Ellie Soutter was a future Olympian and rising snowboarding star in Great Britain. She also suffered from mental health issues. Last week, Soutter died on her 18th birthday in the French Alps of an apparent suicide, reportedly distraught about missing a flight to join her teammates for training ahead of this month’s Junior World Championships. Her father, speaking out for the first time to BBC South East, blamed the intense pressure young athletes face at that level of competition for her death.
“She felt she’d let them down,” said Tony Soutter of his daughter’s missed flight. “She felt she’d let me down and just tragically it just takes one silly little thing like that to tip someone over the edge, because there’s a lot of pressure on children.” Soutter was the only medalist from Team GB at last year’s European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in Turkey, winning bronze, and reportedly had already been tapped to compete for Great Britain in the 2022 Olympics in China.
“She wanted to be the best,” her dad added, stressing that there needs to be more support for young athletes who compete at elite levels. “Mental health awareness needs to be really looked at and made more public.” Soutter moved his daughter from England to the French Alps in 2009 to train, and she was homeschooled in order to focus on snowboarding. Her body was found in the woods a week after going missing from a nearby ski resort in Les Gets, France.
While the pressures felt by young Olympians is obviously more intense than those placed on kids playing Little League, there are lessons to be learned for everyday parents. In fact, recent studies have found that athletes who specialize in a sport too early not only run the risk of burnout but also of repetitive injuries. Meanwhile, 55 percent of parents with kids who play sports push them to specialize, despite doctors advising against the practice.
Even more troubling, 80 percent of the parents who hire personal trainers and coaches are convinced their child has the potential to compete at the collegiate or professional level, despite the fact that only two percent of high-school athletes nationwide receive NCAA athletic scholarships.
And with that kind of delusion, there’s something to be said about keeping tabs on the level of athletic pressure parents, or coaches, are putting on their kids ⏤ even at the recreational level. Soutter’s death should serve as a reminder that while pushing kids to be their best is an important life lesson, pushing them too far can be dangerous.