The Game Changers

Penny Briscoe: Leading the transformation of Para Sport

June 27, 2023 Sue Anstiss Season 14 Episode 5
The Game Changers
Penny Briscoe: Leading the transformation of Para Sport
Show Notes Transcript

Our guest in this episode has been instrumental in the success of the British Paralympic team, helping them to achieve record-breaking medal hauls at 10 Paralympic Summer and Winter Games.

Penny Briscoe competed for Great Britain in Canoe Slalom before becoming Senior National Coach for the GBR team at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.  She has worked in para sport as coach, team manager, performance director and is now Director of Sport at the British Paralympic Association and is also the Chef De Mission for Paralympics GB. In 2017, Penny was awarded an OBE for her services to disability sport.

In this fascinating conversation we explore Penny’s path into para sport and how the role and profile of the British Paralympic Association has changed over 20 years.

Penny shares the enormous impact of London 2012, the challenges that followed in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021, and her ambitions for Paris 2024.

If you’d like to hear from other senior women leading British sport, previous episodes of The Game Changers include interviews with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Sally Munday OBE, Dame Liz Nichol, Dame Katherine Grainger, Sue Day MBE, Baroness Sue Campbell and Clare Connor CBE.

Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast through the National Lottery. 

Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.

Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here:

Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media

A Fearless Women production

Penny Briscoe: Leading the transformation of Para sport
Sue Anstiss (00:17):

Hello and welcome to The Game Changers. I'm Sue Anstiss, and this is the podcast where you'll hear from trailblazing Women in sport. What can we learn from their journeys as we explore some of the key issues around equality in sport and beyond? I'd like to start with a big thank you to our partners Sport England, who support the Game Changers through a national lottery award. My guest today has been instrumental in the success of the British Paralympic team, helping them to achieve a record-breaking medal hall at 10 Paralympic summer and winter games. Penny Briscoe competed for Great Britain in Can canoe slalom before becoming senior national coach for the British team at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney, 2000 Olympic Games. She's worked in para sport as a coach, team manager and performance director, and is now director of sport at the British Paralympic Association. She's also the chef admission for Paralympics gb. In 2017, penny was awarded an OBE for her services to Disability Sport. Penny, I'd like to start at Lara if I can. As I hadn't realised until I was doing my research, that we were both there at the same time for a year in 1988, and I think you were there doing a pg c e. So was the plan always to become a teacher?

Penny Briscoe (01:42):

Um, it was half a plan. I think I was a, I grew up being a, you know, a sport mad kid. Uh, anything to do with sport was my bag. And, um, as I got to do my, um, O levels at the time, it's that far, far, uh, far, you know, back. Um, it was like decision time. What was I gonna do? What was I gonna do for my A Levels and then what was I gonna do beyond my A Levels and in sport? At that time as a female, there were probably only two options. One was being a PE teacher, the other was probably being a physio. And I, and I didn't really see too much else and, um, I didn't really see myself in the science space. Um, so I kind of went down the, the pg c e route. So I did my undergrad at Birmingham. I did history and pe which was brilliant. Um, and then I went to, to Loughborough, um, to do my pg c e, which again was a fabulous year. And, um, I think in, in many ways provided huge inspiration for me as a teacher then as a coach. Um, my tutor was Rod Thorpe and, um, he was an amazing man. Uh, very inspirational and, and much of his teachings have stayed with me throughout my career.

Sue Anstiss (02:52):

And, and so why not, uh, PE I should or teaching, I should ask. Uh, because actually that was my route when I first went there. I like you similar time, but wanted to be a PE teacher. So what, what was the point at which you changed, you think?

Penny Briscoe (03:04):

Well, I taught for six years in, in secondary ed in here in Nottingham, and then I did a year in, or just under a year actually at Stafford College. So I did enjoy teaching, um, but it was too much of a, an opportunity. There was a, a sort of a short term role came up for, for a full-time coach to work with within British canoeing. There was a national performance coach, um, but they were recruiting an additional coach for the Atlanta games. And I hadn't taken that leap of faith as an athlete to, to sort of train full-time and see how good I could be. And I always regretted that, that I, I didn't really achieve, um, my dreams as an athlete, um, always working full-time and, you know, never really having the optimal training environment. And this was, you know, I, I think maybe my, my chance at redemption to, to do something that I was really proud of. Um, so I took that leap of faith, took a nine month contract with the British Canoe Union and became that Assistant Olympic coach as it was in that first year. Um, and then lottery funding came, um, sort of towards the, the backend of, of 97 or yeah, 96 into 97. And um, and then I got a full-time contract. So I took a leap of faith and then was in the right place at the right time to be able to sort of maximise that opportunity.

Sue Anstiss (04:28):

Oh, that's fantastic to hear, isn't it? And obviously you were almost pre that lottery funding yourself as an athlete. Do you think had there been that funding you would've continued at longer career competing yourself?

Penny Briscoe (04:39):

That's an interesting question. And I think there was funding coming into British canoeing, cuz we were one of the best nations in the world, but it, it tended to be the old foundation of sport and arts or the saaf. So there were just not too many awards. There were some good awards, but they were, you know, we had world champions and Olympic medalists and, and I was kind of just below that tier of athlete. I think the biggest issue for me is I picked up a lot of injuries, um, and I think that that was probably working full-time, always seeming to be on the go, training at the wrong times of the day, not really recovering, not focusing on on re uh, you know, prehab, let alone rehab. Um, and, you know, my bo my shoulders were, were just absolutely shocked pieces. So I think I sort of retired gracefully without ever saying I'd retired. Uh, but knowing that I wasn't gonna go to Atlanta as an athlete and just wanting to take that opportunity to be at a games, I, I just really dreamt of, of taking that opportunity. And, and I did. And, you know, I'm really proud of of what I've achieved, what I achieved as a coach, um, for British Canoe and as the only female full-time coach in the programme at that time. Um, and had an incredible experience as be, as being part of those two, um, Olympic, uh, summer game cycles.

