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Worrying times, but did Dean Koontz predict this?

The coronavirus outbreak is literally saturating all the news outlets, and for good reason, with more than 50 people now tested positive in the UK, this virus will impact everyone, at all levels and all walks of life.

The Health secretary declared that the status is "increasingly serious", Matt Hancock explained to MP's that the virus was "becoming more likely that we will see widespread transmission here in this country".

I have been listening to the news, and the attitudes of the public when the presenters stop them in the street to ask their feedback about the situation, to be honest, these responses range from calm and stable, to absolute horror and terror, I think our response should be somewhere in the middle.

Which way the virus will swing will depend on how much investment the government will make in creating awareness about coronavirus, and advising the public how to avoid it, and what to do if they think they may have contracted it.

The Chinese government has ploughed unlimited funds into battling the spread of the virus, the data that is coming back in terms of the numbers, is indicating that they may be winning the battle, my question is, how many other countries have the financial resources, the complete control on the country and its people, and the army of general population who are willing to join the fight as a commitment to the government.

It's incredible how attitudes can vary, in Ipswich, nothing seems to have changed, but something happened yesterday that makes me think that this might alter quite rapidly. I met someone that I had not seen for a few weeks, I went to shake their hand, and they flatly refused to accept my offer of welcome, and instead offered a fist bump.

If I am honest, I thought to begin with, this person was joking, but he was not, he was deadly serious, telling me that we all need to be careful because of coronavirus!

This experience might just be the tip of the iceberg, as the virus continues to take victims across the UK, its only time before the first cases of coronavirus will be felt in our region, and in our home cities, towns and villages, it will be then that the populous will begin to think about every action and reaction, based on prevention.

It is insane to think that our schools will need to close, businesses will be affected, not only in terms of income, but actually not letting their employees travel to work. And then there are all the areas of life we take for granted, going to restaurants, the cinema, or spending time playing sport.

I was thinking about this the other day, and what would happen if the coronavirus grabbed hold in my home town of Ipswich, the first thing that came to mind was my grandchildren, we have a number of children in our family under 9 years old, this is an age group that falls into the vulnerable bracket, then my second thought was the tennis players I coach, they would need to stay away from the club, where large numbers all meet to socialise and play sport, this would all come to a grinding halt. All this seems insane, but unfortunately it may be a reality that we may all have to deal with, if the government can not employ the strategy needed to control, halt, and beat the war against this deadly virus.

A friend of mine sent me an image of a book called The Eyes of Darkness, written by the New York Times , best selling author, Dean Koontz, he had taken some images of the pages and circled some of the text, what I read, was absolutely jaw dropping, considering that the book was published in 1981!

"In around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it attacked, and then disappear completely."

This sent a chill running down my spine, the fact that Dean Koontz could so accurately predict exactly what was going to happen almost 40 years in the future, its quite incredible. I hope and pray that what he has predicted "Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it attacked, and then disappear completely", is correct, for the sake of our nation, and the population of the world!

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Kind words and gestures are so important to those struggling with their mental health

This week I posted a message regarding Caroline Flack on my LinkedIn account, and the response to that post has been absolutely phenomenal.

That has been the motivation for me to write my column this week around the subject of mental health.

On LinkedIn, I wrote: "I'm sure that for many, who read my posts, like me, you have experienced how cruel, tragic and heartless life can be. I lost the love of my life, and walked in the shadow and darkness for so many years. But with the love, care, compassion and support of many, I came through.

"Unfortunately, some don't make it, to again walk in the sunshine of life, RIP Caroline Flack and to the many others who have taken their lives on a weekly basis. I was blessed with those who carried me, please take a moment, to look around, and see if anyone in your life needs a shoulder, a helping hand, as I did in May of 2014 when I lost my wife and the will to live.

"Love and support is out there, we just need to take time to offer it, I came through, now living a good and rewarding life and trying to affect others. There are other "2014 Nino's" out there, hurting and suffering, just a few kind, compassionate words or actions can change the outcome. A peaceful and loving weekend to you all."

I can 100% identify with what it feels like to feel as if there is no point in living. I wish I did not know how this felt, but it puts me in a position to understand why anyone can be in this place - and I mean anyone.

The year Elena and I retired, September 2013 after the US Open, we had a great life to live, a fantastic portfolio of businesses, commentary, a place at the top table of British tennis, and an identity, "Bally and Nino".

