“Alison has had to take an unscheduled meeting. Would you like to wait in the gym?” Being kept waiting can be irritating, but in this case, it was a gift!
I was visiting Spelthorne Gymnastics at their facility in Ashford. I have to confess to being one of those who came across the club after Britain’s Got Talent was won by Spelbound in 2010. The group had been trained at Spelthorne Gymnastics (hence the spelling of the name with one ‘l’ for Spelthorne).
Alison and Bob Cooper started the club in 1986 and have since then consistently produced British, European and World champions in acrobatic gymnastics. What I was watching, as I waited to meet Alison, felt like a veritable private display. The gymnasium was filled with a flurry of brightly coloured leotards, darting around like exotic birds, flick flacking, leaping and stretching. Tiny children with long slender limbs were practicing their moves, demonstrating extreme flexibility and balance. Some of the older ones were training with younger members, passing on their knowledge. Other groups were following a training rota, repetitively practicing movements to help their flexibility. It was mesmerising and enchanting. It was also a great demonstration of self-motivation. None of the children needed chiding, told to be quiet or get on with anything. They all wanted to be there, to improve, to perform and to be the best.
Alison found me, enthralled and craving more information. She told me that the children practicing that evening were as young as 6, but that there is also an entry level of 3 or 4 years old. Every week some 1500 students come through the doors, from as far away as Kent and Oxford. Many of the children come in twice a day for practice, both before and after school. As well as wanting to simply do well, the carrot is the opportunity to perform at competitions and shows both UK and overseas. The children do a lot of growing up. Not only must they be self- starters, but also comfortable spending time away from their families from a young age.
Alison explained that they are all motivated to win, but that they also learn the valuable lesson of not winning. They learn to be their best and they learn to take responsibility for themselves. The harder they work, the more chance of being chosen to compete and ultimately to win. These are life skills that come to so many of us so much later but which can set the children up to achieve in school and later in work. Some students go on to be teachers themselves. Local Lucy Pascoe was spotted as having more potential than just the school gym club at an early age and was trained by Alison. She went on to join Cirque du Soleil and travel the world performing at the highest level. (She is now a personal trainer in Sunbury and is training Mr C himself!) If I had a child, I would certainly enrol them.
I was overwhelmed with the positive energy in the room and the care shown by Alison who seemed to know every student by name. She may have been talking to me, but she had her eye on every little performer in the room. Very impressive!