Sue Anstiss (05:57):

And what was it like being a coach at those games and such a fantastic opportunity for you as a young coach or a newer coach really to,

Penny Briscoe (06:05):

Yeah, I'd, I'd always coach, not always coach, but I'd, I'd, you know, teaching, I guess my, my thing is, is helping others, whether it be teaching, whether it be coaching. So even when I was doing my undergrad, I supported the GB juniors, um, and then I worked with the Welsh squad, I did some private coaching. So from a, you know, my sort of late teens, early twenties, I, I sort of got into coaching cause it was the sort of a natural synergy with, with the direction I was going in as a, as a teacher. Uh, always enjoyed it, you know, I probably enjoyed it cuz it was my sport. Um, and I was so passionate about my sport and, and wanting to be part of it and, and I guess knowing I wasn't gonna succeed as an athlete, well, you know, could I, could I achieve something as a coach?


So, um, to be part of the, of the setup going into Sydney was, was hugely exciting. And, um, we didn't have our best games. It was, I dunno if you remember Sue, but 1996 the British media dubbed, uh, team GB as the team of shame. Uh, I think it was the worst experience in, uh, or worst set of results in something like 36 years or something. And, um, as a, as a GB canoeing squad, we went in with high hopes we'd had a great world championship to home world championships in 1995. Um, we went in with metal potential pretty well in every class and, um, the, you know, the, it's fine margins in in white wall canoeing. And, um, a couple of couple of things went against us. Um, you know, Lynn Ray should have, should have, could have Medalled, uh, Paul Ratcliff could have, he was the sort of the up and coming Gareth Marriott.


We had great athletes and we just didn't have the, the, the best games. And, you know, I felt, I felt sad with the sort of some of the press that we had because n nobody goes into a, into a major championship trying to fail. You know, there was so much hard work that had gone in, there was so much potential within that team. And, you know, we banked, we bounced back at the World Cup final just a few weeks later. Um, and thankfully, you know, we went forward as a team and, and, and I think GB Canon Kanu has medals multiple medal at every game since then. Um, so, um, Sydney was a, a different experience. Paul Ratcliffe got silver and you know, we had some great supporting results as well. And, um, you know, I, I guess that first games, um, was of mixed experiences, but it, it kind of got me hooked and I just love that multi-sport that the pressure of that once every four year environment and, uh, I just wanted more. Um, so that, that was me started really,

Sue Anstiss (08:45):

And we don't see doing many elite female coaches at that top end Olympics and Paralympics. So what was it like at the time, you know, in 96, 2000? Was it any different then?

Penny Briscoe (08:56):

No, no. I mean, I think I was probably the only female on the circuit at that time and, and where you found your, your company was that a lot of physios tended to be females. So going back to my original analogy of what you do if you're a female and you wanna excel in sport and, um, a big, big ally of mine was Julie, Julie Stark, who was, uh, still part of the e i s system and we were kind of the two females on in, in a very male dominated, uh, coaching team. Um, but you know, it's that diversity isn't it, which helps create environments where both athletes and staff can thrive. So I, I think it was a, a great step forward for British can canoeing. Um, and it was certainly, you know, there were certainly years that, that I enjoyed and, and I hope that I sort of have paved the way for, for other females, uh, in the sport. And, and I was probably one of the few, um, in the, in the UK system at that time that was full-time professional. Um, and so, you know, I I kind of hope that, you know, it, it did pave the way for others and, um, it's certainly now a more diverse workforce, which it quite rightly should be. Uh, but there's still work to do, isn't there?

Sue Anstiss (10:03):

Absolutely. And, and what do you think makes it a great coach?

Penny Briscoe (10:08):

Um, I think from my personal experiences, it, it's kind of just being yourself. I think you've gotta be, you've gotta be passionate about what you do. In, in my belief, I think at times I was probably a bit too passionate and that was certainly one of the things that through my career I've had to sort of curb a little bit and, and learn to sort of flex my style rather than full out passion all of the time, which I think is quite wearing for others. Um, but I, I think, you know, from my perspective that, as I say, the synergy between teaching and coaching, so being well prepared for your sessions, making sure that you communicate early, you communicate appropriately. I think just being ambitious in terms of, I guess working with like-minded people. Um, I think setting the ground rules. So I coached a a few young athletes early on, very talented Judy, young athletes, but working with them to sort of balance studies with training, with having some sort of social life and, and how that sort of ebbed and flowed through the year.


And I guess getting to know the individual, getting to know their, their family, their personal circumstances and to, to sort of create the right environment. Cuz every, every athlete is different. Every athlete responds differently to, to coaching style. And I think it's marrying up, um, the individual athlete or that group of athletes with you as a, as a coach and your preferences and, and, and trying to get the best out of each other. So, you know, it's definitely a check and challenge environment. I think it has to be open and honest. Um, but I think, you know, the critical thing is creating safe and secure environments where you can be yourself and you can say how you feel and, and that's on, that's on both sides. Um, so yeah, I mean, I think, you know, coaches come in different shapes and sizes just as athletes come in different shapes and sizes. And, and I think that the trick is, is marrying those different skill sets, experiences, expectations, um, so that you get the best out of each other.

Sue Anstiss (12:09):

And have you seen a change in the culture around coaching elite athletes from MS 30 years ago as you started out Atlanta and so on? Does it feel like it's a different place?

