Ellen Keane is no stranger to the sporting world. The four-time Paralympian was Ireland’s youngest ever athlete, who at just 13 years old, swam at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. She also made three finals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and a bronze in the breaststroke at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. In 2021, Ellen swam to the pinnacle of her sport by winning gold in the 100m breaststroke at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Despite all her accolades, Ellen has openly shared a struggle that she encountered during her teen years, something that many young girls are most likely to face today: low body confidence and self-esteem.
"As I became a teenager, I began to notice how different my body was to everyone else’s. And I got really good at putting myself down that when it came to swimming itself, it wasn’t just like a switch I could turn off," Ellen said.
New research from Dove has shown that 1 in 3 young girls in Ireland have considered quitting sports due to low body confidence and self-esteem and the biggest driver of girls dropping out is the impact a sports environment can have on their body confidence and self-esteem. Almost 50% of girls aged 10-17 haven't participated in sports due to body image concerns. Embarrassment in changing rooms, fear of judgment, and even pretending to be sick are common ways to get out of participating in sport.
Ellen was able to overcome this battle thanks to the help of her coach, Hayley Burke, who played a pivotal role in helping Ellen see her own potential.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches over the years who may have not treated me the way I needed to be treated in terms of recognising that I am a disabled athlete and I do need to train a little bit differently,” Ellen explained.
“In London 2012, I was probably at the peak of feeling really insecure about my arm and my body and I didn’t perform as I had kind of dreamt it would happen. I remember Hayley at the time was my chaperon and saying to me you just need to believe in yourself because I think there’s something great in you.”
Hayley Burke has been a part of Ellen’s swimming journey from the beginning of her Paralympic career. "She had to kind of fall a little bit and figure that out herself. I’ve always believed in her, I always believed that she could do that."
“I’ve always believed in her, I’ve always believed that she could do that. In the beginning of her career did I know how good she’d be? Probably not. But I think that was my own insecurities as me as a coach - Could I get her there?”
In an exciting move, Dove has teamed up with Nike to launch the Body Confident Sports programme. This initiative aims to instill body confidence in girls globally, transforming sports into a place where they feel a profound sense of belonging.
Recognizing the pivotal role coaches and mentors play, the Body Confident Sports programme was created to help girls and young people of all gender identities feel more comfortable being active and participating in sport. By providing coaches with the tools to nurture body confidence, the Body Confident Sports programme paves the way for a future where every girl can embrace sports with confidence, resilience, and a profound sense of self-worth.
Visit bodyconfidentsport.com to learn more about the tools and resources available.
Nearly 50% of girls in Ireland feel that coaches need more support to foster confidence, and the programme steps in precisely here. It equips coaches with the materials needed to tailor their approach, creating an environment that inspires body confidence and sets the stage for success. The Body Confident Sports programme is a groundbreaking, evidence-based coaching toolkit tailored for 10 to 17-year-old girls. Accessible online, it equips coaches and mentors with the resources to inspire body confidence and empower girls for success - delivering tools to enhance girls' body confidence, body image, and self-esteem through various organizations, schools, and sports clubs.