Framlingham College welcomed shot put champion Sophie McKinna as a guest speaker to share details of her incredible sports career and offer pupils advice on how to learn from your losses.

After reluctantly picking up the shot put at age 13, Norfolk-born Sophie threw an incredible seven metres at her first try, and from that point on she was hooked on the sport.

Launching straight into her junior career, she won silver at the 2011 World Youth Championships and in the 2013 European Junior Championships – these wins then led to fifth-place finishes at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Talking about success at such a young age, Sophie said: “In my earlier career, there were days when I thrived off the competition, but then others when I’d experience performance anxiety – as I got older, you learn where to focus your energy and ‘flip the switch’ to separate the competing mindset and not take it into everyday life.”

It was during the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha when Sophie made history as she became the first British woman to reach the shot-put final in 36 years. Her throw of 18.61 metres was more than the Olympic qualifying standard and she soon found herself heading to the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 where she finished in 17th place.

“You not only have to physically work hard to be an elite professional athlete – training twice a day six days a week which takes a lot of dedication, time and work – but for me the mental toughness is another element which takes a lot of energy and perseverance,” Sophie explains, going on to talk about how she deals with setbacks; “As athletes we are told a lot about control, and ‘to control what you can control’ and not dwell on outsider elements.”

According to a poll by YouGov, Athletics (which include both track and field events) was the number one most popular event to watch during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – with 94% of those polled saying they were ‘interested’ in watching the coverage of events such as shot put, discus and javelin.

Despite this, the demise of field events has been prevalent with the recent increase of local authorities selling off school fields and parks to business premises or to meet housing demands.

Sophie McKinna at the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Picture:

“Athletics in the UK in general is a struggling sport – we are slowing running out of facilities, we are losing football pitches, and it is getting harder to get youngsters in fields events”, says Sophie. “Athletics is such an accessible sport; all you need are a pair of trainers, and you can go an athletics track.

“I’m just a girl from Great Yarmouth, I didn’t have fantastic facilities, I’m not special, I’m not genetically gifted, but I just worked hard. Looking ahead, I want to contribute more into the sport and be a spokesperson for the importance of athletics.”

The 29-year-old, who has her sights set on Paris 2024 after recovering from a serious elbow injury last year, left out pupils with an inspiring final message; “You learn more from your losses than you do from your wins. It’s easy to think that you don’t need to work as hard, when you are successful and you win things, you can become complacent, but when you find yourself – like in my experience for instance – one place away from an Olympic final, experiences like that are the biggest drivers. It’s always nice to win, but it doesn’t teach you a lot. Don’t be afraid about pushing your talents, whether that be in sport, art or music, it’s all about hard work and perseverance.”

Discover more about sport at Framlingham College.

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