Penny Briscoe (12:20):

It's, that's a really interesting question and I think that, you know, the, the world has moved on, hasn't it, in, in, in the last 30 years. And, and I think, you know, we're we're different generations, you know, I was a different generation as an athlete, as I was, as a coach, as I now am as a, as a director and leader. Um, and I think we have to respond to how generational changes as has impacted in, in what, in what athletes want from their sport, what they want from, you know, their careers, whether, you know, that's as a sport, uh, you know, as an athlete and, and then into, into the future. So I, I think, I think there has been a change. Um, I think we, you know, we, we, we have to listen, we, we have to understand, um, and not just make assumptions, you know, um, as to what, what athletes want now is, is is quite different and, and how they wanna be coached, how they wanna be communicated with, you know, gone emails are, are long gone, aren't they?


I WhatsApp I'm not even sure if WhatsApp's a seen these days, and if you don't do INTA, then you're definitely not in with the, with the, with the kids, are you? So, um, yeah, I mean, I, I think it has shifted. Um, but I think we had great coaches pre lottery and I think we've still got great coaches. Yes, we've had challenges in the system, um, but I think we, when, you know, we're addressing those challenges and, and, and again, quite rightly, you know, health wellbeing of, of athletes health and wellbeing of staff should be paramount to the system if it's gonna be sustainable, if it's gonna be healthy, if it's gonna be positive, you know, from a cultural perspective.

Sue Anstiss (14:03):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And you joined the British Paralympic Association in 2001. So what first attracted you to the, the BPA and working in, in PariSport?

Penny Briscoe (14:13):

Uh, it was, um, it wasn't directly the BPA that I was, I was, I was looking to, so again, this is kind of one of those unintended consequences of a coach Excel, I think it was back in the day, oh yeah, catch up session with, with Rosie Mays. And, um, she's, I said to her, um, you know, maybe looking for change, I've been in this sport for over 30 years now as an athlete and coach and, um, maybe, maybe have something different to, to look forward to post Sydney, maybe do a bit less travelling. I, I remember saying to her, and she, oh, there's a couple of great jobs with David Tillson at the British Paralympic Association coming up, and, uh, maybe you should, you should apply. And I thought, okay, I'll, I'll have a look at that. And they were, uh, I think they were called programme managers at that time.


So I went for an interview, got one of the roles, Josh h Smith later joined, uh, the VPA for, for a short while in a, in a similar role. Um, and then I probably spent the first six months thinking, I'm not sure this is what I expected. I, I, I think I applied thinking that Olympic sport, Paralympic sport were, were in, were parallel at that time. You know, they were, they were just slightly different environments, but the reality was para sport was, was quite developmental, you know, the reality is we were only formed as a bpa, um, in 1989. So the first games as a Paralympics GB was 1992. So whilst our movement was formed out of the atrocities of World War ii, you know, in the mid, in the mid forties, um, our movement is still relatively young compared to it to our Olympic counterparts.


So there hadn't been a lot of investment, you know, the team had had success, um, but it, it was quite developmental. There were pockets of good practise, but I think in 2001 we had two full-time coaches or, or directors. One was in athletics and one was in swimming. And so the, the environment that I came into was quite different. And, and I didn't necessarily feel that the sort of that development side was my, was my skillset. You know, I was used to working with elite athletes, a successful Olympic programme, and it was one of those, i, I guess moments where I just needed to sort of sit and, and just reflect and, and where I got to was I can throw stones from the outside, you know, saying, well, this isn't what I was expecting, or I can kind of roll my sleeves up and really step inside and try and make a difference.


And, and that was what I decided to do, that I would try and, and learn and understand this new environment cuz that effectively was what it was. Um, and try and use my skills and experiences from Olympic sport. And, and that was everything from world class start, you know, to, to potential through to to to the elite level and, and, and try and take those learnings as an athlete, as a coach, as a, you know, the, we, we co-wrote the, the first world class plan, uh, in, in, um, post in that post Atlanta period. Try and take all of those, I guess, skills and experiences and bring them to bear in this new environment. And, you know, it was, it was quite humbling. I learned an awful lot from, from one of my colleagues, Kaz Walton, who was a, one of the, the, um, I guess pioneers of Parasport multiple, um, gold medalist as an athlete, uh, still works for the, for the British Paralympic Association now, and learned so much from her about Parasport worked with, with great people in the bpa and, and, and the system from sort of 2001 onwards just kind of started to evolve.


There wasn't the same level in of investment into Olympic sport, uh, but that really did take a massive step forward when the, the home games were announced in 2005. But I remember quite vividly sort of just taking things back to basics and, and talking about, you know, working with British athletics and how do we manage expectations of the athletes? How do we move not only British athletics para programme, but the ho the global, I guess, parasport programme forward in terms of taking these pockets of best practise and actually using those role models, the, you know, tan Grey Thompson, you know, we had some brilliant, brilliant athletes. How do we take how they work and make that the norm? So, you know, almost raising the bar for every single athlete that comes onto a programme. So we did a, a programme called Beyond Gold. It, yes, we could win goals, but we wanted more than that. We wanted to, you know, professionalise the system, how we train, how we prepare, how we coach, how we manage. Um, and so it was kind of, that's where it started. And um, and then it, you know, the movement has just grown massively, hasn't it?

Sue Anstiss (18:52):

And you, you mentioned there, obviously Paralympics sort of born in the UK and we've got this long and proud history. But how is the BPA viewed globally?

