Jessica Ennis-Hill Q&A: 'heptathlon has taught me amazing life skills'
Last Updated: 29/11/13 3:57pm
She stands at the pinnacle of athletics - but how did Jessica Ennis-Hill go from novice to Olympic champion?
In part one of her interview with Youth Sport Trust chair Baroness Sue Campbell, London 2012 gold medal-winning heptathlete Ennis-Hill explained how mental toughness and motivation helped her to break barriers.
Click on the video above to watch part two and find out how the Sky Sports Living for Sport Ambassador gained the self-confidence to take on and beat the world, plus:
- The importance of learning new athletic and people skills, as well as how crucial it is to have an effective support network around you
- How understanding your weaknesses and coming up with a plan to improve them leads to success that will stand you in good stead
- The crucial role planning and effective time management plays in getting the best out of yourself - both at school, work or in your personal life
- What it felt like to stand on top of the podium at London 2012 and how it endorsed all of the hard work and effort put in
Watch The Sunday Times & Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards 2013 on Sky Sports on December 5.
Ennis-Hill Q&A, Part two
Baroness Sue Campbell: You have a big team around you, don't you? All athletes do. You have coaches and nutritionists and the like. How important is it that you have a good relationship with that team and that you really work hard at being not just an athlete but a real friend and, in a sense, a work colleague with those people?
"At school, like in athletics, you've got to be strong in all your events - you don't want to come out with some really great GCSE's while the rest are poor."
Jessica Ennis-Hill: It's really important. People see you competing on the track but the team around you is so, so important. They are there every day, whether it's your coach coaching you, your physio making sure that everything's right and your body is working how it should be and they really get the most out of you so you've got to have a really good relationship with them. My team is just amazing - they are so passionate about what they do and they give it absolutely everything for me to go out there and achieve my goals and dreams. It would be incredibly hard for me to do what I do without them.
BSC: And in terms of your people skills that you've developed? You obviously have great people skills. Have they been helped by having to work as part of a team and all of that international travel that you've done? Where have all of these wonderful people skills come from?
JE-H: A huge chunk of that has definitely been down to being involved in sport. So from a young age it just gave me a bit more confidence and I just believed in myself a lot more and then working in a team, having to work with different people who you might not have worked with before, travelling to different countries and seeing different cultures and mixing with different people - that does bring a lot to your personality and who you are. It's just picking up little bits and being able to communicate with people, whether it's your physio or fellow athletes. There's so much that sport can give you.
BSC: I think one of the things we underestimate enormously is self-confidence - I think that's a huge part of being able to get on with people and so many kids today don't interact with a lot of people or they are too busy looking at the old gadgets, so sport is a wonderful place to give them that opportunity. So presumably you see that at these masterclasses - kids being able to talk to you and have conversations with you?
JE-H: At the start of the day they were quite quiet and a bit shy and I was thinking 'are we going to be able to get them excited and involved?' Then, halfway through, they were asking lots of questions, getting involved. Once you get that kind of relationship going they pick up a bit and are able to communicate with you on a different level, which is really important.
High Jump Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill gives her top tips when it comes to high jumping.
BSC: Just building on that a little bit... You do these incredible seven events, which require endurance and speed, which require strength and agility; it's amazing really. But of those seven disciplines are any favourites and are some least favourites?
JE-H: I used to love the high jump - that was one of my favourites - and I still love the high jump and the hurdles, which is definitely a favourite event for me. I think if I was to do anything else, it would be the hurdles.
BSC: Have you studied those events in the sense that you really understand technically what's required or is that something you coach knows?
JE-H: When I began athletics it was all new to me - I didn't know anything about the technique of going over a hurdle or high-jumping. It was all taught to me, so my coach would tell me exactly what to do. I wouldn't really ask any questions because I didn't know the event and then as I grew up and learnt the event I now understand it a lot better. We can communicate, we can change bits that we want to work on and I feel confident that I could help to demonstrate how to hurdle or how to high jump and how to do it properly to other young people.
