School of Sport and Service Management

George wrapped in the Union Jack at the British championship

Podcast: Catching up with sports scholar George Mills

In the latest podcast, we catch up with sports scholar and Sport and Exercise Science BSc student George Mills, who’s just become British Indoor athletics champion in the 1500m in Glasgow.

A week before that he raced in a world class field to go third in the British rankings over the same distance.

George has an outside chance of competing in the Olympics – he talks about that, what it means being a sport scholar here and how his course helps him, and talks about his famous dad – the former England footballer Danny Mills.

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George, firstly huge congratulations on your indoor title, British Champion. How does that sound?
Thank you very much. Obviously means a massive deal to me, it’s been something I’ve wanted to achieve for a long time and to be able to achieve that indoors made me proud and it was very nice, achieving targets for the indoor season, like a nice step in the right direction.
Yeah. Did it take you by surprise?
I’ve been training well, ever since we came back into training around September. But I just wanted to execute my plan that the coach gave me and then see what happens if I give my all. And you never know.
Yeah. So, this was a successful double header in Glasgow. 1500-meter personal best at the indoor grand prix, which again, is one of the biggest indoor events in the world and that took you third in the British rankings and then a week later you then win the 1500 meters at the British Athletics Indoor Championships to win the title.
The week before the British champs in Glasgow, it was a surprise I got in the race. I got called the Wednesday night before, because there was a drop out. They said would you like to fly up and race? I jumped at the chance obviously, cos I knew how good an opportunity it was to compete at that level against some unbelievable athletes who have been there, done it, done it all. It was just a great opportunity for me to learn. It was a win win situation no matter what happened. And fortunately, enough, I was able to come away with a big PB.
Best field you have run in?
Oh 100 percent.
So, is that quite interesting then to run in that kind of field? To run in that kind of field that obviously has pushed you on?
Yeah, definitely assortments to be around in the warm up area. Be around people who you’ve seen for like five years or been watching the sport scene, watching Olympics world champs. But then also the atmosphere of the crowds and the people there, the cameras, everything like that. It was such a big event. And the biggest event I’ve ever been involved in, there was lots of great stuff to take in and take to the future.
So, let’s go back a bit. Is athletics something you’ve been into for a long time?
So obviously no surprise, I started playing football, obviously, because of my Dad. When I was young, playing football at a local club and then school and everything. I only got really into running seriously, probably about 15,16. When I was younger, my parents would make me keep fit, go for runs that sort of thing. I would always do the cross-country races in primary school and then when I moved to secondary school, there was more serious athletics teams. I was involved in that about the age of 14. We had the team in the schools or something like that in my age group. I kind of realised, oh I’m quite good at this and then kind of just snowballed from there. Each year, taking it more and more seriously, getting me to where I am now.
Yeah. So, tackling the elephant in the room then who’s your dad?
Danny Mills
Danny Mills, there we go. We’ll come to that in a bit. I want to tackle that in a minute. So here at the University of Brighton, you are on a Sports Scholarship, you studying sports and exercise science, is that correct? So, was it the university first or was it the opportunity to come and train?
To be honest, it was the opportunity to come down and be part of John’s group. Yeah. Like he was in the process of setting up like pulling athletes from outside the area. And I was coming to my end of time at school. I was like, oh, this is an opportunity that I feel like I should take. Otherwise, I feel like I might regret it. So, I thought I’ll come down here, join John’s Group and then kind of worked uni around that, Brighton being the great uni it is, I thought I will do my course here!
Yeah. So, John Big. He’s a coach who trains up around the South Downs. You’ve got the Olympians. Charlie Grice. You’ve got Commonwealth silver medallist their Carl Langford- you’re training with a pretty decent set up.
Yeah. One hundred percent. So again, like I mentioned earlier, it’s a great opportunity to learn and train around people who have been there and done it and are performing right at the top level. Those sorts of experiences that you can take from them and then they’ll push you in training. And obviously I want to beat them in training and be pushing against them in training, which it automatically like brings you onto makes you perform better.
I will definitely come back to that. So, like we said you are on a sports scholarship? What sort of support does that mean you receive here?
So, the Uni have been great. So earlier this year, I went to a training camp in South Africa and they gave me about three, four weeks off- well not off but they were like flexible. They said you don’t have to come to the lectures as you can do your work out there, met all the deadlines-they were really helpful with that. Prior to going out there a friend of mine, helped me out with some work in the altitude chamber. So, I went in there five or six times before I went out to South Africa to just to help me acclimatise and stuff like that. And also, with the with the facilities are over there, it’s great to be able to learn more about the demands of the sport and the different things that can have an influence on your performance.
Yeah, that knowledge that you’re getting from your studies has got to be having a good impact on your training?
Yeah, without a doubt. So, with all of the research papers I’m having to read the lectures I am in. I’m a big on learning, getting as much experience as I can and then applying that in any way that’s possible. So, with the with the sports course, I’ve tried to focus it more on the performance side, the stuff that I want to learn, which is nice. You can kind of pick and choose the sort of things that you want to work on, but like getting insights from people who have been working in that area for however many years have so much knowledge. And whether that’s performance analysis, S and C, heat training, altitude training, like just talking to lots of different people who have lots of different ideas and prior experience in those areas is really helpful when it comes to gaining as much knowledge as you can and then applying that into the areas that you want to for your training as well.