Penny Briscoe (19:02):

I think the, the Bruce Paralympic association's really well respected, um, clearly we're hugely successful down to the talented athletes and their really dedicated support staff. You know, we, we feature highly on the metal table, um, uh, but we also, I think do really well off the field of play. So whether that be in education classification, you know, there's an awful lot we do that I think has benefited not only para sport in gb, but also on a nation, uh, on a global basis. We work collaboratively, uh, with, with colleagues. We, you know, I've mentored, uh, colleagues from around the globe, um, new chef emissions. Um, so I, I think, you know, we take our position really seriously in terms of, yes, of course we wanna be successful, that's what it's all about. Uh, but actually we also want to support the growth of the movement. And I, and I think London certainly helped kick the movement forward with a, with a massive, you know, a massive kickstart. Um, but you know, we've, we've still got a way to go. It's a new movement. Yes, we've made massive, massive strides in, in the 20 years plus that I've been part of the BPA and part of the movement. Um, but there's, there's more to come, you know, we haven't reached a ceiling by, by any means.

Sue Anstiss (20:16):

And what's your day-to-day role now as, as director of sport at the Bridge Paralympic Association?

Penny Briscoe (20:21):

Yeah, I'm part of our exec team, um, so obviously responsible for the overall strategy delivery. So we, we launched a new strategy, a 10 year strategy last year called Championing Change. Um, and that strategy is very much two-pronged. Um, part of the strategy is being that world leading team on the field of play. And part of the strategy is actually how we use success on the field of, of, of play to champion change off the field of play. So how do we change perceptions? How do we create a better lived experience for disabled people? How do we use our position to, to influence, to, to advocate? Um, and, you know, it's a, it's a hugely exciting strategy and, and one that the whole organisation has embraced, which is, is fantastic to see. So there's that kind of level of, of leadership and director responsibility. And then obviously I lead a, a, a small but perfectly formed sport team who are absolutely amazing, um, work very closely with the director of operations in and around everything to do with best prepared team. Um, and, you know, I've been responsible for leading the, the, the development of our best prepared team strategy over multiple game cycles, including our funding submissions to, to UK sport. And, you know, we're hugely grateful as a BPA for, for the lottery support that we've had via UK sport, um, as, as far backer, I think as, as sort of Sydney 2000. So it's a massive part of enabling us to be that world leading national Paralympic committee, and, um, you know, long may it continues.

Sue Anstiss (21:58):

And, and what is it for you personally that makes para sports so special that you've remained in that space for so long?

Penny Briscoe (22:06):

Yeah, so I guess from sort of fairly shaky beginnings, um, it didn't take long actually having made that decision, come on, I can make a difference here. Um, as soon as I met the athletes and, and a couple of the first camps I went on, one was with Botcher, and, um, it was just eye-opening to, to just to see their talent, uh, the skill that they have. Um, and that was like, crikey, I just, I had no idea, um, but just fell in love with it, you know, fell in love with the sport side of things. Um, you know, multi-sport from, you know, boxier to, you know, newer sports such as para badminton, para canoe, triathlon, you know, the athletic swimming, you know, it's an amazing environment to be working with so many different sports, summer and winter. So that in itself is hugely ex exciting as a sport fan.


Uh, but also just the athletes, uh, there were just so many, uh, nicely a very strange word, but lovely people. Uh, you know, they're, they're absolutely ferocious in their, you know, their competitive nature, uh, and determined to do well, but there are just so many great people, the coaches, the PDs, the team leaders. It kind of feels like, you know, I love a hashtag that, you know, and I use in it together. It kind of feels like we're in it together and we're there working to support the, the ambitions of the athletes to support the success of, of the team. Uh, but also I think the broader success of the UK high performance system, um, it, it, it really has felt like a, a journey of and and belonging to something that is hugely exciting, that has evolved over, over, you know, over successive game cycles.


And, and as I've already said, you know, I think the best is, is still to come or more is still to come. Um, so it's fresh, you know, every game is different, every team is different, um, and that, and that's what makes it for me just so exciting. Can we create those environments where every athlete and staff member can deliver those personal best and, you know, medal winning performances, can we create those environments? You know, we get one chance every four years, summer and winter, to create environments where team members have a fantastic time and, you know, clearly we're there to deliver performance, but we're also very, very conscious about team experience. And that for me is the challenge to, to get the balance, but also to create the opportunities to absolutely smash it on the performance front and to see smiles and to see, you know, to hear, just to hear that, you know, the laughter and the camaraderie and, and despite the challenges and, and whether it be Rio, whether it be Tokyo, pyeongchang, Beijing, there were so many smiles, you know, there, there was fun, there was laughter, and, and, and, you know, yes, there was, there was just so much challenge.


But I think being part of teams that have come together in support of the athlete ambitions, uh, and had a, you know, an amazing time in doing so,

Sue Anstiss (25:15):

You painted such an exciting picture making, making the goosebumps just thinking about it. And I guess that feeling of, uh, of the Paralympics for too, we obviously saw such a huge transformation for Paralympic sport around London 2012, which you've alluded to. So how did that feel being on the other side, almost being inside the sport?

Penny Briscoe (25:34):

Uh, I mean, 2012 was, was incredible. And, um, we got a new CEO in, in, in 2011, uh, Tim Holland's work, who's now obviously CEO at Sport England, uh, and working with our director of Mark Arms at the time, Jane Jones. And they were just a formidable force to be reckoned with in terms of the ambition that, that they, they could see in terms of we wanted to be successful on the field of play, but we had this twin track ambition, which was to change perceptions and create change off the field of play. And the reality was that the media hadn't really ever really grasped the potential of Parasport. So my first games in 2004 on the Paralympic side, Tana Grey Thompson, probably winning a ninth and 10th gold medals in, in Athens, probably in front of about 200 people, and a similar number of dogs in the National stadium.


And I was just, it was so, I was just so sad. I, I didn't understand why there was this great sport, but nobody seemed to care. And the British media at that time hadn't embraced Parasport. And, uh, it took awarding of the home games in 2005 and, and Channel four stepping up into that space to really do justice and to shine the spotlight on power athletes for the first time. And, you know, I talk about the athletes stepping out of the shadows of their Olympic counterparts, and, and, and that media spotlight as well as Phil Stadia, which was obviously a, a another part of, of the success of London, just meant that so many people realised just how brilliant Parasport is, how incredible the athletes are, uh, and embraced it. Um, and it, it was such a step forward. Um, and I think that we did, you know, we were successful on the field of play and, and we started to make some inroads.


