To celebrate Parents in Sport Week 2021, we take a look at the family background of one of England’s greatest players – Toby Penty.
Over Over the last ten years, Toby Penty has become one of England’s top badminton stars.
His career began by winning the England Under-19 Championship in 2011 and since then he has consistently performed well in tournaments around the world, winning the Scottish Open in 2017 and winning multiple medals at European Championships.
However, what is often forgotten is the family behind the athlete. The parents who support and mentor their children so that they develop into the elite artists we know today.
Toby’s father, Andy Penty, was an excellent club player in his youth and it was likely that both his sons would always be picking up a racquet.
“My first memory of him (Toby) was when we took him to Kingston on Sundays to play with my older son Ben (four years older),” Andy said.
“The coach who ran junior badminton at the Xcel center in Walton said, ‘Why don’t they come and play here too?’
“That was when Toby was nine 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 about putting them down and letting them enjoy it.
“Ben was competing before Toby even started, so I think he had something to aspire to.”
Of course, Penty’s parents aren’t the only ones willing to sacrifice their free time to see their child follow the sport of their choice.
But what may also have helped the 29-year-old is the rich and diverse sporting background of the family he was born into.
“Both families, my wife Kate’s family and my side of the family have always played sports,” explained the senior Penty.
“My father used to play tennis, as did my older brother, and he was just below standard to play the juniors at Wimbledon.
“My wife’s team was all runners, so sport has always existed.
“Toby originally started at Elmbridge Eagles, which I helped out with and still help out with. They helped him in the early days, but it got to the point where Ricky (the coach there) said, “That’s all I can bring with him”.
“He then got regular coaching at Wimbledon once a week, so he improved quickly.
“Then he started playing junior tournaments from there. At the peak of that era, Kate was driving 20,000 miles a year, today (after retirement) we’re barely driving six!
“We bought our car with 11,000 miles on it and when we sold it five years ago it had 167,000 miles on it.”
However, it wasn’t as if Andy and Kate knew in those early days that they had a bright star on their hands. It actually took Penty a while to reach his potential, as his father explains.
Andy said: “He was a slow developer in a way because when he started playing he was up against guys who were a lot stronger and physically stronger on the pitch.
“He was small until he was 16, but then he grew very quickly, reaching over 6ft. He wasn’t really a freshman on the block.
“I think when he won his first gold (on the junior track) that was my proudest moment. Because it takes a long time to reach this standard.
“I remember when he was 14 at Leicester he met a French player who was really well built and beat him easily. Toby was physically overwhelmed. It’s about helping them get over those moments and just move on.”
But in difficult moments, Penty’s mother and father helped him build resilience and grow into the player we see today.
As this week celebrates Parents in Sport, what advice would Andy give to others who may be going through something similar?
He added: “It’s difficult but I wouldn’t say we were the pushy sort, which probably helped. You just give your full support and just do your best as a parent.
“If you give them that support and just make sure you’re always there when they need you, there really isn’t more you can do.
“I’ve learned over the years not to talk to him right after tournaments because players are often still emotional after a loss, but you learn those things.
“I’ve seen kids breaking rackets and all sorts of things! But just be committed and don’t be too pushy. That’s all kids want from their parents, I’m sure of it.”