Q & A with SPLASH! judge and Olympic diver Leon Taylor

Leon Taylor with his Athens 2004 Olympic silver medal

Leon Taylor with his Athens 2004 Olympic silver medal

Thanks to London 2012 and the recent ITV show SPLASH!, interest in the sport of diving has never been greater!

Judge on SPLASH! and a former diver Leon Taylor has generously given up some time to speak to the Register of Aquatic Professionals (RAPs). Leon’s career in diving spanned 22 years, culminating in his Olympic Silver medal in the 10m synchronised dive, alongside team mate Pete Waterfield in Athens in 2004. These days he is busier than ever; running his own business, speaking at corporate events, and acting as a brand ambassador for several multinational companies. So Leon…

Q: How have the last few years been for you?

A: Exciting! Scary. Busy. It really has been a whirlwind! I’ve been doing all sorts, everything from dangerous sports such as snowboarding (I wasn’t able to do it before retirement due to fear of injury), to public speaking and developing my own business. I’ve really thrown myself into ‘life after sport’ and am enjoying the adventure.

Q: Did the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics live up to your expectations?

A: Definitely, they exceeded them. I was involved as a bid ambassador from the beginning, back when I was still competing, so I really was totally immersed. If I’m honest the feeling was of trepidation as the event drew nearer, were we going to be able to live up to the hype? However, as I sat in the opening ceremony, surrounded by all former medallists, including my hero Daley Thompson, I knew it was going to be amazing. I was extremely busy during the period; commentating for the BBC, acting as a mentor, fulfilling corporate commitments, but the sense of pride was immense. To top it all off the popularity of the Paralympics was infectious, which was great to see!

Q: The question we’re all dying to ask, how did you find being a judge on SPLASH?

A: Well, it really came out of left field actually. I had planned, and booked, a once in a lifetime trip to New Zealand with my girlfriend but we eventually decided to cancel this so that I could be involved in the programme.

It all started when I was approached by the production company planning for SPLASH!. They asked me to do some consultation work brainstorming ideas for the show. Next thing I know I’m I sitting next to Jo Brand! Albeit feeling fairly sick, having suffered a burst appendix after show one, but no one noticed right? The power of makeup and TV!

Q: You retired at the age of 30, did you struggle with the transition to a career outside of elite sport? What advice would you give to up and coming athletes about developing their skills and looking ahead to the future?

A: Be prepared. Sport is finite; you can step off the curb, damage your ankle, and as simple as that it can be over. If you have plans in place for the future then you can action them as and when you need to, this applies to anyone, not just elite athletes.

In 2001 I was forced to undergo reconstructive surgery on my shoulder; this was a wakeup call for me and so when it eventually came to retirement time I was fairly prepared, the transition was difficult but manageable. Before this injury though I had hardly thought about life after sport, things could have been very different.

Q: Did you find the qualifications that you gained at school / during your sporting career and the skills that you developed as an elite athlete came in useful when you left the sport and started your own business?

A: My formal education came to an end after A Levels. I started a degree but unfortunately due to my training schedule and the inflexibility of the University system at the time (this is something that has since been addressed) I was unable to finish it. However, I did complete a certain number of modules which have come in useful. My injury mid career and the character traits that led me to be a top athlete spurred me to go out and gain experience and I was able to shadow several BBC TV presenters. I also attended various training courses in public speaking. During the rehab of my 4th shoulder surgery I completed a HND in Business & Finance which has proved invaluable in relation to the running of my own business and when I’m speaking to a business audience.

Q: Having been a part of the Aquatic industry for many years how do you feel about the launch of RAPs and the regulation of professionals within the industry?

A: I think that it is a fantastic opportunity for the industry and the individuals within it. There is now a structure in place for the Aquatic industry workforce to mark themselves against to ensure that they are in line with the National Occupational Standards. It is great that there is professional development support included as this will help everyone within the industry to ensure that they are continually developing, and that they are always striving to be best they can be at what they do.

Q: You’ve written a book ‘MENTOR – The Most Important Role You Were Never Trained for’. Why do you feel that mentoring is so important in sport and business?

A: Mentoring is a bit of a forgotten art; years ago this was how everyone used to learn. Nowadays the approach is often much more instruction based. Whether you are the mentee or the mentor, learning takes place. Mentoring is about understanding what the mentee is going through and sharing your experience with them in a way that can guide them to new leanings not telling them what to do. One of my roles during London 2012 was as mentor to Sophie Christiansen who went on to win three Paralympic gold medals; it was such a great feeling to see her shine and knowing I had been part of her journey. I didn’t know a lot about Cerebral Palsy or horse riding when we started out but this didn’t matter. It was the skill set that is important, not the context; the same principles apply to the world of business.

Q: What’s next for Leon Taylor? Will you ever retire from involvement in the Aquatic industry and the sport of diving?

A: One of my current challenges (I always like to stay busy!) is triathlons, a lot of hard work, but very rewarding! In terms of work based challenges I will be continuing to grow and develop my business, working alongside great company’s who deliver high performance coaching to businesses. Yoga is also a big thing for me; I studied to become a yoga teacher a few years back and I’m continuing to explore new opportunities within this industry.

