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Olympics 2016: Why it's time that children leapt in at deep end

By Lisa Salmon

Olympic and Paralympic gold medal swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Ellie Simmonds talk about the importance of getting children to try new sports, and keeping them interested even after the excitement of the Rio Olympics has subsided.

Children all over the world will watch their sporting heroes during the forthcoming Olympics and dream of following in their impressive footsteps. And while that might mean they show an interest in an Olympic sport, once the Rio Games close on August 21, those dreams of sporting super-stardom are likely to quickly evaporate, along with their interest in the sports.

But now Olympic and Paralympic swimming stars Rebecca Adlington and Ellie Simmonds are trying to prevent that fickle approach to the Olympic legacy by encouraging children to take up sport now, and stick with it - just like they did.

Double Olympic gold-medallist Adlington (27), is supporting the new Just Keep Moving campaign from Disney, Change4Life and the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA). The scheme involves finding Dory-themed family swim sessions at pools across the UK as well as 10-minute shake-up activities, in a bid to make exercise fun and help children get the hour of daily physical activity they need.

She says that while all children should learn to swim for safety reasons, once they've learned, it's a healthy and fun lifestyle choice.

The former swimmer, who's been taking her one-year-old daughter Summer to the pool since she was three weeks old, says: "If you swim much as a child, you're more likely to do it in adult life, which is important for health. It's also great for having fun, no matter what age you are.

"Anyone can swim - it's great exercise, it's great for fitness and you can do it all year round all over the world. It's brilliant."

Adlington stresses that taking children to swim sessions isn't about creating champions, explaining: "It's not about being an Olympian, it's about having fun, being confident, doing something different, being active and having that healthy lifestyle, especially for the six-week holiday, when kids get a bit bored and parents struggle to know what to do with them."

Adlington retired from competitive swimming in 2013, after competing at two Olympics. But she says that when she watches the swimming events in Rio she won't be jealous of the swimmers.

"I'm very proud to have competed in two Olympics," she says, "and also proud of the athletes now who've worked very hard to get there. They deserve the success they get."

She says the Olympics gives a very public platform to a variety of sports, many of them minor.

"What the Olympics have done really well is introduce new sports and swimming, as well as other minor sports," she says. "It's great that it gives people a push and the encouragement to say 'I want to do that too'."

Quadruple Paralympic gold medal swimmer Ellie Simmonds is an ambassador for Sainsbury's Active Kids, raising awareness of inclusive sport through the Paralympic Challenge, a partnership between Sainsbury's, the Youth Sport Trust and ParalympicsGB to inspire schools and young people to learn more about Paralympic sports and try them.

"I believe children should be encouraged to take part in as many sports as possible - I know I was as a child," says Simmonds.

If children are more interested in a particular sport after watching the Olympics, parents should let them try it, she urges.

"As interest generally gets less after the Games, there's a chance they'll have found something they really enjoy and will want to continue with post-Games," she says.

Simmonds stresses that parents shouldn't push their children into a sport, just encourage them as her parents encouraged her.

"I think it's important that everyone, whether able-bodied or not, should be strongly encouraged to at least try as many activities as possible as part of developing a healthy lifestyle," she says.

"Everyone should be given the opportunity to try different sports and activities, and it's up to parents to be the leaders and drivers for their children to be introduced to a variety of sport.

"I've never been pushed by my parents - I've been supported, encouraged, guided and on occasion helped through difficult patches when I've doubted myself, but the choice as to what I did has always been mine.

"I've only ever been encouraged to do my best and enjoy myself - winning has been a bonus."

The swimmer (22), will be competing in her third Paralympics in Rio, after winning gold medals at the last two Olympics, and setting two world records at the London Games.

"The competition gets tougher every year," she says.

"It's every Paralympian's dream to get a gold medal and a world record, I shall give every last drop of my energy and focus into my races and see what that brings."

  • For more information on the Just Keep Moving campaign, visit n For more on the Sainsbury's Active Kids Paralympic Challenge, visit

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