Lesley Townsend: The gold medalist's mum.

Lesley Townsend family

If you've seen any interviews with Olympic and European gold medallist Susannah Townsend you will undoubtedly have heard her mention the important part her family have played in her development as both person and player. With that in mind, we spoke to her mother, Lesley who wrote a two part blog for women's sport week about having children involved in sport. Here's part one:

As a mother of five children all with different attitudes to sport and with varying aptitudes, I feel I can cover a large part of the spectrum of a parent's role in sport. I must firstly confess however, that I am not sporty. Sport wasn’t a very pleasant experience at my school but I was determined that sport would be a part of my children's lives and that it would be fun thing and not something to be dreaded. This piece won’t all be about Susannah but I'll start with her.

Susannah is a twin, so her and her brother Michael went along to something called Tumble Tots (is it still going?) which was a circuit of walking and climbing pieces designed to help co-ordination and balance for toddlers. The twins were about 18 months at that time and the hope was that they would 'socialise' more (they were quite insular and self-sufficient; they even had their own language). It didn’t go very well as they weren’t keen on other kids and they clung to my legs for most of the sessions and cried for no apparent reasons. The last time we went, we had got to the part where mums and children sit down and sing/clap; Susannah went missing. To my horror and amusement she had made her own way onto the apparatus and was gamely traversing the circuit not only the wrong way but by walking on the handrails! It was suggested that we didn’t come back for a while (we got to keep the T shirts) but to this day, I think that Susannah's sense of balance and determination firstly came through at that very moment. What is interesting is that the Great Britain hockey team contains a disproportionate number of girl/boy twins and I wonder if they had similar experiences or even survived Tumble Tots?

The school that the children went to really embraced the importance of sport which is why we chose it. Its philosophy is that every child is good at something and once a student feels good about themselves, the academic side of things tends to follow. I always felt a bit sorry for Susannah's siblings throughout their school years and as a parent had to consider the 'responsibility' of having one child who had an obvious raw talent for sport against the sensitivities and needs of the siblings. I remember Michael being in tears when Susannah was picked for the school football team and he wasn’t and Vicky being lapped by everyone in the 1500 metres on sports day but not giving up even though she was in agony. Susannah hadn’t played hockey until she went to secondary school at eleven but had reached county standard in tennis, cricket and football. Because most of the other girls had played hockey before and some were even in the county development squad, the hockey teacher decided that Susannah would be best placed in goal which did not go down well. 

Lesley Townsend with Susannah

Susannah was a good goalie but she begged all season to be given a game outfield. The teacher refused and told me that if Susannah worked hard she may be able to play in goal for Kent. This is the only time I have ever gone into a school and made a fuss about any of my children and for the very last game of the season, Susannah was given a go on the pitch and as they say, the rest is history...

This pattern of Susannah coming back stronger after a rejection shows the determination of character that she has and in a funny way, a setback has always been turned to her advantage.

Finding the right environment for a sporty child to flourish I feel is a pivotal part of developing their full potential. At some point, parents must only be parents and the professional side of things handed over to others. We were very lucky to have Canterbury Hockey Club and Mel Clewlow in particular who fulfilled this function while Mark (Susannah’s Father) and I stood back as chauffeurs, feeders and supporters. To be honest, we had a bit of a bad cop/good cop routine where Mark would insist on Susannah always going to training but with me stepping in and suggesting she missed the odd one as she was exhausted or had too much homework or just needed a night on the sofa watching 'Friends'.

How have we helped Susannah reach her full potential? I've had to ask Susannah's help with this and she says that it's simply celebrating the good times and putting the bad times into perspective (and at times doing her homework for her!)

Part two of Lesley's journey as a gold medalist's mum follows Friday.

This week is Parents in Sport Week which focuses on how parents can greatly influence a child's experience in sport through their actions. For more information how you can play your part click here.