I can tell you, we felt invincible, I personally felt the strongest, mentally and physically at that point than at any other point in my life. But life can kick you around like a rag doll, and that's exactly what it did to me and Elena, and by the end of our fight, which ended in Los Angeles, we were both unrecognisable, physically and mentally.

After I lost Elena, I was a broken man. Four months earlier I had everything a man could want, a beautiful talented wife, a great life, a great future, massive prospects, and in one blink of life's eye, it was brutally taken away from me.

At this point, I was in the depth of despair, someone who could not see a way forward. Every day was just about getting out of bed, finding a reason to fill each day, and our dog Oscar was such a big part of my fighting process, he was with me every day, out on the streets, by my side, while I took him for walks that would literally lasts hours.

Anyone who has been through this type of trauma will know how much support the dog in your life can be. Day by day, I tried my hardest to use the mental skills I taught to others in sport, I had to practice what I had been preaching for 25 years.

It took six months of hard work, but I survived, and arrived at a place where I could start to function.

Part of this process were the people who loved and cared for me, my family, and close individuals who surrounded me in Ipswich - my finance director, Vicky Solomon, our agent at the time Eleanor Preston, and my cleaner, a very special person called Debbie.

But there were others. Judy Murray, who stayed in contact with me for months on a daily basis, Nigel Sears, Andy Murray's father-in-law, who has been a rock to this day, the famous tennis coach, Louis Cayer, a member of the Great Britain Davis Cup-winning team, and Ann Austin from our World Governing Body, the WTA, who gave me the love and care from the tennis world, and who are still supporting me and Elena's foundation to this day.

I was so sad to hear that Caroline Flack had taken her own life. Such a beautiful, talented woman, with her whole life ahead of her. I so wish she could have found a way out of the darkness, but for her, it was not meant to be. Just because you are famous, successful or rich does not mean life cannot hurt you, because it can.

My very good friend Martyn Waghorn, who now plays for Derby County only recently went public about his depression, while Tyson Fury has bravely talked about the mental torture that he endured, even when he was at the top of his sporting world. This dark and terrible state of mind can hit at any time, for any reason and to anybody.

I want my column to play a part in two areas. One, if you feel yourself falling into depression, or a state of mind that is dark, reach out for help, immediately.

And two, simply take time to be aware of others around you, look out for those who are going through a vulnerable phase, offer a caring word, a compassionate gesture. If we all did this as a society, those we have lost may just have had enough reason to grab hold of life and still be with us today!

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How Pep and Usain helped me launch a ground-breaking new programme

This week sees me reflect on an evening last week that represented eight months of very hard work by an unbelievable group of people who surround me and support me in my quest to create a sport to business programme that will change how we as a nation we support our elite athletes.

It was a privilege for me to use an interview with Usain Bolt and Pep Guardiola's speech to the players and staff of Manchester City, after becoming 2018-19 Premier League champions, to highlight team work and how this can achieve great things

If you want to see this speech, look on YouTube, it is called "We are all champions", it's a very emotional watch, and was perfect for this special evening at Suffolk New College.

For me to achieve bringing 40 elite athletes from nine different sports all under the Sport Skills 4 Business banner, truly took team work. Yes, I lead the concept, but there is no way we could have brought all these athletes and sports together without the SS4B team supporting me.

As with Pep's team, we have some incredibly talented professionals and companies who have been with me right from the beginning. I'll write about this further on, but it's the greats of sport that individuals like myself can turn to in a bid to inspire, motivate and affect the young champions that we are creating here in our region.

In the YouTube film, Pep is outstanding, it's so easy to see why Manchester City had such great success last year. He is a personality who can bring every one in the team together, from the individuals in laundry, who wash and clean the kit, all the way to his assistant coaches, who make the most important and critical decisions with him.

He said: "What I lived, what I felt this season, is something amazing," and, as he talks, he often pulls on the top of his team shirt, almost ripping it off his chest with emotion!

He talks about friendship within the camp, and "being a good human being, good people", and how the whole team at Manchester City FC created something unique, from the locker room, to the pitch. It's his way of saying, I respect you all, and without a team effort being champions is not possible.

The love for him from the team was evident right from the time he walked in the room - he literally goes around and hugs every member of the team and these are not just fleeting hugs, everyone wants to hold the hug for as long as possible, as we do when we greet family or very close friends. This is a representation of the man - to lead, you must be both loved, respected, and for me, Pep has both!

