With so many Team England athletes preparing for the podium at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games, it’s easy to forget how they got to where they are today.
Each year, more incredible junior athletes come through the ranks. The competition is high and unforgiving, but the reward is sweet – to represent England or Great Britain at an international level is a pride only a few can feel.
Retired Commonwealth, European and World Champion badminton player Gail Emms started playing the sport at just four years of age, and first represented England in 1995.
She may not play professionally any more, but her love for the sport has never been stronger, and now she works an ambassador for badminton – inspiring more young people to become active.
We caught up with Gail to see what she’s up to and get her top tips for the next generation of Team England athletes.
What are you currently training for?
I’m currently in training to bomb it up and down Mt Toubka (4,167m) in 18 hours to raise money for SportsAid, in honour of its 40th birthday this year, as it’s always been a massive part of my life.
As well as it being an amazing opportunity to do something like this, it’s also a chance to give back, and say thanks to SportsAid for helping me, as well as many others.
How else can we can encourage and support young athletes into badminton and other sports?
It’s the golden question isn’t it. We shouldn’t lose talented kids. Sport should be normal.
Exercise and activity should be normal, and I think we have to get into that mind-set to go to the park with your family and kick a football about, rather than sitting at home on the computer or on your iPhone just messaging people.
Sport gives us so much, it gives us so many attributes for later life, but if we miss out on that, kids don’t get the chance to learn how to get better at something, or how to be part of a team.
For me, I just want to normalise it. Make family activities normal – especially for girls. I see hundreds of boys playing football on a Saturday morning, why don’t we see girls?
Campaigns like Sport England’s This Girl Can help, but with an older generation. You’ve got to start early, and I mean playschool age. It’s getting that healthy habit in from an early age that’s key.
Do you have any tips for aspiring young players trying to come in through the ranks?
There will always be an incredible amount of pressure, from schools, coaches and clubs, even though you just want to go out there and play.
My biggest tip, is just be YOU. Be the best you can be. If you can do that, and be happy with whatever you’ve just done that day, that training session, that competition, that’s all that matters.
You may have seen over the past two weeks on our social channels that we've been celebrating all the things that make our country great. We've had a fantastic response from Team England fans and athletes on social media, and we love Gail's answer!