Jo Pavey on the importance of sporting role models for girls

Five-time Olympian Jo Pavey, like the rest of us, has been wrapped up in an incredible summer of sports where female sports stars in particular have shown their strength and record-breaking strength.

If anyone had any doubts about the role of women in the sporting world, they have been thoroughly debunked, and athletics legend Pavey thinks this summer has created the perfect climate for everyone, but women and girls in particular, to do so inspire to get active and challenge yourself.

According to a new study by The National Lottery, 80% of parents say the presence of sporting role models can play an important role in encouraging their children to be more active.

However, this is especially true for girls – 84% of parents surveyed said it was important for young girls to see positive female sports models.

Pavey was fortunate as a young runner to have incredible women in athletics to look up to. “I’m old enough to look back on Liz McColgan when she got her gold [in the 1991 World Championships, and in the Commonwealth Games in 1986 and 1990] and I think I’d like to do what she did,” says the 48-year-old.

“And now to see her daughter Eilish run even faster at the Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham]it is amazing that she inspired them and passed on all this knowledge.”

Pavey – who became the oldest woman to ever win a European Championships gold by winning the 10,000m in 2014 just 10 months after giving birth – is passionate about passing on her love of the sport to her children.

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Eilish McColgan is really following in her mother’s footsteps (Martin Rickett/PA)

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“I want to inspire my kids to be active. I had a long track and field career because I really enjoyed it. So I want to encourage others to enjoy it and not just try to achieve things. Being active is so much fun and has so many benefits for your mental and physical health,” she says.

By encouraging children to watch sport live or on TV and to exercise regularly, children are given the opportunity to bond with sporting role models.

And for Pavey, there are a few key qualities that she believes should be present in athletic role models. You should be “someone who shows that they do their best, give it their all, enjoy it and always have a smile on their face afterwards,” she says. “They should not only show what they can do, but also how much they love it – and the ups and downs.”

There are few better examples of sporting heroes going through ups and downs than the lionesses who brought home the Euro trophy for the first time this summer.

Pavey’s eight-year-old daughter is a huge soccer fan – “Emily plays soccer and loves the Lionesses, her mixed squad was so happy to win.”

And Pavey knows the importance of nurturing that excitement and desire to play more. Since the start of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, she has noticed that she and her son Jacob, 12, are running more together.

“We as parents can be good role models for our children by showing them the importance of being active by doing things like parkrun that we can do together.

Football legends like Millie Bright and Leah Williamson inspire the next generation (Nigel French/PA)

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“It’s great to show them the importance of quality active time. Jacob loves swimming and running. He loves trying new things like skateboarding. I really want to encourage them to love being active.”

Unfortunately, there are still barriers that women and girls face when entering sport, including body image, puberty and access to grassroots sport.

Funding is a big issue but the National Lottery has invested more than £5.7billion in grassroots sport over the past decade – including over £50million in the FA to support women’s and girls’ football.

But nurturing active kids creates active adults, says Pavey. And for girls who want to pursue a career in sports, she has three simple pieces of advice: “Follow your dreams, don’t see obstacles and just enjoy it.”

The National Lottery and parkrun have joined forces to encourage people across the UK to take part in their local parkrun this weekend. To find your local parkrun event visit parkrun.org.uk.

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