A passion for sport - and a new region-wide campaign to encourage women into coaching - is helping a South Tyneside College student get on the starting blocks to success.
Alex Fontaine, 17, is one of 22 coaches and participants from clubs across Tyne and Wear, whose inspirational attitude to sport is helping drive the Pass On Your Passion initiative.
Operating across the North of England, it aims to encourage those involved in sports coaching to support others to follow in their footsteps.
Those who pick up the baton are then helped and supported to gain the right qualifications and experience to begin their own coaching journey.
The campaign, which arrived in Tyne and Wear for a series of events on Monday, June 19, aims to improve figures which show just 17 per cent of female coaches receive a qualification each year.
Organisers say sports student Alex is an inspirational role model whose participation could help turn that around.
In less than a year, she has gone from leaving school with just one qualification to becoming our new Female Football Development Apprentice.
As well as learning coaching skills, the post requires she signs up 100 girls to play football and gets 10 female volunteers into coaching.
Alex, from Biddick Hall, South Shields, said: “I didn’t like school and I didn’t do well, but my life has completely changed since I joined the college.
“I’d always wanted to be a PE teacher, but now I really want to be involved in sports coaching and my new apprenticeship is a great way to do that.
“Coaching was the only thing I could think of to provide opportunities to young girls to take part in sport and football.
“My apprenticeship, and this campaign, provide me the opportunities to make my dream a reality – I hope to inspire young girls to take part.”
Those joining Alex to promote Pass On The Passion include Shakila Ahmed, a former South Tyneside College student, now studying a childhood and early years degree at Northumbria University.
One day a week she returns as a volunteer to coach students within Interface, our specialist support for young people on the autism spectrum – a role she carried out during her two years with us studying health and social care.
It is to Alex that she passed on the coaching baton.
Shakila, 20, from South Shields, said: “I began volunteering to get work placement hours as part of my course.
“I helped out with Active Ability and the Satellite Clubs, which help students who have a range of disabilities.
“Before that, I never took part in sports, but volunteering has made a real difference to me, including losing weight and improving my fitness.
“I want to help others who are in the same position to enjoy sports rather than see it as some physical exercise that they have to do.
“I enjoy helping others and I want to make a difference in other people’s lives, and I believe this campaign will help me do that.”
Pass On Your Passion, which involves 13 County Sports Partnerships in the North of England, arrives in Tyne and Wear at Gibside National Trust.
Each of the Tyne and Wear participants has been given a baton by Tyne & Wear Sport, which they have been asked to pass it on to a female participant from their club.
They have also been presented with certificates in recognition of their involvement and coaching achievements.
Ruth Nicholson, coach development manager for Tyne & Wear Sport, said: "We asked clubs to send us their nominations of female coaches at every level who help and inspire women and girls to get involved in sport and we had a terrific response.
“We have coaches from a wide range of sports but the one thing they have in common is their passion for encouraging and inspiring the participants who they coach, and we wanted to thank them for that."
Chris Reay, South Tyneside College’s Sports Maker, added: “Alex came to us following a troubled time at school.
“She began a role as a Football Activator, looking to develop her football knowledge base as a coach as well as getting more students playing football.
“Due to her turnaround, she was successful in being appointed the new Female Football Development Apprentice, where she will look to develop opportunities for females at the college and in the community.”
Tyne & Wear Sport is one of 44 county sports partnerships (CSPs) located across England, and is funded and supported by Sport England as well as a wide range of sub regional partners to co-ordinate activity and sports programmes in Tyne and Wear.
Its overriding aim is to work together with partners to increase the quality, range and fairness of opportunities for sport and physical activity.
Tyne & Wear Sport works in partnership with national governing bodies of sport, councils including Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland, the universities of Northumbria, Newcastle, and Sunderland, colleges, sports clubs, Sport England and other sporting and voluntary bodies.
To find out more, visit www.tynewearsport.org/passonyourpassion