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UK Coaching Team
Talent and Performance Safety and Welfare Supporting Specific Needs

Safety First: How a Super Coach Helped Invictus Rower Gill to Soldier On

Caring coaches and a safe environment were indispensable in supporting Gill Charlton's return to sport and physical activity – and ultimately, her success in competition

After being diagnosed with breast cancer while serving in the British Army, Gill Charlton’s life as she knew it changed suddenly. Prior to the diagnosis, Gill had been experiencing extreme fatigue, which was initially diagnosed as depression. It was later determined that she had cancer in her right breast, which would need to be treated with two surgeries and radiotherapy.

Gill had been active all her life and described her condition ahead of the diagnosis as "the best physical condition I had ever been in," but the treatment had a significant effect. Her road back to normality was anything but straightforward, as the physical and mental effects of breast cancer and its treatment had left their mark.

In her own powerful words, Gill felt vulnerable: "fragile, I felt as though if I did any training my body would break. But I got that opportunity to be eased back into sport, and realised that sport and physical activity could look different to before my diagnosis."

With the help of her coach, Gill was able to return to training and ultimately compete in the 2022 Invictus Games in no less than three sports: indoor rowing, swimming, and powerlifting.

This UK Coaching Week, a spotlight has been placed on the importance of Duty to Care at all levels and in all coaching environments. By placing it at the centre of your coaching, you can ensure that you're always striving to meet the needs of the people you coach, and supporting them on their journeys in sport and physical activity.

UK Coaching has released the Duty to Care Hub, a six-pillar framework (covering Diversity, Inclusion, Mental Health and Well-being, Physical Well-being, Safeguarding, and Safe to Practice) to support coaches to better understand their Duty to Care and how it can be placed at the heart of their coaching practice.

Gill’s coach ensured that she could return to training safely and sustainably as she managed the changes to her body following surgery and a dramatic change to her general health. The care that she received from her coaching team meant she felt supported and empowered during her return to sport and physical activity, and subsequently included in the team for one of the highest-profile competitions in the world.

My coaches were all instrumental in [helping me] move forward in my recovery. They were very disability-aware and understood that we each knew our own disabilities and knew how far we could push ourselves. I honestly don’t think I could have stuck with the training if we didn’t have such amazing and inclusive coaches that helped manage my well-being. The coaches I had were incredible across all sports, but rowing was transformative for me."

Gill reiterates how caring coaches and a safe environment were instrumental in building mutual trust and respect – creating a solid foundation for success.

"There were times when I was settling into new medication, which might set me back a little. I picked up a shoulder injury just before the Invictus Games, but I really trusted my coaches understood how to support me, that it was okay to raise to them if I had any issues.

The expertise of my coaches was fundamental for me getting back into sport and moving me forward. It was empowering to be around other adaptive athletes, but the coaching support I received ensured that as I’m going on that personal journey, my safety, well-being and best interests were always the most important thing."

Almost a year after her diagnosis, Gill heard about the Invictus Games, and thought it might be a motivational goal to work towards. As she’s always been active and has a tendency to push herself hard, her coaches needed to play a protective role: with enthusiasm and drive in abundance, they worked hard to ensure she was able to train safely and sustainably, minimising risk of further injuries, burnout or worsening her health.

The learning resources available on the UK Coaching website offer extensive information on how you can put Duty to Care first, create safe, empowering environments in which participants can flourish, and how being vigilant to the warning signs of physical and mental strain can be key to building great coach-athlete relationships, and to creating great experiences for everyone involved.

"It’s so important to have that coaching support when it comes to practising safe sport, because we all want to achieve! We all want to push ourselves, but those who have been through adversity and need that help, many will put their barriers up and it can be hard to help them."

"For our coaches to put us first, make us feel heard and actively listened to, it was so important. If they hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t have gotten anything out of us – great coaching is what underpins amazing sporting experiences."

Duty to Care: Safe to Practice

Operate with safety and effectiveness while promoting well-being for you and your participants within your scope of practice


Related Resources

  • Position of Trust

  • Supporting Participants Returning to Play Following Injury

  • Serious Player Injuries: Strategies for Managing Your Reaction


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