British Gymnastics Helen Phillips Member Insights President

Meet The Member: iSportconnect Speaks To Helen Phillips MBE, President of British Gymnastics

By Ben Page | February 6, 2020

In late 2019 it was revealed that Helen Phillips MBE would become the first ever female President of British Gymnastics, something which seemed more than overdue in a sport which is predominantly female.

As we are now in an Olympic year, iSportconnect spoke to Helen to speak about settling into her role, Tokyo 2020 and how much of a boost the success seen by British men in recent years has given the sport.

Firstly, congratulations Helen, how excited are you to now have taken up this role?

I’m absolutely thrilled to join the team at British Gymnastics. I’ve been involved in the sport all my life – I was only a day old the first time I went to a gym – and have been working in sport administration for many years. 

As well as an enthusiastic participant, I’ve also held administrative roles as a club coach, international judge, technical panel chair, local and national competition organiser as well as Chair of Welsh Gymnastics, all in a volunteering capacity. 

To have been selected to be President of British Gymnastics is very exciting – I am so passionate about the positive impact that the sport can have on people both socially and physically so as you can imagine I can’t wait to get started in what will be a very exciting year for the sport.

How important do you feel it is that you are the first female president of a sport which has such a high percentage of participation rates coming from women?

It is an honour to be the first female President of British Gymnastics and follow in the footsteps of those significant contributors who have held office before. I’m also one of the youngest, which is unique across a lot of sports and within a sport where the participation age is so young and 80% female, I feel this is important.

British Gymnastics is investing £7.5 million in facilities over the next six years, which will create many more opportunities for aspiring gymnasts. We are serious about our sport and by reinvesting in gymnastics, we hope to create a lasting legacy.

You have been involved in a variety of roles in the sport over many years, what do you see as the best or biggest changes during this time?

The digital transformation within the sporting sector has been huge. It’s now easier than ever for participants and fans to find out more online or via social channels, and that can only be a good thing. 

I also believe there’s been a real change in coaching – it’s now very much seen as a team approach. At British Gymnastics, and across all sports, we now provide athletes with support from sport scientists, psychologists, nutritionists etc who work alongside the very talented and committed coaches.

To show our commitment to nurturing these relationships, we recently launched a Positive Coaching course designed for coaches to focus on the safe and positive development of participants and the impact of success and failure on their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This is a very positive change and we’re working with other sports and gymnastics bodies from other nations to implement similar programmes for coaches and athletes. 

Overall, what do you see as the biggest challenges for British Gymnastics in terms of participation and how can the sport overcome them?

Our biggest challenge is resourcing the demand for gymnastics at club level. Over a million people take part in gymnastics each week in the UK but there are still more interested in the sport. 

British Gymnastics is investing £7.5 million in facilities over the next six years, which will create many more opportunities for aspiring gymnasts. We are serious about our sport and by reinvesting in gymnastics, we hope to create a lasting legacy.

It’s extremely positive that we’re now seeing success at elite level from both male and female gymnasts.

While the sport is mainly female dominated, we’ve seen great success on the men’s side in recent years, particularly from Max Whitlock and Louis Smith, how much of an added boost have you seen from this?

I think it’s extremely positive that we’re now seeing success at elite level from both male and female gymnasts. We’re still a female dominated sport but since 2012 males taking part have increased by about 50%.

Beth Tweddle paved the way for our success on the world stage but to see the likes of Louis, Max, Joe and the many others competing and winning medals at a global level is phenomenal. 

But it’s not just artistic gymnastics that is prospering, we now have fantastic world-class programmes across all disciplines and have recently won world medals in trampoline, tumbling, double-mini trampoline and acrobatic gymnastics.

What are you most looking forward to in 2020, is most of the focus on the Tokyo Olympics?

As a sports fan, I’m really looking forward to the Olympic Games. I might be biased but I do believe gymnastics is the most exciting of all Olympic sports. The skill and strength required to perform such spectacular routines is sensational. Gymnastics on the television is impressive but to see it in real-life is something else!

For British Gymnastics, the focus is for our gymnasts to do the best they can and it is our job to be by their side providing them with the tools to achieve. We’ve won 12 Olympic medals in the last three Olympic Games and I hope we can continue achieving at such high level.

Our national training centre at Lilleshall has been fully refurbished with brand new equipment to support our gymnasts in their training for the Games.

Above everything, I hope the Olympic Games will inspire people across the country to take up the sport or to simply get more active. Since London 2012, the number of British Gymnastics members has increased by over 200,000, based on our 2018/19 membership. With the new facility investment programme, I am confident we can create many more opportunities for those inspired by our elite gymnasts in Tokyo and I cannot wait for the summer!

I truly believe her gymnastics training has furnished her with these skills and she is a brilliant role model for sports people at all levels. She’s shown that gymnastics is not just a hobby but a way of life.

Does Gymnastics as a whole need to take advantage of the sport’s increased exposure from having a worldwide superstar, and one of the greatest athletes on the planet currently, in Simone Biles?

There’s no doubt that Simone is an exceptional athlete and a real credit to the sport. She has articulated some strong values and is very resilient. I truly believe her gymnastics training has furnished her with these skills and she is a brilliant role model for sports people at all levels.

She’s shown that gymnastics is not just a hobby but a way of life. She always talks about her passion to inspire others to participate in the sport but to most importantly have fun doing so. I know that our elite athletes feel the same and I hope this message continues to be conveyed.

Finally, what has been the best thing you’ve learnt during your time within gymnastics that you will implement or try to bring to the role?

I have been involved in gymnastics for many years, as a participant, coach, judge and administrator. I think my knowledge and experience of the sport across these different areas, coupled with my business expertise, will further enhance what British Gymnastics can achieve.

I am extremely passionate about the power of sport at grassroots and will continue working to unite the sport at all levels.

I attended my first board in December and was incredibly impressed by the skillset, passion and experience around the table. It’s a great organisation to be part of and I’m so excited to get started in my new role.

British Gymnastics Helen Phillips Member Insights President