Surbiton star Sophie Newnham gave the Royals a boccia lesson at a mental health and resilience event. 

The 15-year-old was one of several young athletes who were joined by The Prince and Princess of Wales at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre for a SportsAid workshop dedicated to mental health and wellbeing.

Newnham was amongst a host of young athletes who heard from a number of sporting stars, including four-time Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent and five-time Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds, about their experiences of managing anxiety, pressure and expectation.

For several years, SportsAid has been providing information and advice on mental health and wellbeing in partnership with BelievePerform. The athletes, as well as their parents and guardians, contributed to two themed sessions, followed by a couple of practical exercises, alongside The Prince and Princess.

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“I chatted to both William and Kate and we had a bit of a chat about boccia,” she said. “It is not that well known so I was telling them a bit about it and the tactics involved in it.  

“I wasn’t expecting it but good first impressions, they were lovely.” 

The event included practical and theory sessions aiming to help educate young sporting stars on how to manage stress and pressure while balancing other areas of their life. 

“In every athlete’s career there are going to be times when things don’t go to plan so I think having that courage and perseverance to come back from that is really important,” she explained. 

“We were chatting about resilience and how that can affect performance and the difference between days when you don’t have a lot and days when you do, and how you can train yourself to be resilient for when you have a setback. 

“It is really nice to know that such successful athletes have had similar experiences to you and nobody is alone in this journey of sport.”

The visit from The Prince and Princess comes after SportsAid revealed the findings of a new mental health and wellbeing survey, commissioned by the charity in September 2023, on World Mental Health Day.

The survey, run in partnership with BelievePerform and EVERFI, highlighted the anxiety felt by young athletes involved in performance sport, the different challenges facing female and para athletes, and the appetite for more support and advice.

Newnham is one of over 1,000 young athletes who receive funding and support from SportsAid to pursue their sporting ambitions. 

The athlete finished second at the UK Championships last year and her sights are now set on improving her performance at the event next month.  

“It was a surprise to me but I am hoping to medal again this time,” Newham said. “It was my first major competition, so I didn’t set myself any expectations. 

“I was just going to have fun and meet the top players in the UK.  

“To come away with a medal was more than I was expecting so I was really pleased with that. 

“At the moment I am at college studying for my A-Levels in PE, finance and criminology.”

SportsAid supports the next generation of athletes through financial grants and personal development opportunities and Chief Executive Tim Lawler is excited about the charity’s future work on mental health.

He said: “The support of The Prince and Princess is really special and exciting. 

“The Princess, as our Patron, has been so supportive and we know this is a topic she is hugely passionate about.  

“Both The Prince and Princess have been invited to join us and committed their time as a Patron – they engaged and shared their experiences with the athletes, who were also able to hear from multiple Olympic and Paralympic champions about their own personal experiences. 

“We are now ramping up our work around mental health and wellbeing. This a key space we need to move into – it’s an unmet need and it’s understood by athletes. 

“This event today is not just a one-off – it was a hugely fun day but we want to do even more heading into next year to further enhance our support for our athletes around health and wellbeing.”

SportsAid is seeking support from individuals and organisations to allow the charity to invest further in its mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Please contact Serena Castiglione, Head of Fundraising at SportsAid, on if you would like to help provide talented young athletes, as well as their families, with the support and advice they need at a key time in their development.