And whilst that hasn't necessarily been a, a linear progression, I think that the ambition that the organisation clearly stated, um, was one that I think has stood us in good stead, um, as a movement, uh, as an organisation and, and one that just still needs to continue to be worked on. You know, we can't be complacent, uh, in this space. Um, and I think Hannah Cockcroft just in the last few weeks, has, has talked about reigniting the passion for, for Parasport and with a, you know, uh, a European game, so very close over in Paris. We're hoping that without crowds in Tokyo, there wasn't necessarily the same passion, the same further. Um, but I think that the, the Parisians are, are gonna host an incredible games, and I think there'll be, there'll be thousands and thousands of travelling fans who, again, I think it will reignite the passion, uh, for PowerPort. And, and, and then just, I guess, reinforced that platform that allows the athletes to use their voice, uh, for change and, and positive change for, for disabled people.

Sue Anstiss (28:31):

And you talk about that twin ambition there, and I, I've had huge privilege on the game changers to talk to Paralympians, like Tan Grey Thompson and, and Hane Cockcroft Sarah story. And sometimes they've mentioned that the positioning of para-athletes is almost super humans can sometimes be detrimental to disabled people because the public then think every disabled person should be able to compete at elite sport. I don't, not sure what your thoughts are on, on that.

Penny Briscoe (28:58):

Yeah, I th I think it's a, it's an interesting debate, and I think at the time, you know, the channel, channel four, let's not underestimate the, the incredible work that that Channel four have done, uh, to champion Parasport, and that's not just in the uk, that's on a, on a global basis. And I think the Superhuman was laying down a challenge that, you know, don't underestimate the, the, the potential, the talent, the capability of athletes with a disability, and, and, and hence the Superhumans. Uh, and especially as, as Parasport hadn't really been seen. So I think there were, it was a positioning, it was a marketing, uh, and it was also, I think, respectful of, of the fact that para athletes are incredible athletes. Let's not forget that first and foremost, they are incredible athletes. Uh, I, I, I think, you know, the, the sort of, I guess unintended consequences that, that, you know, the general public love parasport, but maybe then some misconceptions that, well, if they can do that, then every disabled person can can achieve that on the field of play.


And that's not the case in non-disabled sports. So, you know, we just need, I think, just to have a little bit of a reality check there. Um, and you know, it's a continuum, isn't it? Participation. So there are non-disabled and disabled people that do sport to stay as fit and well as they possibly can for their mental health, for, you know, uh, grassroots participation. And there were others who, who aspire to be the very best of the very best. And not everyone will be an Olympian who is even an elite athlete in, and the same goes for, for Paralympic sport. So, yeah, I, I think, you know, there's, there's still work to do in, in the space of, you know, in terms of education and messaging and, you know, but I do think, you know, we've, we've made huge strides, especially in terms of London, you know, treated a whole nation to, to para sport. Every kid in the country did a, did a, you know, a project on Olympic and, and Paralympic athletes. We now have generations that have grown up with Parasport being in the spotlight. And I do think that, you know, there's a lot that, that, that has been done in and around messaging and education and, and developing understanding, but it's an, it's an ongoing process, isn't it. Um, so, you know, channel four are doing a great job and can't wait to see their, their future coverage.

Sue Anstiss (31:23):

Absolutely. And what's the, what is the next big shift that you'd like to see in terms of PariSport? We talked about that, the shift that came with London 2012, but is there something else that will, you know, move us forward in a more momentous way?

Penny Briscoe (31:36):

I mean, I actually, is it revolution or is it evolution? I mean, I think, you know, where we are now with a, um, as a parasport movement, the IPC are, are, you know, are as young as we are as a bpa. So, you know, we are, we're still very young in the movement's history, and I think, uh, the IPC is working really hard to extend the global reach of, of Parasport, um, which is, is important. So creating more global diversity, I think it's working really hard just as, you know, nations are in terms of using the athlete voice to, to create social change, which has become a, you know, a hugely significant part of their work. We've got, you know, I think global standards will continue to, to, um, to improve as more nations get involved, as more nations see the value and the importance and the significance of parasport.


I think, you know, there's still work to do in and around, um, the classification system as one example of sort of technical areas within the movement that, that need to, to improve. So yeah, I mean, I think that, that, I think there's lots of headroom and, um, certainly from our perspective as a, as a Paralympics gb, you know, every cycle we're looking to be better. And, you know, we are at this sort of the upper end of sophistication, but let's not forget, you know, the UK high performance system is world leading. Um, and we've still got lots and lots of, of areas where we can improve in terms of athlete preparation, coach preparation, um, you know, you name it, it, it's, we're we're pushing, we're still pushing at a very, uh, open door I think in terms of enhancements and improvements that can be made in and around the team.

Sue Anstiss (33:14):

And your shift mission for Paralympics gb, can you tell us a bit about what that role entails?

Penny Briscoe (33:21):

So Chef Mission, I think is, it's clearly French term and, and obviously means chief of the mission. And, um, I do still get asked what I like to cook <laugh>. And I can tell you that whilst I do like cooking, the thought of cooking for 550 teammates, um, is not, not, I think, where my skillset lies. So yeah, I mean it's in, in, in really basic terms. It's, it's team leader, isn't it? It's leader of the team. So, um, I take responsibility for the team at the games. Um, we have a, a, a president and secretary general that takes sort of responsibility for, for sort of all of the things outside of the, the team in terms of all of our guests and sponsors. And, and so we sort of divide responsibilities between, between the, the sort of athletes and staff team and then the wider, um, games delivery footprint, which is, is huge for us as a Paralympics gb.