Hurdles Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill gives her top tips when it comes to hurdling.
BSC: How important do you think that is - being good at something, really understanding it?
JE-H: It's really important. You need to understand it. It comes with age, though, and experience but you do need to understand your event to know how you can get the most out of your performance and understand your body and how it works and the different positions you need to be in. it's really important to be aware of it.
BSC: In terms of the seven events, this is a bit like youngsters at school - they're doing seven subjects and there's three of them they don't like very much but they've still got to do them. How do you motivate yourself or work at getting yourself really into those parts of the heptathlon that are your least favourite?
JE-H: For me it's the understanding that unfortunately they don't come as individual events, it is the whole event together; it's the seven events that work together. You can have an amazing two events at the beginning of the heptathlon or an amazing two events at the end but if the ones in between are poor then it brings your whole performance and score down and your shot at a medal has gone. So it's understanding that you need all of these parts to work together for you and you have to focus on your weaknesses because how are you going to get better at them? You don't want them to ruin your really strong, positive performances. At school you've got to be strong in all your events - you don't want to come out with some really great GCSE's while the rest are poor. You want them all to be on a par and on a level. So it's important to be organised and structured in what you do so you are covering weak events and strong events equally.
BSC: I think that's a big lesson to learn from watching you. I know that some of the events have been a real struggle for you - the javelin, for example, has hardly been your favourite and yet you've worked incredibly hard and been extremely successful at it.
Watch the best bits as Jessica Ennis attended this year¿s Sky Sports Living for Sport Awards
JE-H: Javelin has taken a long time. It's that knowing and that understanding that you are not going to be good at it overnight, especially if it's an event that doesn't come naturally to you; it's going to take time, it's going to take years and it's doing it over and over and over again. There have been points in my career where I've just thought 'I can't throw, I'll never be able to throw'. Two years down the line I've suddenly got to grips with it and I'm throwing personal bests and it all changes. It's just that moment that you work so hard for when it turns around and it changes.
BSC: That's terrific. Tell me about planning and prioritising your time. At one point you were a schoolgirl with homework and family; now you are married, you have a dog and a new house (or not so new!). You've got so many other things in your life. Are you very organised? Do you have to be very organised to get all this in?
JE-H: You definitely have to be; I had to be very organised last year before the Olympics in particular. That has come through sport. I started at the age of 10 when I had school, homework and training to do - I had to be organised so that I could do everything properly and get the most out of my schoolwork and my sport. It's just about managing your time and being focused in what you do and then you can use that for the rest of your life, not just in sport; you can use it in your work life and home life as well.
BSC: Do you ever find yourself conflicted? You are meant to be going to training but the dog's not very well or the husband's not very well?
JE-H: I have lost the dog a few times when I was supposed to be training and that's been a bit of a stress! It is that balance and knowing yourself what's important and what takes priority. Last year and the few years leading into London everything was about athletics but, obviously, different things go on in your life. As a teenager you have friends doing different things and you want to be involved but it's just about prioritising things and knowing what's important to you.
Jessica Ennis says that she still can't believe she's the Olympic Heptathlon champion.
BSC: Finally, I've got to ask you the inevitable question. All of this comes together, all of these wonderful skills that you've got, this hard work over years, the dedication you've put in. You get out on that stage in London, you win the heptathlon, you win that amazing 800m which I think I ran every step with you and then you are standing on that podium. What did that moment feel like, if you can even describe it?
JE-H: It's so hard to describe - it's just that moment where it's almost calm and you almost stand there, hear your national anthem, see that amazing crowd and your family in it and know that all of the hard work, everything that you've put in over the years - the setbacks of the year before when I won the silver medal in Daegu and not the gold that I was expected to win - and the injuries have all been worth it because that was my journey to that point. I had done it when had actually mattered. I'll have that for the rest of my life. It was an incredible moment on the podium.
BSC: And it was an incredible moment for us. Thanks Jess.