To celebrate Parents in Sport Week 2021 we take a look at the family background of one of England’s top players – Toby Penty.
Over the last decade Toby Penty has become one of England’s top badminton stars.
His career took off when winning the English U19 National Championship back in 2011, and since then he has consistently delivered at tournaments all over the world, winning the Scottish Open in 2017, as well as having multiple European Championship medals to his name.
But what is often forgotten is the family behind the athlete. The parents who support and mentor their children for them to develop into the elite performers we know today.
Toby’s dad, Andy Penty, was an excellent club player in his youth and so both his sons were both always likely to pick up a racket.
“My first memory of him (Toby) playing was when we used to take him on Sundays, with my older son Ben (four years senior) to play in Kingston,” said Andy.
“The coach who was running the junior badminton at the Xcel centre in Walton said ‘why don’t they come and play here as well’.
“That was when Toby was nine years old and that was the first time he really played weekly.
“But I wouldn’t be involved in watching them play or anything, it was more just a case of dropping them off and letting them enjoy it.
“Ben was playing competitions before Toby actually started, so he had something to aspire towards I guess.”
Of course, Penty’s parents aren’t unique in being prepared to give up their own time in order to see their child pursue the sport of their choice.
But what also perhaps helped the 29-year-old is the rich and varied sporting backgrounds of the family he was born into.
“Both families, my wife Kate’s family and my side of the family, have always played sport,” explained the senior Penty.
“My dad used to play tennis, as did my elder brother and he was just below the standard of playing the juniors at Wimbledon.
“My wife’s side were all runners, so sport has always been around.
“Toby originally began at Elmbridge Eagles, which I helped run and still help out at now. They helped him in the early days, but it got to the stage where Ricky (the coach there) said ‘this is as far as I can take him’.
“He then used to get regular coaching at Wimbledon once a week, so he improved quickly.
“Then he started playing junior tournaments from there. At the height of that period Kate was doing 20,000 miles per year driving, nowadays (post-retirement) we barley do six!
“We bought our car at that time, with 11,000 miles on the clock and by the time we had sold it five years ago it had 167,000.”
However, it wasn’t as if during those early days Andy and Kate knew they had a clear star on their hands. It actually took Penty a while to fulfil his potential, as his father explains.
Andy said: “He was a slow developer in some ways, because when he first started playing he was up against boys who were much more powerful on court, and physically stronger.
“He was small up to the age of 16, but then grew really quickly and went over 6 foot. He wasn’t a newcomer on the block really.
“I think when he won his first gold (on the junior circuit) that was my proudest moment. Because it takes a long time to get to that standard.
“I remember when he was 14 in Leicester, he came up against a French player who was really well-built and who beat him easily, Toby was physically overpowered. It is about helping them get over those moments and just keep sticking with it.”
But whenever tough moments came, Penty’s mum and dad helped him build resilience and develop into the player we see today.
As this week celebrates Parents in Sport, what advice would Andy give to others who may be about to go through something similar?
He added: “It is difficult, but I wouldn’t say we were the pushy sort, which probably helped. You just give your full support and as a parent just do your best.
“If you give them that support and just make sure you are always there if they need you, you can’t do any more than that really.
“I learnt over the years not to talk to him straight after tournaments, because players are often still emotional after a defeat, but you learn these things.
“I have seen kids break rackets and all sorts! But just be committed and not be too pushy really. That is all children want from their parents, I truly believe that.”