So working with my chef mission team, um, we look to create the best possible environment from which to deliver performance. We look at ways that we can ensure a positive team experience. We look at ways as to how ev each and every team member can thrive. So if we can thrive in that high pressured environment that comes around once every four years for some athletes, some staff, it only comes around once. You know, how do we create an environment where everyone can deliver those personal bests? And when I talk about personal bests, I mean, me as a staff member and, and you know, the whole 250 other staff members as well, if we're delivering it our best, then the chances are we're supporting the athletes to, to do exactly the same. So, uh, we, we talk about whole team. When we talk about positive team experience, we talk about whole team, when we talk about thriving and we talk about whole team, when we talk about having a positive experience.


And, you know, it's, um, it's incumbent on me as chef to ensure we uphold the highest standards of, of excellence in, in all of our planning, uh, that we work collaboratively with the national governing bodies. So it really is in it together, um, that we understand the environment that we're going into, cuz that ultimately is the role of the National Paralympic Committee. Um, and that we work with, with the team leaders to understand our team. You know, as I've already said, no two Paralympics GB teams is the same. No games environment is exactly the same. So it's, it's trying to keep on the front foot, um, so that we are able to maximise the opportunity that each games affords us as a Paralympics gb.

Sue Anstiss (35:51):

And, and for the last few games, I mean, you alluded to that earlier, but you faced this enormous additional challenges. So in Rio Paralympics almost didn't take place when the city went bankrupt. You then had extreme heat and humidity, uh, to contend with in Tokyo and all the challenges around Covid in Beijing. So how do you personally cope with the tremendous pressure that comes in that position?

Penny Briscoe (36:14):

Um, I just love the games. I, I, I can't think of a better environment to be in. Um, and I think if you've got that mindset that is just, it's a great, it's a great starting point. I, um, I just reflect often on, um, Vancouver 2010 and it was PREA athletes arriving in village. And, and I just noticed myself that sort of, I guess proprioception that I was kind of walking with a bounce in my stride, which I'm not sure is my normal, my, I don't think I normally have that swagger. Um, but you know, when I get into that environment, I just, I sort of like shoulders back, chin up, you know, big smile, this is it, this is, this is the opportunity. Um, and embrace that opportunity. And, you know, we all have mechanisms to cope when we're, when we're under pressure. Mine is, I like to exercise.


Um, I think I'm also really fortunate in terms I've worked with some incredible, uh, teams. My current chef mission team is hugely experienced. We've got a senior leadership team that is, is passionate, dedicated, hardworking. We've got great experience of issue and, and incident management through, you know, Sachi Rio, Pyong Chang, Tokyo, Beijing, you know, we've had a, a run of, of really challenging games. But I think we've grown as individuals and, and we've grown as a team in terms of, of how we've, you know, how we've managed those environments. And, um, Rio, as you said, you know, I I, I ended up going into Rio early not knowing with, with Berti Nailer, our director of operations, not really knowing what we were gonna find. And, um, and it was challenging and, you know, you set yourself simple tasks and being handed the building over from Team GB and the cleaners had been suspended cuz there was widespread theft.


And it was like, okay, the first thing is let's make this building shine. And uh, so we started with the chef team apartment and then as people came in, we just, we sort of expanded that ambition and, you know, get the science and medicine areas, you know, up and running, let's bring in some new cleaners, let's get the, let's get the apartment sorted. And when the athletes arrive, cause I have a lot of athletes contacting me saying, you know, penny, is it gonna be okay? And it's, uh, it's gonna be okay guys, it's gonna be okay. Just get yourselves over here. And, um, they arrived and it was like, oh, what, what, what's the issue? This looks amazing. And um, and obviously, you know, there were challenges throughout the games, but we took control of what we could control and we created that home from home.


That environment where, where the athletes came in, looks amazing, let's crack on business as usual in terms of them delivering those performances. But, and they, they were hearing stories from other nations that were having a terrible time. And, you know, certainly from my perspective, you know, I think we endeared ourselves to the organising committee and that we tried to support them. We weren't going to the press bad mouthing, we just try to do what we could do because ultimately it's about creating that environment for the athletes who've been working so hard. And the last thing they want to hear from us is us moaning. They want us to hear positivity and it's gonna be okay. And, and it was okay and it wasn't incredible games. And, you know, similarly going into Tokyo games that might not have happened because of Covid. Um, and it was the most challenging environment that I've been involved in.


And, you know, it's a massive thanks to to colleagues at Team GB as well in terms of how collaborative they were in terms of sharing experiences. So we had some insights of what we might be facing, but again, it, it kind of felt like you, we talked earlier on about what's special about the, the Parasport movement and athletes arrived and, and again, didn't bemoan the situation. They were just grateful that they had an opportunity to compete. Um, and they'd worked so hard under, you know, really challenging, you know, uh, prep conditions, uh, home and very little competition. And, you know, we had stories of Ryan shooting shed of a, one of the shooters setting up a shooting, you know, a shooting area through his house into a shed in his garden. You know, there was all sorts of incredible stuff going on, but seeing the athletes smiling, faces getting off the bus coming into the village, brought a tear to my eye.


And it, it really was, it kind of felt like a siege mentality at times, but we came together as the most cohesive team. And I think one of my concerns going into Tokyo is that we wouldn't get kind of positive reflections on the, on the games or the team experience. And it was actually quite the, the, the contrary in terms of as multi games athletes saying, it was actually my best games, my the best experience. And, and I think it was that siege mentality of us being in it together and brought us together as, as a team and the camaraderie and the support. It was just unbelievable. And I think it's testimony to the mindset of, of, uh, of our athletes and, and their support teams and, and, and the Paralympics GB support team as well.

