Ambitious, focused and competitive – research reveals how Spain’s youngsters get the winning spirit

It’s just a few days until the footballing giants of Spain and England come together in the Champions League Final for a shot at sporting greatness. Manchester United will have the support of a home crowd at Wembley, but new research suggests the Spanish players of Barcelona may have something else helping them – a natural-born winning spirit.

23 May 2011

Posted in Financial results

by Jennifer Chilcott (see media contact)

Over the past couple of years, Spanish athletes have shone in football, cycling, basketball, tennis, Formula One, and plenty of other sports. From the World Cup to Wimbledon, their stars have been on top. And plenty have wondered why their country's athletes are doing so well.

The reason might be as much to do with the Spanish mindset as money or weather.

Spanish children have a blend of sporting focus, competitiveness and ambition that puts their counterparts from the United Kingdom into the shade, according to a new international study to support the Ambition AXA Awards that canvassed the views of 2,500 youngsters across Europe.

When it comes to competitiveness, 88% of Spanish youngsters questioned said they were either ‘extremely competitive’ or that they did ‘like to win”. Among UK children, the figure was just 75%.

In the ambition section, the Spanish are unmatched. 52% of the country's youngsters said they expected to fulfil their ambitions - in the UK, the figure was down at 43%

But asked if their ambitions would ‘definitely happen’, 18% of Spanish youngsters said yes - that's nearly double the score in any other country and three times higher than the 6% of British respondents who were so confident.

And when it comes to sporting focus, more than one in ten young Spaniards say they want to be a world-class sportsman - the figure's 8% in the UK.

Put those factors together, and you end up with a blend that could be the difference between winning and losing - especially in the high-pressure world of modern sport.

The researchers spoke to youngsters in five countries - Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the UK - to get a unique picture of how attitudes to sport change across the continent.

Spanish and French youngsters were the most competitive overall, while Italians had an even higher focus on sporting success - a staggering 22% of Italian boys say they want to pursue sport as a career.

The research also highlighted a massive difference between the sporting aspirations of boys and girls. Across the five countries, an average of nearly 16% of boys hoped for a career in sport - but among girls, the figure was less than 3%. In both France and Germany, only 1% of girls were dreaming of a career in sport.

The study was commissioned by AXA UK to mark the launch of the Ambition AXA Awards in which a talented young athlete stands to win a bespoke mentoring prize worth up to £40,000. There are also prizes for talented youngsters in the fields of Enterprise, Science, Community and The Arts, making a total prize pot of £200,000. The winners will be announced on 30 November 2011, after which the judging panel will help the winners to create a development package that will help them to achieve their goals.

Mike Kellard, who represents AXA on the judging panel for the Ambition AXA Award for sport, said “Our awards scheme aims to inspire talented young sportspeople to achieve a potential that may never have otherwise been realised. Our winning young sportsperson will receive a bespoke mentoring programme, which may well change their life forever.”

Marc Woods, Director of Youth Sport Trust and an Ambition AXA Awards panellist, said: “We've got a real summer of sport coming up, with the Champions League final, Wimbledon, Test cricket and, of course, the prospect of the Olympic Games in just over a year's time.

“What we'll see again and again are the tiny margins that separate success and failure. What this research suggests is that Spanish youngsters have more of a focused approach - a natural will to win - and that's a crucial area for us to develop in young British athletes.

“In recent years other countries from Canada to Australia have been keen to learn from the advances we have made in PE and sport in this country. For that reason I am confident our superb school sport system will breed winners at the top level of sport in the future.”