Katie Malliff and SportsAid

Wendover squash star Katie Malliff is making great strides in continental competition – but it’s gradual progress in the classroom that’s pleasing her most.

The teenager came within a whisker of gold at the Under–19 European Championships in Czech Republic, storming to the final only to lose out to Poland’s Karina Tyma.

Now the Tring School pupil’s focus turns to GCSE exams over the summer and she feels excellence in her sport is helping conquering academic anxiety.

“I’m very determined and I just want to be the best I can be, to play at the best level I can,” said the 15–year–old.

“The main challenge I’ll have to overcome is the balance with school. I have my GCSEs so trying to balance that is tough, it stops me from competing at times.

“There’s not much in the sport that’s challenging, it’s just getting everything around it right.

“I think I’ve got it sorted, it’s just trying to stick to a plan of what I want and set reasonable goals.

“I’m not very good in the classroom, but when you push on in sport it gives you confidence academically.

“Being determined at squash makes you want to stick at it, makes you focused and it helps you concentrate on your studies when you’re rubbish at school!”

Her cause is also being helped by SportsAid and the Backing The Best programme, which offers critical financial help to talented young athletes who would otherwise face difficulties progressing through their sport’s system.

Backed by £5.5 million of National Lottery funding, Backing The Best presents annual awards of £5,000 per athlete to help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills.

The Buckinghamshire athlete was one of dozens of SportsAid athletes who attended workshops at Nottingham Racecourse in April, offering media training, nutrition advice, performance lifestyle guidance and support for parents.

The youngsters from all over the country were joined by Winter Olympian Elise Christie, who sung the praises of the programme.

“It was a really great day in Nottingham. It’s amazing to be a part of something that gives young adults the chance to shine,” said the triple short track speed skating world champion.

“I think that’s what is important about SportsAid – they don’t just give money, they help you develop skills.

“If I could have gone back and learnt that stuff before what happened to me, then I’d have been so much better prepared.

“I’ve come to SportsAid events four times and I always learn something new each time.”

Backing The Best is helping talented young athletes facing the greatest financial pressure to pursue their sporting ambitions. The programme, managed by SportsAid for Sport England, is supported by National Lottery funding. Visit www.sportengland.org/our–work/talent/backing–the–best/ to find out more.

By Tom Harle, Sportsbeat – 0203 026 3780