Sue Anstiss (41:24):

And, and how did the delay to Tokyo and then having just three years between the games impact your role? I feel you've been very hard to get hold of, so I know that you're really busy, but, but has it made a massive difference having, uh, you 25% less time almost to prep for Paris?

Penny Briscoe (41:40):

Yeah, I mean, Tokyo, as I say, was brutal because we just planned and re-planned and planned and re-planned and ripped up plans and, you know, everything was happening really last minute. And it meant that, you know, we were trying to focus as well on Beijing, which we knew was gonna be just six months after. And, and where we ended up was, um, splitting the, the chef emission role between summer and winter games. So I was focusing on, on Tokyo, well, we were focusing on Tokyo to be honest, but, um, we'd appointed Phil Smith as first time chef emission for Beijing. So when we got home from Tokyo, I led all of the post Tokyo debriefs whilst Phil and his team just went full steam ahead with that six month window. Uh, and again, facing the same challenges that we had in, in Tokyo of late information planning, replanning, covid, challenges, covid countermeasures, um, but you know, the, the, I think the approach paid off, Phil and his team did an incredible job in, in Beijing.


Um, and in that sort of six months I was focusing more on, on Paris and, and, and getting the, the sort of the plan that was there. It had been there and, you know, um, 18 months, um, sort of resurrecting that plan and trying to fast track it. So, um, it does, it does feel at times we've been playing catch up going into Paris. But, you know, again, I think we're confident, you know, we're confident that we've, we've dealt with such challenging games that, you know, it might not be our optimal delivery, um, timeframe. Um, but actually we know we kind of know what we're doing and, and what to expect. Um, we're all looking forward to a non covid games keeping everything crossed. Uh, we're looking for, you know, forward to a games that's just across the water we're looking forward to. I think it will be a spectacular game.


So, you know, I think the Paris Organising Committee will do an amazing, amazing job. And, and I think just again, yeah, just being positive that it's, it's our next opportunity to showcase, you know, brilliant parasport to global audiences. And, um, yeah, we're all, all working hard. It's, it's probably one of our most complex master plans because we've got, we've got so many sports that are actually preparing in the uk. Um, we've got a handful of sports that are, are preparing in, in, in and around Paris. Uh, we've got lots of different accommodations in, in around Paris. We've got a, a, you know, a huge, you know, guest and commercial programme and friends and family. So it's gonna be really, really exciting. And, um, we're actually going out next week, um, with our team leaders. Um, so we've got a group of 40 going over, um, we've got orientation sessions.


We're gonna get into our building in the village for the first time. We're gonna go meet colleagues from the embassy. We've got, we've got some team development activities. So yeah, it's, you know, we're just under now 500 days to go and it, it really does feel like it's hot in up lots and lots of qualification, um, events coming up for the sport. So yeah, it sort of feels like it's getting to the, to the pointy end of the, of the cycle and, and that we missed quite a bit of the front end of the cycle, but we, we we're getting there.

Sue Anstiss (44:46):

Oh, super exciting. Oh, you've obviously had such a long career at the same organisation, but it's an organisation that's changed significantly over time too. I was gonna ask you if you've considered other roles. When I hear your passion, enthusiasm, I can kind of see why not, but have you thought about other sports, other roles, uh, in your time there?

Penny Briscoe (45:05):

Yeah, I, I had a bit of a sticky patch, um, just in terms of how, how I was feeling about my role, sort of Beijing time and, but the sort of the lure of, of London really, I, I, I guess kept, kept me going. And, and then with Tim Hollandsworth coming in, in, in 2011, we just, we sort of created a, a, a sort of relationship CEO, director of sports chef mission relationship that was incredible. You know, really complimentary skillsets. Um, I was dis disappointed not to get the chef gig going into our home games in 12, but sort of Tim explained to me that it was really important that I worked closely with him to get the new strategy online and, and, um, you know, uh, Craig Hunter came in as, as chef mission and, you know, I'd, I had a bit of a wobble at that point.


And, and again, it was another one of those moments where I, I sort of sat down and had a stern talking to myself as to if I walked away at that stage, what would it say about me and my values, what would it say about me and everything that I'd, I'd committed to, to parasport over that first decade. And that, you know, I was as passionate as as to support the athletes going into London as as I ever was. And I just had to put my personal ambitions sort of slightly on, on the side burner and, and hope that I would get an opportunity based on continued good performance. And, um, and, and I did. And, you know, and it, it's, it's relationships like the one that I had with Tim that real, really helped reignite your, your, your passion sometimes. Um, so, and, and as I said, every game is different, every team is different.


Um, London was a catalyst to, to being, in some ways feeling like I was in a different movement post London than that, than I had been. And, and it just felt it was, you know, an opportunity to stay and just to see where we were, we were going. It, it was just so good to see the athletes being recognised. It was, you know, the, the, it was so good strictly come dancing to question of sport, to the bake off, you name it, power athletes were, were there, you know, pre London, probably Tan Grey and, and Addie were the two athletes that that, that sort of the general public knew about. But every community now has, has embraced Parasport has their own parasport heroes and, you know, it's quite right that, that we're seeing the guys get the recognition that, that that deserve. So yeah, I'd say two, if a game's two halves, then my career at the BPA has been the sort of the pre London and then the, the Post London.