After we showed this incredible footage, everyone in the room, all 40 athletes and SS4B staff applauded an it was quite the moment. It made me look around the room at the incredible individuals that support me, Jason Turner, the director of Eastern region for Barclays Private Bank, Duncan Foster, associate director of Ipswich Town, and Graham Dove, a financial advisor who managers some of the biggest names in football.

And then the day to day staff such as Vicky Solomon, finance director who has been with me for over 15 years, and Wendy Henderson, operational manager, who keeps the foundation ship steady and on course, and Lindsay Farish-Carradice, head of Sport Science. Pep speaks the truth, without great people, and a great team, you cannot achieve great things.

Then it was time to highlight why having outstanding virtues and attributes as an athlete is so important. These underpin the personality and character of the athlete, and it's personality and character that are the foundation of sporting performance.

We used an interview with Bolt at Brunel University, ahead of the 2012 Olympics, in which he represents why character is so important. As he starts to talk, you can see all the athletes taking in every word.

He said: "When I go out on that track I transform, the confidence I have when I go out there is different, no matter how far you think you're ahead of me, I am going to catch you. I'm never scared of anything, or any one, its all about business when I go out there, everything comes together when I'm on the track."

Donovan Blake from ITV attended to film this SS4B event, it will be shown this week, so please look out for it.

I would also like to thank the good and the great of the corporate world for their support - Ashtons Legal, Ensors, Pure Recruitment, Birketts LLP, Prettys, Barclays Bank, Hudson Group, Prominent PR, Cake PD, Stoke By Nayland, Gallagher Insurance and so many more who are joining us on a daily basis. Without their support, we can not support our local champions, so thank you.

If you are an elite athlete who would like to join the SS4B Programme, please contact me at

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Tyson Fury and his journey through boxing

I was very interested to hear that Tyson Fury launches his brand new, three-part series called, “Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King”. This very much links to my past, my present and even to the plans I have for the future, in quite an extraordinary way. My past, because of my links with the Gypsy fraternity through England Boxing, my present, because I want to offer support to the many young athletes in our region through sport, and the future, because, as Tyson Fury fears, what will life offer him after he leaves the safety of his sporting world, the future for me, is focusing on Sport Skills 4 Business, which deals exactly with this issue.

The link with the past is simply my time with England Boxing, and how the gypsy fraternity and their children played such a significant part in my life, offering me unique key moments during my journey to becoming a world Class coach and eventually a member of the 2012 Olympic Team. Most life experiences, if you track back will play a part in the person you will eventually become, I can say, without a doubt, these gypsy children made an incredible impact on me!

Gypsy children learn the art of boxing at a very young age, as young as 6 years old, most because they suffer such bullying in their lives from others, it’s a protection mechanism, self-preservation you could say. Many Gypsy children will suffer prejudice, name calling and physical abuse, one boy experienced such terrible abuse, he had to move school a total of nine times, for the gypsy fraternity, protection is very easy, fight back, its this backdrop of life struggles that creates the culture and environment of the art of boxing that is weaved into their lives.

These children simply see their boxing skills as a way to offer a deterrent to others, a way to “push back”, make those who see them as easy targets, as a minority, think twice before they approach with harmful intentions. A few years ago there was a reality show called Gypsy Kids, one of the boys, called Jack Joe, said of his class mates, “they all bully me and call me pikey”, its taunts and abuse such as this, that makes these boys come out fighting, they expect this sort of treatment before it even begins, which means in turn, they prepare for it.

The gypsy dads introduce their children to the art of boxing very young, at 6 years olds they are taught how to jab, deliver a straight right, hook, duck, roll and counter, they are introduced to sparing very young as well, these children are prepared to be tough, hard, resilient at a tender age, its easy to see why gypsy children have a reputation as fighters. It’s this preparation that actually leads to a very positive aspect for many gypsy boys, they find a structured life in sport through joining local boxing clubs.

There are thousands of boxing clubs across the UK, these clubs are very special places, I know, because I attended one myself in Ipswich, the Arcade Boxing Club, I’m sure many of you reading this article now, will remember Percy, and his team of boxing coaches who all looked after us young lads when we turned up to learn how to fight. For me, a small lad, who got picked on quite a lot, I can really connect with the gypsy boys, I wanted to learn how to fight, so I too, could protect myself, but when you join a boxing club, you are offered so much more than just the art of boxing, it offers a culture of discipline, structure, and an introduction to sport and the many benefits it offers, including a possible living in the lucrative arena of the world of boxing, which many gypsy lads, like Tyson Fury, dream of.

