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I have a strong connection to the Isle of Man. My grandfather was a Manxman and my Great Uncle an elected Minister in the House of Keys (the parliament). My mother lived on the island in her childhood in Peel – ‘Sunset City’ – before moving to Fleetwood on the ‘Isle of Man boat’ as my grandfather looked for work in the pre-war years.

I was always aware of my heritage, but it remained dormant until an email in August 2020 sent by Dr Richard Sille, a sports psychologist, working on the island with young athletes on the high-performance Talent Pathway. He’d been charged with creating a mental health strategy for the Talent Pathway and reached out for help because he knew DOCIAsport had experience in performance sport, mental health (good and bad) and duty of care.

My response was not to write a document so it could gather dust in a folder on the cloud, but instead to lead a collaborative approach involving key stakeholders in the strategy:

  • Current and former athletes
  • Coaches
  • Parents
  • ‘Sport Science’ and on island mental health support

Due to COVID all the meetings were online every month for a year from November 2020 November 2021. Taking the lead from this Advisory Board, Richard and I consulted, undertook an athlete survey, and submitted a proposed strategy to Isle of Man Sport which was adopted, owned, and implemented. It is a matter of pride to me that the strategy remains in place with tweaks to fit current needs, costs, and the athlete environment. But the wellbeing of the athletes remains at the core.

The strength of the Isle of Man is the fact that it is an island, and therefore has some independence from ‘the mainland’ and its systems and structures. It has a strong cultural identity and sense of community. Isle of Man Sport want to take this as a foundation for sustainable change in the high-performance sporting environment. I was therefore delighted to be invited by Paul Jones from Isle of Man Sport to recruit and develop an Athlete Advisory Board (AAB) to inform and influence the stakeholders who will impact on future sporting environment.

Whilst DOCIAsport is taking a lead role in this process it is with one eye on creating a sustainable future for the AAB. The board must be run by a mixture of current and former athletes who have been through the Manx system and possibly transitioned onto the performance pathways of British National Governing Bodies. I was delighted therefore to be introduced to former Manx Sportswoman of the year and GB swimmer Charlotte Atkinson. 

Charlotte transitioned out of sport into a career in medicine in 2020 and is Manx through and through and keen to give something back to help other athletes following in her wake.

Together, we designed the recruitment process and selected the candidates for (online) interviews which we jointly hosted. We were successful and found six fantastic candidates at varying stages of their sporting careers who reflect the diversity of the athletes in the ‘system’ (we need to change that factory production line terminology too !!.)

In March 2023 we held the inaugural meeting of the AAB on the island to coincide with the Isle of Man Sport annual awards evening. This meant not only that five of the six athletes could join Charlotte and I in person (the other joined online) and three of those were nominated for awards.

The members of the AAB are.

  • Ian Braid (interim chair)
    • Charlotte Atkinson (vice chair)
    • Tara Donnelly (gymnastics)
    • Sean Jackson (disability football)
    • Charlie Swales (triathlon)
    • Matt Bostock (cycling)
    • Sam Brand (cycling)
    • Al Corlett (athletics)

I am grateful to bring this group together and begin the work that will, over time, change the look and feel of performance sport for the current and future athletes which is significant because of the Commonwealth Games in 2026 and a ‘home’ Island Games beyond that. There is work to be done but the Athlete Advisory Board for Isle of Man Sport is individually and collectively up for it!

For more information about Isle of Man Sport visit https://www.isleofmansport.com/