age of five; by the age of nine they’d outgrown his capabilities so they relocated to cater for their coaching needs. Serena won her first professional event at 13 and has won 27 Grand Slam titles and 2 Olympic Gold medals… so far.

In the UK coaching starts as young as three and local clubs welcome those with talent, commitment and aspirations.

Earning Potential
Unfathomable. Estimates for the elite (including prize money and endorsements) are £100+ million in their playing careers.
Superstar Status:
Tennis is an incredibly fun, energetic and sassy game played mostly in the sunshine. It offers players a great life with plenty of limelight – for all the right reasons.

Football is the UK’s number one sport. If there’s a patch of grass larger than a doormat, there are usually two children having a kick-about.
Availability and the low cost of participation – all you need is something to kick, a can, a tennis ball, a swede – means that millions of boys and girls start playing football from the moment they can walk (some before). Schools and Sunday league teams offer children the chance to run-around, get muddy, have fun and occasionally become a hero amongst their team mates. More talented players can be picked up by academies, and some sign contracts as young as seven years old. Being associated with a club requires commitment and entails many hours/years/pounds driving around the country to attend training sessions or playing matches on boggy pitches on dreary Sunday mornings. Beware, less than 5% go on from academies to make a living out of playing ‘the beautiful game’, leaving a swathe of broken dreams/hearts behind.

Earning Potential
For those that make it as a professional, up to £350,000 a week (Samuel Eto’o plays for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala)
Superstar Status:
There are natives in the deepest, darkest corners of the Amazon rainforest who are wearing David Beckham branded underpants. How’s that for superstar status?