The local boxing clubs across the land offer so much more, a team of coaches who coach, not for money, but for the love of the sport and the opportunity to save many of the young boys who come through their boxing club doors. Many of these boys like to fight, this aggression will often spill onto the streets, the boxing club offers them an environment and a positive influence that turns them into athletes, sportsmen, and ultimately a possible career in competitive sport, with the dream of becoming an Olympian.

Joining a boxing club led to me becoming part of the Karate England squad, and eventually becoming a Kick Boxing National Champion. This in turn, took me on a life trajectory that would see me travel the World as a sporting coach, and become part of Judy Murrays Olympic Tennis team. This is exactly the power that sport can have, I could have easily took my young frustrations on to the street, and become part of a negative social statistic, but sport gave me a structure, a second family, a dream, purpose, and a pathway to an exit from sport, and into an exciting career and life, exactly what every gypsy child hopes for when they first walk through the doors of their first boxing club!

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How Serena Williams can reclaim her place at the top of world tennis

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne, is over.

It's a tournament I know very well, making the trip every year with Elena to compete for Great Britain. It's a surface Elena liked to play on, and achieved some great results, so I have some great memories of Melbourne.

As every year, the tournament in 2020 has delivered some incredible stories, and I have focused in on the age gap between the winner of the ladies' final, Sofia Kenin, and arguably the best player that has ever graced the tennis court, Serena Williams.

Sofia, at the age of 21, has won her first Grand Slam, and is now America's number one female tennis player, while Serena is 38-years-old and has an incredible 23 Grand Slam titles to her name. But Sofia comes away from Melbourne flying high, while Serena comes away having lost in the third round and in four major finals since giving birth to her daughter in September 2017.

Her coach Patrick Mouratoglou said: "We have to accept the fact that it is not working, maybe come back with a different angle, a different strategy and different goals so she can make it. She does feel positive, she feels negative too because it is a failure when she doesn't win a Grand Slam.

"We have to face reality, but she is positive that she can make it, otherwise she probably wouldn't be on a tennis court anymore. She believes she can make it and I believe it too. She's not that far, but we have to change a few things."

Mouratoglou is a seasoned coach, and known worldwide for his achievements, but personally I think he is being tough on himself and Serena. I watched Patrick over many years on the World Tour, he is one of the most experienced coaches, but sometimes, as a coach, you get so engrossed, so close to the athlete, that the truth can sometimes become a bit blurry, even distorted.

When you study this situation, it's not just Serena who will be feeling the pressure - believe me, Patrick will also be feeling it as well.

He has been guiding and supporting Serena since 2012, she has won 10 of her 23 Grand Slam titles with him by her side, together they have experienced the best that sport can offer.


When you're used to being out in the sunshine of victory, the switch to being cold, confused, nervous and not knowing what the future has to offer can be a very uncomfortable place. Patrick has worked with the best female player in history, and now he must test his skills in a very different way.

Serena said after her loss in Melbourne: "I made far too many errors to be a professional athlete." That's true, but for me, it does not take away from the fact that she is the best player that history has to offer, and this level of quality simply does not vanish.

History tells us that there are many athletes who compete at the elite level well into their 40's - Tiger Woods, George Foreman, Martina Navratilova, Randy Couture, Bernard Hopkins and Dara Torres all had success in their fifth decade.

And compared to these athletes, Serena is a mere baby! Patrick talks about coming back with a different angle but, for me, this is nothing to do with tennis specific skills - the limiting factor here is not Serena's tennis ability. She is a prolific striker of the ball, has an incredible serve, and still boasts world class physicality.

I think Patrick will find the solution in the list of non-specific tennis limiting factors, I don't think for one minute he is going to change her serve, try to teach her different patterns of play, or morph her game into the style of a player who slices, hits loopy balls and comes to the net.

Patrick will be smart enough to know that "the different angle" - as he puts it - will be in the way Serena perceives her tennis world, what she is thinking, how she is feeling, and how she is reacting. For me, this is where the form lies.

