Nurturing sporting ambition the right way a far cry from the ‘pushy parents’ model

Family support has been key to the rise of Grand Slam winner Jannik Sinner, Liverpool footballer Conor Bradley and long jump record holder Reece Ademola

You know what they say about choosing your parents wisely. This may not always be the single most important factor for success in sport, or in life for that matter, but it does unquestionably help, and the evidence is unfailingly clear.

Consider some of the perfect reminders this week.

It would have been fairly unforgiving for Jannik Sinner not to thank his parents in the aftermath of his first Grand Slam victory in Melbourne last Sunday, even if they reckoned the best way of supporting him was from 10,000 miles away at home in Italy.

Sinner’s heartfelt acceptance speech was also oozing maturity, the 22-year-old from the small Alpine ski town of San Candido perhaps conscious of its wider meaning and purpose. Or at least hopeful plenty more parents were paying attention.


“I wish that everyone could have my parents,” he said of his father Johann and mother Siglinde. “Because they always let me choose whatever I want to do, even when I was younger. I did some other sports, and they never put pressure on myself, and I wish that this freedom is possible for as many young kids as possible. So thank you so much for my parents.”

It’s true that, until age 13, tennis was Sinner’s third favourite sport, somewhere distant behind skiing and football. When he did decide to pursue tennis as his number one, his parents also allowed him to move away from home – alone! – and train at the Piatti Tennis Centre, on the Italian Riviera.

“For me, that was tough, but for my parents to leave their son at 14-years-old, it’s also not easy. They always gave me everything, and they never put pressure on myself, which for me is maybe the key to why I’m here.”

Which is another reminder too of why choosing your parents wisely is not just about sourcing their critical pieces of sporting DNA. It’s as much about sourcing their critical attitude towards any given sport – as in not being too pushy about it.

There’s ample evidence of that too in Conor Bradley, his nascent football career suddenly garnering ineluctable attention after his latest swashbuckling display for Liverpool on Wednesday night. For a still 20-year-old there are lots of people to thank for all that, his parents also chief among them.

Because, like Sinner, Bradley wasn’t pushed into any one sport as a youngster, first making something of a name for himself at St Patrick’s Primary School in Castlederg, close to the family home in Aghyaran, in rural west Tyrone, when winning a Northern Ireland schools’ cross-country title in 2015. One sport’s loss, etc.

By then Bradley was also training at Liverpool’s Northern Ireland development centre in Belfast, his parents Joe and Linda making the five-hour round trip every weekend.

One of his first coaches at Dungannon Swifts, Dixie Robinson, also spoke to the BBC this week about the gently critical role of his mother Linda: “[She] has to take a tremendous amount of credit,” Robinson said. “She kept Conor level-headed and humble at all times.”

This successful pathway of Sinner and Bradley was further reflected this week in Reece Ademola, who two days before celebrating his 21st birthday on Friday, broke the Irish under-23 long jump record for the second time in seven days. Even in an event strictly defined by distance, his potential suddenly appears unlimited.

Ademola has also spoken before about the “love and support” of his family while he pursued various other sports as a youngster growing up in Cork. But there’s clearly something sporting in his DNA too. His mother is from Latvia and his father from Nigeria, and he stands at 6ft 9in, neatly stretched out on to his just over 100kg frame.

On Tuesday night at a World Indoor Tour Gold meeting in Ostrava, Ademola added 7cm to his own under-23 indoor mark, this time leaping to 7.93m in his opening jump, having first pushed that record out to 7.86m at the Aarhus meeting in Denmark the week before.

Now the 8m mark is only a matter of time, a distance only ever cleared before by one Irish long jumper, Ciaran McDonagh’s national record of 8.07 set back in 2005 – six years after he first hit the 8m mark on route to the World Championship final in Seville.

On Tuesday night, Ademola finished third behind World and Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou from Greece, who won the competition with a best jump of 8.09m.

Just as important as his obvious talent is his competitive spirit. In August 2022, he was close to winning a medal in the long jump at the World Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia, sitting in a podium position until two final round efforts denied him.

It would have been historic too, as no Irish long jumper has made the podium on the global stage in modern times. Ademola eventually settled for fifth, further improving his own Irish under-20 record to 7.83m. That improvement was more notable given he was away from the sport for over two years up to 2021, another sudden growing spurt severely inhibited his training (he was already hitting 6ft by age 12).

Ademola also credits his club Leevale for getting him back involved, having tried several other sports over the years, including basketball with Coláiste Chríost Rí, plus Blue Demons and Neptune. Originally coached at Leevale by Derek Neff, he’s now under the experienced wings of Liz Coomey, and together they are fast soaring.

“I definitely do think I was born for this, for track and field and the long jump,” Ademola said in an interview with this newspaper. “I played basketball, I was always the tall one in a crowd, I’d throw the ball in the hoop or dunk it or whatever.

“But my make up, I think I was just born for this. It’s something in my head. I have a huge passion for track and field, I always have from the age of nine, so 10 years now, I’ve always had a huge passion for it.”

Currently in his second year of culinary studies at the Munster Technological University in Cork, Ademola now has that long-standing Irish record firmly in sight, and with that too the possibility of the Paris Olympics.

The automatic qualifying mark is 8.27m, better than the 8.21m which won Maykel Masso from Cuba the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but there’s every chance Ademola can make Paris on his world ranking, as long as he keeps jumping the way he is. It’s in his DNA it seems.