Christina Boxer, GB athlete, gets girls into sport
There aren’t many school children who have the opportunity to be put through their PE paces by a former international athlete. In September 2008 former GB runner Christina Boxer joined the staff at Malvern College where her mission is to inspire girls to take up sport, and to learn from the psychological tactics that enabled her to win Gold. Chris Mowbray reports.
Sports enthusiasts who thrilled to the record haul of medals brought back from the Beijing Olympics by the British team, may have noticed that television coverage of the Games occasionally made mention of the psychological approach adopted by the athletes, particularly by the extraordinarily successful cyclists.
It is an approach to sporting achievement which is gaining increasing currency and now it is being championed in Worcestershire by an athlete who believes it could help local youngsters to become part of the next generation of great Olympians.
That advocate is Christina Boxer, herself a former Olympic runner, the winner of both gold and silver medals in the Commonwealth Games and the first British woman to break the two minute barrier for running the 800 metres. Regular followers of athletics may also recognise her as a former BBC specialist commentator.
She recently took up the dual posts of Head of Sports Development and Director of Girls’ Sport at Malvern College in a year when significant developments are taking place in the school’s provision of sport. She is to be involved in teaching the academic PE element of both the International Baccalaureate, which has been introduced at the school, and A-level PE as well as the practical aspects of sport. In September 2009, the College is opening a state-of-the-art sports complex with an eight-lane cricket centre, fitness suite, 25-metre six-lane swimming pool, rifle range, squash courts, climbing wall, dance studio and entertainment suite.
As part of her developmental work, Christina has also become an ambassador working with the Worcestershire and Herefordshire Olympic and Paralympic Project which aims to forge links between business, education, volunteer bodies and other organisations in the two counties to support Britain’s attempts to improve the medal tally still further at the London Olympics in 2012.
Christina knows all about the psychological approach to sport because it helped to turn her from someone who had been a pitifully timid, shy and nervous child into a successful world class runner and a confident career woman and teacher whose abilities and lifestyle are undoubtedly envied by many.
“It has helped me to understand how you can achieve something by really focusing on it and it can be applicable to anyone who has to turn on a performance and has to be in the public eye,” she said.
“Motivational psychology is very interesting and you can apply it to anything whether it be sport, business, politics or music. Just as you can do physical skill training, so you can also do mental skill training.
“Everyone gets nervous just before they have to perform. They have to understand that they need adrenalin to do well at what they are doing, but they also need to manage it and some people need to learn how to concentrate more than others.
“It is all to do with goal setting and you can help people to set those goals and to work on the process rather than the outcome. In athletics, for example, you have to concentrate on how to win a gold medal rather than on actually winning it. This is a much more positive approach.”
So how did it all start for her?
She was a pupil at a co-educational state school in Hampshire when her potential was spotted by the chairman of a local athletics club after she came sixth in a race for children who were two years older than her. She received huge encouragement from the school’s PE staff and headmaster and was soon running regularly and playing for the hockey and netball teams. By the age of 14, she knew that running was to be her main sport and set an age record for track and cross country in the national championships when she was 15. She focused entirely on athletics at the age of 19 and broke her first British record when she was 22.
Thereafter, she travelled the world to compete and had unforgettably experiences which will stay with her for the rest of her life. She won gold for the 1,500 metres at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982, was fourth at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and was presented with the silver medal by the Queen at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand.
She also found that athletics gave her the opportunity to visit places which would otherwise not have been on the itinerary of a young woman. When she ran in Alabama, for example, she got the chance to visit New Orleans to indulge her love of jazz and blues at first hand, while a competition in Cuba meant that she saw that country years ago when it was still closed to the general traveller.
When her track career finally ended, she coached for a couple of years and took a Masters in sports psychology at Chichester. After doing that, she realised that she was missing her vocation as a teacher for which she had trained at Loughborough as a young woman, but which she had not taken up because of her running.
“I am passionate about sport in school because I was spotted in school, athletics have made me the person I am and I want to put something back,” Christina added.
“It is a great time to be involved in sport. My philosophy is that if your body is fit, your mind and soul will also be fit and it is lovely if people can have a nice all round perspective on life. Another advantage if you are into sport is that you become better at managing your time because you want to make sure that you do your sport. It therefore does not hurt your academic work because it helps you to strike a balance with time management.
“You hear so many Olympians talk about how they were first inspired by someone to follow the path they took and now I would like to be a similar source of inspiration. Since moving to the Malvern Hills District, I have really taken to this area and I want to help inspire local young people to follow their Olympic dreams.”