There's a scene in Rocky 3, when Apollo Creed, the former world champion, is coaching Rocky after he's been defeated by Clubber Lang.

Creed takes Rocky to a gym where he trained as a youngster - a rough, tough neighbourhood, with young, hardened fighters. Apollo turns to Rocky and tells him "see that look in their eyes Rock?" He was trying to tell him, what drove him originally was not there anymore, and he said "you've got to get that look back Rock, eye of the tiger man, eye of the tiger".

Serena, even at 38-years-old, still has the power that young players coming through can only dream of, she still strikes the ball with incredible pace, she just needs to re-connect with the mindset that told her she could beat anyone - once this happens, she will, in the words of Creed, once again have the 'eye of the tiger.'

Patrick will help Serena to find this place, I have no doubt. And when that happens, the youngsters who are currently keeping her throne warm must be on their guard - because this lioness will be back on the hunt for that 24th Grand Slam title and her place at the very top of tennis!

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Death of Kobe Bryant and the emotions facing those who are left

The world this week mourns the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

What makes this a double tragedy is the fact that his daughter Gianna also lost her life, along with seven other people when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed.

As I listened to the story unfold my thoughts were directed straight to the family and how they will now be suffering, for most, they will feel sadness from a distance, but for any of you who have suffered the loss of a very close loved one, the epicentre of a tragedy such as this one, is hell.

I lost my wife, Elena Baltacha-Severino, tennis star, to cancer in 2014, she was the love of my life, and was only 30 when she passed, so I have a very deep understanding of what Kobe's family will now be going through, my personal experience means I feel very close to the emotions that will be surrounding the family at this time.

Unfortunately, their emotional suffering will be deep and relentless, and as many around the world lament the loss of a man who they see a basketball god. The reality for the family, is the loss of a loved one, husband, father, son, brother. The future for his wife, Vanessa, father, Joe, sister, Sharia, mother, Pam, and daughter, Natalia, will be one of heartache and sorrow.

As I have said, I have suffered loss as the Bryant's, and yes, the world has arguably lost one of history's best ever basketball players, but I know, as Kobe's family will now experience, there are many health issues that surround a life experience such as this, physical, mental and emotional.

Unfortunately, I know that there will be thousands of readers of this column, who will know exactly what I am talking about, and when you bring this event down to the core of human emotions, we are dealing with the aftermath, Kobe has gone, but the pain of those who are left will need to be endured for many years to come!

For the family who are left, it will be a second by second life of emotional pain, pain that will unfortunately have terrible consequences, emotional, mental and even physical negative reactions.

The ripple of a life experience such as the death of a loved one is simply not just an experience that one walks away from, the pain and heartache follows you around constantly, it's a pain that you can not run away from, you can't hide from, and you can't ignore, it sits within you like a burning fire, a fire of pain that does not relinquish quickly, in fact, it stays within you, raging, consuming and affecting the mind in a very terrible way.

When this fire of pain starts to diminish, it never fully burns out, it leaves little embers, in your heart and soul, that will stay for a life time!

The health concerns for those who suffer grief, is very real indeed, and manifests itself in many ways, chronic stress, emotional issues such as depression, feelings of anger, anxiety, bitterness, sadness.

It affects many other areas in a negative way also, issues sleeping, and a loss of appetite.

Studies have shown that grieving after the loss of a loved one can weaken the immune system, can create heart problems, you are far more likely to suffer from a heart attack after losing a loved one, alcohol and substance abuse, studies show that sons and daughters who had lost a mother or father were two and a half times more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs to bury the emotional and mental suffering.

Kobe's death is heart breaking, but I hope that it highlights an area that normally is ignored during the outpouring of grief and sorrow, and this is the health danger to those who are left behind, which seems to fade very quickly into the background.

Death is a fact of life, and one we need to live with, but it is real, and needs to be faced, as I started to study the life of Kobe Bryant, it appears that he was going through a period of deep reflection in his life where he was addressing the subject of death.

Kobe acknowledged the fact that death does not only affect you when you lose someone, the fear of death can also cause problems for many young children, and this was the area that Kobe was looking to make a positive impact on, as I read his plans, I do not only lament for his family, but also for the many thousands of children who have now lost this incredible support of a basketball legend!

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How Suffolk sporting community is helping running ace Helen reach her goals at 40-years-old

I am dedicating my column this week to an extraordinary woman, who is a shining example of what can be achieved in our sporting community when we come together to create elite support for our world-class athletes.

