Scout Ambassador Helen Glover on achieving your goals
An illustration of Helen by Noah aged 9, from 1st Haverhill Cubs
Scout Ambassador Helen Glover shares her thoughts on achieving your goals, developing skills for life and the power of volunteering
Hi Helen. Thanks so much for chatting to us today. As a two-time Olympic champion who’s been ranked the number one female rower in the world since 2015, with a number of world records under your belt, you must feel very proud. Having achieved so much already, how do you keep yourself motivated?
I think the thing with motivation is that I’m naturally a motivated person anyway. So if I set myself a target I’ll be pretty motivated to achieve it. I think shortly after the London Olympics, after winning the first gold, I immediately wanted to back it up by winning another one. So almost immediately that motivation was there. Yeah I think for me it’s about having targets, even more than about winning something it’s about having something to work towards.
You’ve recently become an ambassador for the Scouts, which makes complete sense, as you’re an obvious inspiration to young people. It would be great to get your thoughts on how all sorts of people can step up and be a source of support and encouragement for young people. Why would you encourage people to volunteer?
Aside from what I’ve been doing in rowing, I was one of the first female Scouts in my Scout Troop back in Cornwall and it was a seriously big part of growing up. My brothers and both my sisters and myself, all went to Scouts and learnt a lot. And two of the most influential people in my whole childhood were my Scout leaders, who I’m still in touch with now. They were both at my wedding; they actually provided tents for the wedding guests to stay in. Scouting has been a really big part of my life and you know if these two people hadn’t volunteered I wouldn’t have had that. And it wasn’t just me they made a difference to; it was everybody who came through Scouts. Whether people go into careers in the outdoors or in an office, I think you learn so many skills through Scouting. It’s just really important that people get involved and get volunteering.
Growing up, what inspired and motivated you?
My parents were my key motivational and inspirational influences. My dad was a very good sportsman and my mum would do everything – with five kids she was busy ferrying us around from different activities and sports and Scouts. I had a lot of inspiration around me from my family and that extended on to the Scouts and onto my Scout leaders and my PE teachers. I had a lot of people that were inspirational around me.
Teamwork is obviously essential in rowing. Have you always been a team player or is it a skill you’ve developed?
Yeah, I think I’ve always been a team player. I’ve always loved anytime I’ve had to work in a team and find out what a team dynamic is like. And I loved playing hockey for that reason. I think one of the reasons my rowing partner Heather and I, along with our coach Robin, were so successful is that the three of us were stronger together than we were individually. And that’s the thing about a team – you learn how to bring out the best in other people and how to communicate well with other people through working as a team.
How did it feel breaking the Olympic record?
Yeah, it was great. When you go to the Olympics you’re very much focused on just the win, but to get the record along the way, is a nice bonus. It was a good sign that we were on track.
Was winning an Olympic medal something you dreamed of or was it a goal you set for yourself?
It was more something I dreamed of than a goal when I was younger because I think I dreamt of it but it felt like something that happens to other people. I mean I’d never met an Olympian, let alone an Olympic champion. It felt like something that happened to others and then as it got closer, as it got a year or two away, it became a goal, it became something I thought I could actually achieve.
What did you get out of Scouting as a young person? What would you say to someone thinking of joining?
I learnt a lot about myself. I think I always had a love for the outdoors but the outdoors become really useable when you learn a skill for it. My brothers and I would take our bikes and go cycling for a day but when you spend a weekend in the woods with the Scouts, learning how to cook on and build fires and put up tents, I think you become resourceful. It’s really small things, day-to-day practical things that you become better at, even if I’m doing a barbecue or making a fire pit, I feel confident that I’ve got the skills to do all these things and I’m sure that’s come from Scouts. I’ve always been really interested in the outdoors and Scouts gives you an outlet and it gives you a whole load of friends who are just as intent as you are on exploring the wild. It's just amazing to have this massive group who want to go off and have these big adventures when you’re young.
