Lifstyle: family way

Greg Rutherford and Perri Shakes-Drayton who are encouraging kids to fulfil their potential and offering the chance to win a mentorship with them both as part of Disney Aim High. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Adam Lawrence.
Greg Rutherford and Perri Shakes-Drayton who are encouraging kids to fulfil their potential and offering the chance to win a mentorship with them both as part of Disney Aim High. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Adam Lawrence.

Every child has dreams, some big, some small. But whatever those dreams are, knowing they can become a reality and striving to achieve them can lead to a successful and happy life.

Pursuing your ambitions may, however, take a little encouragement, and that’s why the Disney Aim High project is stressing the importance of mentors, with the help of top-class athletes Greg Rutherford and Perri Shakes-Drayton.

Olympic long jump gold medallist Rutherford didn’t have to look far for the encouragement that he needed to achieve sporting success.

“My mentor and inspiration has always been my dad,” he says.

“He’s the one who gave me the confidence and determination to push ahead and strive for my dreams. He was there to encourage me when times were tough and I felt like giving up too, but also to give me realistic advice.

“I couldn’t be where I am today without him.”

Rutherford and champion 400m hurdler Shakes-Drayton will be mentoring budding young athletes this summer through Disney Aim High, a mentorship initiative designed to inspire children aged seven-16 to define goals, reach for their dreams and have fun.

Shakes-Drayton says “determination and sacrifice” were what got her to the top of her sport, and stresses: “You have to work hard but it’s worth it. I just wanted to be the best that I can be.

“It’s important to give young people someone to look up to and who they can go to for advice and support.

“Not everybody is lucky enough to find something they’re great at and follow it all the way through - that’s why initiatives such as Disney’s Aim High are important to inspire and support kids’ ambitions.”

And Rutherford adds: “I feel that I’m one of the lucky few who managed to work in the field that I dreamed of as a child.

“It took a lot of hard work, support and sacrifice, but I’ve always loved what I do, so to end up doing it for a living is a dream come true.”

While Olympic dreams may not be realistic for most children, they can achieve smaller-scale dreams that mean a great deal to them if they have support, says clinical psychologist David Spellman.

“Children say that what makes a difference is having somebody believe in them - someone who has faith in you when you don’t have faith in yourself.

“A lot of the kids I see have difficult behaviour, and they’re not going to be winning Olympic gold medals, but it’s important for them to feel that they’re worthwhile as a person, irrespective of their achievements. A person’s worth shouldn’t be judged by their medals or their A level grades.”

Spellman points out that different people will have varying views on what an achievement is, and for some it might be as small as getting out of bed in the morning.

“There are values in having a mentor who pushes you to go further than you feel you can go, but there’s also a value in having someone who can accept you for what you are, rather than a pushy parent who wants you to be a lawyer or whatever.

“Kids need someone who can tune in to their particular talents, whatever they are. It’s not about the scale, it’s about the attitude of being the best you can be, and learning to love yourself.”

He also warns that parents need to ask whose best interest they have at heart when encouraging their children to strive for success.

“It’s hard to separate out what you want as an adult - it can be as much about what you want as what the child wants. Parents and mentors need to try to disentangle their own wishes from the wishes and needs of the child, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Disney Aim High is asking children to envision their own, unique Olympic event and enter their idea in an Aim High competition. The winners will see their dreams become reality at an exclusive masterclass where one of the winning sports will be attempted by Rutherford and Shakes-Drayton, with the winning children having the opportunity to chat to the pair and get tips and advice on how to succeed in sport.

Shakes-Drayton adds: “I think it’s good for young people to have guidance, especially from someone that’s been there. I was young once and I would have loved to have someone to talk me through the sport especially.

“The kids that we’ll be working with can ask us about how we achieved our goals, and we can hopefully point them in the right direction.”

The Disney Aim High competition opens on April 2. For more information, visit