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'The sky's the limit': Josh Rudd reflects on success of Pride in Water network

08 June 2022

To mark Pride Month 2022, Josh Rudd – Performance Lifestyle Practitioner with the English Institute of Sport (EIS) – reflects on the progress of his Pride in Water initiative and its potential to continue making waves in the years to come.

It’s been almost two years since Josh Rudd founded Pride in Water, a network set up to support LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers across the aquatics community.

Rudd said that his initial motivations were to create a space that would enable people to come together, and fill a gap in terms of representation in elite sport.

He was able to take advice from the Athletics Pride Network – at that time the only equivalent group within a national governing body in the UK – as part of nine months of research and conversations, before launching in August 2020.

As well as the invaluable support of British Swimming in getting the network up and running, Rudd also points to his role as a Performance Lifestyle Practitioner with the EIS as being “pretty fundamental” in helping him to understand the needs of athletes.

The Performance Lifestyle (PL) team work with all World Class Programme athletes to support their wellbeing and to develop their personal and professional development alongside their sporting careers.

“My PL experience gave me scope to grow something like this [Pride in Water] and, because PL is so varied, it allows you to have such a wide-ranging level of knowledge and experience,” Rudd explained.

“I would say that was a massive part of it, and I also think having a bit of empathy and strong working relationships with athletes. Really getting to know athletes allowed me to be more in-depth in my questions and work with them to understand, ‘Is this something that you want?’

“The rapport and the empathy that we build with athletes, we gain their trust to be able to really listen to them and to what they want.”

Josh Rudd, EIS Performance Lifestyle Practitioner

After taking its first steps in 2020, Pride in Water relaunched in 2021, and it is now an independent body outside of British Swimming, which Rudd said has allowed the network to branch out into other areas and work with organisations like Swim England and the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Rudd himself is less involved in the day-to-day running of the network – supporting now as a Vice-Chair of the group – as Pride in Water has grown from an initial meeting which attracted 35 to 40 people to an organisation with a chairperson and board of members, and engagement with several hundred social media users.

It has a wide range of participants – from elite athletes and coaches, to members of grassroots swimming clubs – which means that anyone looking to join the community now can access whatever level of support or opportunities to talk that they want.

“It has surpassed my expectations massively,” Rudd added.

“I remember I was kind of apprehensive that it would be a bit of a flop, but at the first meeting I thought, ‘That’s 35 more people than I thought we were going to get.’

“I still get messages, probably once a month, from people saying, ‘You don’t realise how much seeing this group on Instagram or seeing this group with a website on British Swimming’s homepage means to me as a person that’s LGBTQ+ and enjoys the sport.’

“Seeing this growth from what was an idea in lockdown right the way through to our chair supporting the Commonwealth Games Federation in setting up their own network [the Commonwealth Sport Pride Network], that’s massive for me.

“But also seeing people that maybe aren’t out to their family and friends, and find that this helps them to understand what it means to be in aquatics and LGBTQ+… those two things are equally as impactful to me and the journey that I’ve been on in creating this.”

With the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham this year, Rudd hopes that there will be an opportunity for a face-to-face get-together to celebrate Pride in Water and the progress made so far, which the network’s members have so far been denied due to Covid-19.

Beyond Birmingham 2022, Rudd believes that “the sky’s the limit” for what Pride in Water can achieve.

“I’d really like to see in the next three to five years, Pride in Water being a real driver for success in sports,” he said.

“I remember when I first started it, I wanted to see athletes who felt comfortable to come forward at a younger age that maybe didn’t see a pathway into the elite system because there was no real representation or somewhere like Pride in Water for them.

“I’d love to see in five to 10 years’ time athletes coming through the system who feel wholly comfortable in themselves because Pride in Water has supported them or they felt supported because Pride in Water is there, and that to me as a long-term vision would be fantastic.

“We’re already being asked to inform strategy for governing bodies across different networks, and we’re being asked to support other sports and support other networks in creating their own. I’ve probably helped six to 10 sports who wanted to ask, ‘How did you set this up? How did you go about it?’

“I think if we can keep growing that, keep informing people, keep in impacting people in a positive way, that’s success to me.”

You can find out more information about Pride in Water here, and details about the EIS Performance Lifestyle team here.