The woman in question is Ipswich runner Helen Davies. On September 1 last year she competed for Great Britain at the 50K world championships, where she won silver, running a remarkable six minutes inside the previous British record, and only two minutes outside the world record.

This outstanding performance placed her third on the all-time list for the distance. Here in Ipswich, we have many great athletes, but to have someone who is truly world-class is very special. What makes this result even more special is the fact that Helen turned 40 just 11 days later - incredible for an athlete who many had thought was past her best!

From the very first day Helen and her long-time coach Clive Sparkes contacted me at The Hub Centre of Excellence, I knew immediately this lady was special.

I could not have told you exactly why I thought this initially, it's just a sense you build up as a seasoned coach - it's your job to study body language, actions, reactions, statements and responses, and everything about Helen told me this was a humble woman, but one with immense personality and character, a drive and inner strength that made her very special indeed.

And, of course, almost every great athlete has a great coach who stands like a rock beside them, and she had this as well in Clive - a coach/athlete partnership built on trust and made in heaven.

As the founder of The Hub I am realising on a weekly basis how many outstanding athletes we have in Ipswich and the surrounding areas - they approach me for the support that is not available from their clubs because of financial and specialist resource, and because their governing bodies are geographically too far away for close quarter support.

Only today I received an e-mail from one of our all-time sporting greats, the one and only Karen Pickering, Olympian and swimming legend. Elena and I often used to bump into her on the sporting circuit, and always at the Sports Personality of the Year awards that were held in many of the major cities around the UK.

She wrote: "I follow all the work that you are doing with the Hub and love the whole idea of it. I am a big fan of working across sports and this is such a giant step forward from the sport science support we could expect back in the day in Ipswich."

To receive this from such an inspirational and iconic athlete as Karen was very significant for me.

The help I offer to our local athletes can only be achieved because I have such unbelievable working associates and partners, many individuals who I bring in from across the UK to make our Hub Team very unique, and outstandingly valuable to very talented athletes and their coaches.

But there is one man and one entity who have stood by me and believed in all we have built, and that is an incredible sport scientist called Chris McManus, the Director of The Human Performance Unit at Essex University - without his and the university's support, we simply could not help athletes like Helen and her coach Clive in they way they so richly deserve.

Helen needed help with her conditioning and The Hub came to her aid. We introduced her to one of the Hub team of experts, Wez Pooley, ex-professional rugby player, and one of the specialists who works as part of the team at Muhdo, DNA and Epiginetics experts.


With the integrated help of Wez and British Athletics, a plan was created to support Helen through this valuable area of strength and conditioning - a critical area when you are demanding insane physical performances from your body, and without top class strength and conditioning work, it is almost impossible for athletes to push their bodies to the very edge.

Sometimes, as an athlete, you also need a bit of luck, and this is exactly what Helen experienced when she met S&C specialist Lloyd Chapman, who works out of FTC gym.

Lloyd told me: "I have been working with Helen since the beginning of December, mainly on unilateral work and really focusing on ballistic and plyometric drills. Only after a couple of weeks work her running economy performance has already improved due to specific periodised programming."

I am over the moon that has Helen has discovered another priceless member of her team. Because of integrated support, here in Ipswich, she has a platform to excel - and you would need to be a brave person to bet against this incredible woman reaching her dream of becoming a world champion!

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How we’re building young footballing Spartans in elite Ipswich Town Academy set-up

This is my first week back at the Ipswich Town Academy after the Christmas break, in my role as Consultant Performance Coach.

It's a job I relish as the academy has an outstanding heritage, and enjoys incredible respect in the footballing world, with names such as Richard Wright, Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramble and Darren Bent, to name but a few, emerging and going on to stardom.

The sports science department is ranked fifth in the whole country - including the Premier League - and for a club of our size, that's an outstanding achievement.

For me, as a coach who has worked at the highest level with world-class athletes and Olympians, to find an environment and culture such as the one at the Town academy, right on my doorstep, is a major plus.

When Lee O'Neil and Bryan Klug offered me the position, I can remember telling them that finding high calibre professionals all based at a full-time outfit in the Suffolk sporting world in Suffolk is impossible - apart from Ipswich Town, it does not exist.

For me to work with elite medical staff, sports scientists, physiologist, physiotherapists, and strength and conditioning coaches I had to travel all the way to London.

