Young athletes in Chattanooga have a chance to pair up with an Olympic competitor in a new mentoring program. (Photo: Tom Sodoge, StockSnap)

A new nonprofit is giving Chattanooga athletes the chance to be mentored by an Olympic champion for a year. 

The True Athlete Project founder Sam Parfitt, a Norfolk, England, native, is a former UTC tennis player and former director of athletics at Chattanooga’s St. Peter’s School. 

He’s a professional tennis coach and certified mindfulness teacher, who has created a network of elite athletes who aim to “develop the whole person through sport.”

The True Athlete Project is accepting seven to 10 people between the ages of 14 and 24 for its new mentoring program, which aims to provide young athletes with a personalized mental skills curriculum.

The team includes the head of performance at the Danish Fencing Federation, Laurence Halsted, and the director of sports psychology at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Mike Jonson.

The holistic curriculum has five key areas, designed to improve athletic performance, nurture good mental health and cultivate a healthier sports culture: performance, identity and values, mindfulness, nature and connectedness, and community responsibility. 

Athletes also receive a six-week mindful performance enhancement course, delivered online, by creator Dr. Keith Kaufman. 

Parfitt said he’s had a range of sports experiences-some wonderful and others terrible. Bullying, discrimination, doping, anxiety and depression can be prevalent in the sports world, he said. 

“I knew I wanted to try to make society a kinder place and felt I could do that through sport, which was the thing I felt most passionately about and knew most about,” he said via email. “I saw the massive gulf between the first inspirational joyous moments of sport we experience as children and what sport becomes for so many. It needn’t be that way.” 

Through the mentoring program, athletes will connect online with an Olympian whom they will work with for one year in a personalized curriculum. They will also have access to the project’s network of people. 

The program director is Pam Boteler, a 32-time national canoe champion and the first woman to defeat men in the U.S canoeing nationals.

“It’s exciting and personally very rewarding, observing the immediate, positive impact on the lives of athletes we have the privilege to serve,” she said in a prepared statement. 

The program’s first relationship is between a young, blind British sprinter and the world’s fastest blind sprinter and Rio de Janeiro gold medalist David Brown.

The program costs $450 per year, and scholarships are available. In addition, the team is seeking individuals and organizations to sponsor a young athlete with a scholarship in their name.

To sign up, interested athletes should email Parfitt at [email protected].

From there, Parfitt will have a personal conversation with each applicant to see if it’s a good match.

“It’s quite flexible,” he said. “If it’s the right person, we are not going to turn anyone away.”