What sort of skills do you think Scouting teaches young people?
There are the practical things but then there is also the community element – there’s this sense of community and sense of what you could be doing and considering how to be a good citizen. I remember my fellow Scouts and I knocking on the doors of the old peoples’ home and offering to wash their windows. At the time it was quite fun because they gave us biscuits but I don’t think I realized how much of a mutual interaction it was. We thought it was great. We got to get out, wash some windows and get some nice cake, and looking back at it now I think ‘wow, that was probably a valuable interaction for people at the old peoples’ home too’. So I think the sense of community in Scouts is really really important.
How important do you think it is that we instill a healthy sense of competition in young people, particularly young women?
I think it’s important but I think it’s important that you can be what you want to be. Some people won’t be competitive and that’s absolutely fine. Those people should be encouraged to take part for the love of things. And if you are competitive I think that that should be nurtured, because I think all too often words that can be quite positive for men like ‘assertive’ and ‘competitive’ and ‘ambitious’, could be construed as being negative for women. That’s not fair and it’s not going to bring out the best in people. So I think if you have a young woman who is assertive, ambitious, competitive, make sure that’s given time to develop, rather than feeling like ‘well, those aren’t feminine traits so they shouldn’t be nurtured’.
So I think there’s a place for competition but I think that not everybody’s going to be competitive. I used to be a PE teacher and I’d have some classes where I wouldn’t make it competitive because that’s not the type of child I had in my class and there were some classes that were very competitive, so I’d make it into a competition. It’s all about finding out what’s enjoyable and what works for people and then nurturing that.
Do you feel that we’re doing enough to encourage young people to get involved in sports and gain the confidence to compete as equals?
I think so. Young people are getting really great role models by watching the Olympians. I think social media is a big part of that because people can follow your journey, see what you’re eating, see how you’re training and see you in a way that makes you human. Olympians are becoming more accessible and I think that’s allowing youngsters to want to follow in their footsteps and see how they can do that.
So for people who are passionate about supporting and encouraging young people to achieve their dreams, would you say volunteering is a good way to go?
Absolutely, I think you can never underestimate how much of a difference you’re going to make to someone’s life volunteering. There are so many children – whether they have ultra supportive parents, parents who are busy, parents who aren’t busy – who would benefit from having another external influence. Giving your time is very special. If you can be the person who does that I think you’re doing something amazing for young people, whether you’re volunteering as a sports coach or a Scout leader or whatever it is, you’re going to make a difference to a young person’s life that will stay with them forever. It really helps. I know that every sports coach and Scout leader I had has made a massive difference to my life and I’ll keep thanking them for the rest of my life. Those people invest time in young people. I think it’s just really important.
And for those already volunteering do you have any advice or a message to keep them motivated and inspired to continue doing the incredible work they do?
I would just say that every single day, every single minute that you’re investing in young people is going to be worth it. Sometimes you don’t always get an immediate thank you but I think you should know that the thanks is there, and the thanks will be with them for their rest of their lives. You’ll be remembered for something that’s really positive.
You’re giving young people the chance to go on a 24-hour adventure with you and Steve Backshall in the Lake District in August. What an opportunity! Entries are rolling in. What was the inspiration behind it?
It’s so exciting to give young people a chance to get involved. It will be the first thing I actively do as a Scout Ambassador – Steve’s been very involved in Cubs and The Scout Association as a whole in the last few years. I want to take the role seriously as Scout Ambassador and do something where I’m helping out a little bit and giving young people an experience that could be really impactful. And for those who aren’t the ones that get to go, it just shows what’s out there and should hopefully encourage young people and leaders to look for these opportunities and look for these exciting things. The event is taking place on 14-15 August and the competition is open to all those aged 13-18.
It sounds like it’s going to be really inspirational for everyone involved.
Yeah, it should be fun!
Enter the Into the Wild competition here now.