From before I can remember I was involved in sport and aquatics so I will never stray too far away, however, I feel that it is important to step back a little from time to time so that I can bring perspective to the situation. In addition, I always make sure I keep my eyes open to new experiences. This is how the chance to be involved in SPLASH! came along in the first place, and unexpectedly it turned out to be a huge hit. As you may have heard, ITV have recently signed off a second season, exciting times!

For further information on Leon and his business or if you would like to buy his book click here 

You can follow Leon on Twitter @LeonTaylorGB

For more information on RAPs, follow this link

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Water polo, what you may not know…

The Australian Women's team before a London 2012 game

The Australian Women’s team before a London 2012 game

This year the British Gas Water Polo Championships will be held at the Manchester Aquatics Centre over the weekend of the 23rd and 24th February. Cheltenham, Bristol Central, City of Manchester and Lancaster will be contesting the men’s finals tournament. Meanwhile the women’s finals will see clashes between City of Manchester, Otter, Liverpool Lizards and Coventry.

With the finals just around the corner we at RAPs thought we’d take the time to explore some perhaps interesting facts about water polo…

The rules of water polo were originally developed in the late nineteenth century in Great Britain by William Wilson. William Wilson was an aquatics aficionado who also found the time to publish “The Swimming Instructor,” in 1883, one of the first books on swimming, it defined modern concepts of stroke efficiency, training, racing turns and water safety.

There are two types of passing in water polo: the dry pass and the wet pass. In a dry pass the ball does not touch the water and allows for optimal speed when passing from player to player. The wet pass is a deliberate pass into the water, usually done when making a pass to the hole set or centre forward. If the team has strong centre forward this can be a very effective, offensive move.

The London 2012 Water Polo Arena was the first dedicated Water Polo venue to be built for an Olympic Games. The venue itself was also very sustainable, intended as a temporary structure, many parts used in the build were hired so that they could be returned and reused after the games.

There is a variation of water polo called inner tube polo in which the players float in inner tubes (giant rubber rings). This results in less physical contact and as players do not have to tread water, they expend less energy. This allows casual players to get involved in the sport as they do not have to go through the strenuous training required for conventional water polo.

And there you have it. Hopefully you know a little bit more about water polo than before, and if you’re in Manchester why not try and catch the British Gas Water Polo Championships next weekend!

Rebecca Adlington to Retire from Professional Swimming

Rebecca Adlington at the House of CommonsRAPs celebration

Rebecca Adlington at the House of Commons RAPs celebration

At 23, Rebecca Adlington, Olympic gold and bronze medallist is to retire from swimming, bringing an end to a glittering career. Adlington, the golden girl of British swimming won two gold medals in the 400 and 800m freestyle at the 2008 Olympic Games in Bejing and two bronze medals in the same events four years later at London 2012.

Adlington, born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire started swimming with Sherwood Colliery Swimming Club, and was selected for the Nottinghamshire County Swim Squad.

Adlington is a hugely talented athlete, however it is important to remember the importance of the people who stood behind her success. It is not just the swimmers which have to deliver in the pool, but the infrastructure and staff behind them also need to be at the top of their game. Adlington’s success was a testament to the hard work of countless swimming teachers, life guards and pool managers.

The Register of Aquatic Professionals has been developed with those involved directly in the aquatic industry. The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) and Swimming Teacher Association (STA) have all worked in partnership with SkillsActive to develop RAPs. The Register aims to drive the professionalism of the aquatic sector, providing support to employers, individuals and the general public.

By getting the basics right we can ensure that Britain continues to produce swimmers that are the same calibre as Rebecca Adlington.

Adlington will now focus her attention on her “Rebecca Adlington Swim Stars” programme which will encourage young people to take up swimming.

We, at the Register of Aquatic Professionals wish her all the best!

The Register of Aquatic Professionals – Goes to Westminster

Ian Taylor, SkillsActive; Roger Millward, STA; Tara Dillon RLSS; Spencer Moore ASA

Ian Taylor SkillsActive; Roger Millward  STA; Tara Dillon RLSS; Spencer Moore ASA at our House of Commons event (L-R)

On November 21st 2012, SkillsActive hosted an exclusive event at the House of Commons to welcome the creation of the new Register of Aquatic Professionals (RAPs).

The special announcement was a roaring success, hosted by Sky News’ Natalie Sawyer, sponsored by James Clappison MP and attended by some of the most notable faces from the swimming industry.  We were honoured to have had Olympians Rebecca Adlington, Steve Parry and Duncan Goodhew in attendance.

RAPs has been developed by SkillsActive and key industry partners; the Swimming Teachers’ Association (STA), Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) and Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS).

What did we talk about at the House of Commons?

• A single qualification framework for each role

• Career pathways based on quality assured training

• Recognition for professionals within the aquatic industry

• Registration subject to continued professional development (CPD)

• A public search function enhancing public and employer confidence in the quality of wet-side professionals.

For all involved this was a pivotal moment within the aquatic industry with three major awarding bodies working together for the first time!

For further information about RAPs, please visit www.aquaticregister.org