One of the sites I had access to was our National Tennis Training Centre at Roehampton, a site that took tens of millions of pounds to build.

A culture and environment is created by the coaching staff, and with people like Lee, Bryan, Jimmy Reynolds, Head of Academy Medicine, and Scott Mitchell, Head of Academy Performance Analysis, it's no coincidence that the academy enjoys the respect it does in the footballing world.

Lee is a man who has earned his stripes, working his way through the ranks of the academy to the top job, and he is so highly thought of he also holds the position of General Manager of Football Operations.

Bryan is a seasoned professional who possesses the knowledge, experience and skill that only time in the trade can create - in my opinion, his place in the academy team is significant and priceless.

When Bryan talks or offers an opinion, every one listens, because much of the information or feedback he has to offer is based on decades of experience. Jimmy's depth of knowledge is sophisticated, and offers the academy the opportunity to integrate the many departments which create top flight young footballing talent.

And Scott fills the position of Performance Analysis - 20 years ago this position did not even exist, but in the modern day of sport and particularly football, it would be unthinkable not to have someone covering this base.

We spend an awful lot of time talking about the "Sporting Trilogy" a concept that I believe needs to be studied and addressed.

It's the integrated way that the player, coach and parents all work together towards the ultimate aim, developing a footballing Spartan who will take to the field of play, present skill at the highest level and bleed for his team.

The work I am carrying out at Ipswich Town, with Jimmy and the rest of the senior staff, is an opportunity that challenges and stimulates me.

The academy members have open minds, and this ensures that the boundaries can continually be pushed, especially in the area that I am focused on, supporting parents in football.

I have very big aspirations, backed by the team. I am hoping that our "Football Parent Support Programme" will deliver exceptional methods and principles, offer elements that are unique, and provide the parents of the future superstars who emerge from the Ipswich Town Academy a support and educational programme that is second to none.

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Ex-Town star Milton had an impressive career – but his legacy will be his charity work

During my weekly duties spread across sport, I have the opportunity to meet some incredible individuals.

It was my work in the charitable sector that created an opportunity to spend some time with ex-Ipswich Town star Simon Milton.

Simon was a professional footballer in an era where not many of the pro's made enough money to retire on for the rest of their lives, but what he did leave the game with was a very impressive footballing career.

You sometimes hear about the players who come through into the big leagues at a later stage in their careers - there are not many, but Simon is a classic example of someone who climbed the ladder of football the very hard way.

His first efforts of breaking into the big time with Norwich City unfortunately ended with an unsuccessful trial, which led him to playing for a non-league side, Thetford Rovers, and then Bury Town.

It was at Bury Town Simon was to experience a pivotal opportunity when playing a friendly match against Ipswich Town - during this match there was one man that would change Simon's life for ever, it was the then-Town manager Bobby Ferguson.

If you are an Town fan, especially of an older vintage, you will recognise the name Bobby Ferguson as the man who took over the managerial role at Ipswich Town after the legendary Bobby Robson left to take on the biggest job in English football, the manager of the national team.

Ferguson had banked a lot of football experience, giving him an eye for spotting talent, and that's exactly how he changed Simon's life after that Bury Town v Ipswich Town friendly match.

Simon showed some real class, impressing Ferguson so much he offered him an opportunity of a trial for Ipswich.

While nowadays the transfer fees run into six and seven-digit figures, Simon's transfer fee was a mere £5,000, a long way from the multi-million-pound deals regularly experienced by players in the modern game.

This highlights two areas - one, how much the game has changed in terms of the money on offer for footballers at this level, and two, within reason, if a player is willing to work hard enough, the dream of professional football at a high level is always a dream worth holding onto.

If I'm honest, I knew Simon had played for Ipswich Town, but as I went to the Salt House Hotel on the Marina, I did not know much more than this.

After my meeting I decided to look at the statistics for Simon as a Town player, and for a player who came through the non-league ranks, it's a very impressive list of achievements.

He represented the Blues 332 times, scoring 55 goals during his time at the club as a midfielder.

And after meeting him, and experiencing his incredible energy and appetite for life challenges, what he achieved in football - the hard way - does not surprise me at all.

We were connected by a close friend who thought as two individuals active in a sporting charitable foundation we may have something in common, and what a meeting it was.