And, and us as an organisation, we we're far more ambitious, um, having had the, the opportunity of a home game to, to really sort of strike out, uh, in terms of our strategy and, and not just the sort of the, the sort of championing change in terms of the sort of the advocacy. We've got a Parasport platform, which is, is now, uh, rebranded as everybody moves. It's a community platform designed to, to get, you know, en engaged, get connections, provide opportunities, and, you know, we know that disabled people were, were disproportionately impacted by Covid. We know the similar, uh, disproportionality of, of the cost of living crisis. And, and I think we're, you know, we're ambitious to play a role in, in terms of creating opportunity, creating a difference, uh, championing change, just kind of what it says on the, on the tin, really. So it's, it's an exciting time and, and I think if you, if you get up in the morning and you feel passionate and you can smile about the day you've got ahead, um, then it, it's why, why, why would you seek something else if you don't believe it, it would be better.


Um, you know, I like, there's a, a lot of variety in the role I get to support, um, sponsor, uh, events and activities. I, I, I like, I like the public speaking side. I like being able to talk passionately about Parasport and promote the team and the athletes. Uh, so yeah, I just feel like I've got a lot of variety still in the role. We've got different games coming up, Milan, Cortina, so we've got another European games, and then we're onto LA and, you know, every games is different. Um, and I just love the thought of what are the challenges gonna be for this next game? What's our cunning plan gonna be to create those optimal environments? How can we ensure that, um, you know, every team member can thrive, every team member can have that positive team experience. How can we be that valued and, and trusted system partner, you know?


Cause I think that that's also something that, that I'm, I'm highly conscious of, and I think is something that as a bpa, we've, we've grown into that space and, and that's something that I'm really, really proud of. Um, so yeah, we've evolved. Um, we're gonna continue to evolve and, um, yeah, I, I I love the people, you know, I think people, people make it for you, don't they? And, um, we have some incredible people in the powersport movement and in the UK health performance system, and they're, they're valued colleagues that I really enjoy working with.

Sue Anstiss (50:10):

Brilliant, brilliant. Um, and lastly, I was really excited to learn that your daughter, Lizzie is a potential world class athlete too. So can you tell me about her, her ambitions and I guess what it feels like on the other side of being a parent of, of an athlete at that level too?

Penny Briscoe (50:26):

I empathise and sympathise with every sporting parent, <laugh>, especially with very determined, um, young athletes. Uh, get myself into hot water. Lizzie hates me talking about. So, um, Lizzie is, um, part of the British Triathlon programme, um, just like a mom. She's a, um, out and out sport, not her brother was equally, uh, sporty, but is, um, moving on to other university endeavours. Um, but Liz has been, I think, really fortunate in terms of she's, she's a talented athlete. She was a, played for Darby Football Academy, girls Academy, um, great runner, um, uh, before finding Triathlon, which was through school, a very, very committed, um, teacher, uh, who, who is now a, a, a family friend. So thank you, Helen Dusek, uh, thank you for Life Tri Club, um, in here in Knots. Great support, great volunteer base. Um, and then moving through to sort of, you know, the, the regional academy onto the England next generation squad, getting selected for GB Youth GB Junior, uh, and last year getting her first international medals as an individual and also a mixed team, uh, relay bronze in the European championship. So, you know, the, I think, um, you know, this thanks to, to the British Triathlon Pathway, which, which does support young athletes really well. And, um, she's at lead university now, uh, which is obviously one of the, the key centres for British Tribe. She's got a new coach in non Stanford, which she, she's Oh,

Sue Anstiss (51:59):

Wow, excited.

Penny Briscoe (52:00):

Fabulous. Hugely excited by. So, um, and I think she's just a really pragmatic young athlete in terms of she wants to continue to get better in each of the disciplines. She knows how important that is. She's a really honest, hardworking athlete, um, and I think she just wants to be able to represent Great Britain at, at every level. And she's got a challenge in year, first year uni she's in, stepped up into the under 23 age category. So hopefully it's just a year of, of consolidation and, um, and then looking at, at, at, at to where that might go in terms of future GB selection. So, um, I just wanted to be happy and happy Yeah. And, and to love a sport. And, um, you know, I've, I, I love sport, you know, I've loved sport all my life and, you know, I know the opportunities that it can give you, not just in terms of, of being an elite athlete, but the life skills that, that being in the, in the sport and environment, you know, um, I guess enables you with. So, um, yeah, we'll see.

Sue Anstiss (53:00):

<laugh> brilliant. Is that balancing the, between being a parent and the coaching sports balance too, isn't it? You're you're taking two roles there?

Penny Briscoe (53:09):

Yeah, I, I get, I get told off quite a lot it, mom, so, um, yeah, I, I think, I guess I'm just trying to share my experiences, mom. So I'm thankful that, that she listens to, and, um, I, I think, as I say, you know, uh, what's great about sport is that athlete, that athlete coach relationship and, and finding the coach that can, can get the best out of, out a young athlete and help help 'em on their way. And I guess that's where I started a long time ago. And, um, um, yeah, let's, let's see where she goes. Guys,

Sue Anstiss (53:47):

I really enjoyed talking to Penny. If you'd like to hear more from other senior women leading Bushes Sport, head over to Fearless where you'll find other episodes where I speak to the likes of Sally Mundy, Liz Nichol, Katherine Granger Su Day, and Claire Connor. As well as listening to all the podcasts on the website. You can also find out more about the Women's Sport Collective, a free inclusive community for all women working in sport. You can sign up for the Fearless Women Newsletter, which highlights the developments in global women's sport, and there's more about my book game on the unstoppable rise of women's sport. Thank you again to Sport England for backing the Game changers through a National Lottery Award and to Sam Walker at What Goes On Media, who does such a great job as our executive producer. Thank you also to my colleague at Fearless Women, Kate Hannon. The Game Changers is free to listen to and you can find it on all podcast platforms. Do follow us or subscribe to make sure you don't miss out on future episodes, and if you have a moment to leave a review or a rating, it'd be much appreciated as it really helps us to reach new audiences. Do come and say hello on social media where you fire me on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter at Sue Anstiss. The Game Changers, fearless Women in Sport.