I asked many questions over a period of two hours, Simon told me all about his experiences building the charity he represents as Director, Future Stars, which is based in Ghana, offering school children the experience of high quality sports coaching and education.

The quality of delivery and the impact is immense and unquestionable, launched by two founding companies, OMA Group and Yinson Production WA. Together they have created a force, that simply put, changes the lives of thousands of children through sport and education, a focus that is very dear to my heart.

It was not only the achievements of the Future Stars project that impressed me so, but the fact that this charity has motivated many individuals to help, ex-Ipswich, Newcastle and England star, Titus Bramble being the highest profile individual.

His support goes further than simply remote backing, Titus regularly flies over to Ghana to be very hands on.

After Simon and I shook hands, I left very impressed by a man who without doubt achieved much in football, but, for me, his greatest legacy will be what he has achieved through football, sport and education for the children of Ghana.

As I continued to walk along the marina, I thought to myself - what an incredible man, with boundless energy, and still with a burning desire to deliver so much more for these children, thousands of miles away in Africa!

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Drew’s ‘sporting insanity’ will see him reach the top

In the modern world of sport, at the highest level, focusing on marginal gains is absolutely critical.

At The Hub, this is exactly what we help our local world-class junior athletes embrace through our sport science support programme. We are incredibly lucky to be supported by the Human Performance Unit based at The University of Essex.

The HPU works with some of the most talented athletes in the world, and have agreed to offer our portfolio of athletes support through our Elite Sponsored Programme.

And the latest athlete to benefit from the incredibly talented team at The HPU is Drew Kemp, the local young up-and-coming Great Britain international speedway rider.

Drew is an athlete who I have got to know incredibly well and he is typical of a sportsperson of this calibre - normal in many ways, but completely abnormal in so many other ways that make individuals like him stand-out.

Drew is a perfect example of a "sporting outlier" - an individual who sits on the edge of the general populous, a young man who makes up the very small percentage of those who are amongst the UK's sporting super talented.

His outstanding competitive successes throughout 2019 include being the U19 British Speedway Champion, finishing second in the U21 World Team Cup with Great Britain, winning the U19 European semi-final and being crowned National League Pairs champion.

When you think about speedway, you do not immediately think about a highly sophisticated sports science support programme, but Drew is definitely an individual who thinks outside the box.

He has been working with me and committing to a mental skills programme for almost a year now, and I can honestly say that my time with him is among the most valuable and rewarding of my weekly schedule.

He is a young athlete who has embraced the power of the mind in accepting that there are certain areas that can be controlled, and others that cannot.

He understands that there are specific and non-specific factors, some are positive and some are negative, and for him to reach the very top of his sport, he must develop the sporting personality and character that will create the strong foundations which his speedway skills can continue to be built upon.

I talk about athletes needing to be tucked in, just on the right side of insanity without bleeding into it!

I mean this in a very complimentary way, it's a state of mind that enables the athlete to embrace and endure the overloads that many of the population simply would never even contemplate.

This might seem an extraordinary statement, but Rafael Nadal explained it perfectly when he once said: "I learned during my life to enjoy suffering."

Legendary boxer Mike Tyson also adds validation to my statement - when once asked why he runs at 5am in the morning, he simply answered "because I know my opponent will not be."

You will notice I say 'tucked in' - just on the right side of insanity.

This is a place mentally that gives these athletes the edge, a very uncomfortable place that only a few can survive in, a place for world-class performers - and this is the reason there are so few of them, it's a place where many dare not venture!

It's a zone where physical, emotional and mental overloads can be endured which creates a super-fast, and super increased level of adaptation, a rate of development that takes these incredible athletes to the top of their game.

It also develops their personality and character; makes them the individuals they need to be to ensure that they can continue to walk through the very dark period many athletes will experience.

These challenging periods are where much of the development gold dust will lay, when others turn and run, these outliers simply keep walking through with a bullet-proof mindset that only gets stronger when they come out the other end.

It's this altered state of "psychological acceptance" that makes them who they are. The ability to endure the overloads, over and over and over again until they reach their personal aspirations.

Drew, for me, is an outlier placed perfectly in the positive zone of sporting insanity. A young man who dreams of being a heat leader in the Championship for the Eastbourne Eagles, and one day racing for his home team, the Ipswich Witches in the Premiership, on his way to becoming one of the best riders in the world.

I would bet all I possess on him achieving his goal.

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