Yeah. Kind of the ideals of training resource. When you’re not training, I guess you’re studying?
Yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. So, it’s a really nice switch off being able to go into a uni and I’m still focusing on sport and what I mean because that’s what I’m interested in. But then being able to apply that within my within my training.
Do you see yourself using it as well further down the line? We all know sports careers are short.
Yeah, 100 percent. I enjoy what I’m doing at uni I am very interested in how you can improve performance really. Because at the end of the day, everybody knows the big things that come back. If you can find a little one or two percenter in like a cool little different study or something like that or a supplement or something different to do with your warm up then yeah. I’d love to work in that area in the future.
The university have just got a new accreditation, if you know about it. Which means that’s maybe attracting more sports scholars here in the future. I say for anyone that may be considering coming here on a sports scholarship to help supplement their sporting careers. What would you say to them?
The sports scholarships been great I have been working closely with the Uni. They’re really helpful with everything that I need. They’ve got the help set up like massage therapies and stuff for like a very reduced fee because that stuff’s expensive. So, they’ve got very good links with that. I think they also do lots of S and C work. I get that from training if someone else is coming down they would have access to fantastic gyms, whether that’s in a sport or here. Yeah. And again, lots of conversations that you can have with people who have had lots of experience in sporting performance and competitive areas.
How tricky do you find it then, trying to balance these two?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult. Like sometimes I get in from training and Ive planned to get home and do some work. And then that’s just a complete write off because it’s been like three session that I’m actually off my feet like tired and just want to chill out. But to be honest, I’m always in constant conversation with my lecturers, like exchanging emails. I know the situation, if I have to ask them a few questions over email rather than going to meet them or something. That is OK. It’s also about just knowing when your deadlines are, if you know, when your deadlines are, you can prepare what you need to do before. If you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail. That’s one of the things my dad used to tell me, it is the same as everything.
Yeah. So, what do your teammates think of you doing your degree as well at the same time?
Probably about half of us have done agree. A couple of them work. So, I think just kind of the process you go through because two years ago I wasn’t good enough to go and be a full-time athlete. I needed something else to work on, something else to do. Coming to this period now. I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m enjoying training, enjoying uni, and I know how both of them are starting to work a little bit more.
So, coming back to the set up you are involved in with John Big. So, it’s an offshoot of a local club, Brighton Phoenix. We talked about training with these guys who have been at massive, massive athletics events around the world. Do you still feel like you are soaking up a lot from them?
Yeah, definitely. So, when I first came down, it was about September 2017. I was naive as anything as an athlete. Like most young people. You think you know; you think you know so much, but then you come into this environment, you’re like I had nothing. So, yes, especially when I’m on training camps with them you’re living together. You’re in close contact all the time. You’re doing all the runs, all the sessions together. You’re going out for dinner together. I just like to ask questions to them to try and learn as much as I can. So, I’m quite a bit younger than all of them. So, I try to take as much as I come from their previous experiences, how they like to do things. And you can kind of take bits from everywhere to work out what works best for you.
You’re quite a tight knit group. It’s a kind of a strange sport. You’re all individually running for yourselves. At the same time, you’re usually trying to make the same team.
Yeah. So, everybody’s really good friends, to be honest. So, it’s nice because athletics is usually an environment where it’s just you but with everybody all operating a really high level, everyone understands and everybody wants to almost keep pushing each other in training. So, if you are having an off day, someone’s going to be feeling good. So, you’ve got to try and push them, but then on the social side of things it’s a bit more relaxed and you will go for a few more coffees or whatever something that together got for dinner. That sort of thing. And yes, it’s not always talking about training. Sometimes it’s just nice to just have a normal chat with them and that sort of thing.
Yeah, absolutely. Going back to Glasgow then. I mean pretty ideal start to season for you, couldn’t really have gone much better. Obvious question what are the targets you’ve got coming up?
So, in indoors, for me, it was about just experience, getting as much knowledge as I could have. So, I’ve not done a lot of work in the area before. And then I finished fantastically well, could not have been happier. So that’s a massive positive going into the summer but going into the summer. I just want to keep improving. Just want to keep improving. Like stay healthy and again get as much experience I can and get to the Olympic trials on the 20th of June in the best shape I can possibly be myself. And we’ll see what happens. Yeah. Because it’s unrealistic to think I’m going to make the Olympic team to be honest, there’s a lot of very good guys out there like those three in the world final last year. And then there’s Charlie, who’s the fourth fastest of all time in the UK.
So, I mean, it’s a sport where it’s who performs best on the day isn’t it?
So, if you’ve got the time and you go into the qualifiers, you’ve got a chance. But it’s very much this. Again, this is this year it is just about learning as much as I possibly can and just continuing to improve and staying on that curve of progression which you need to be on.
Yeah. You say fifteen hundred meters is not something that you’ve done a lot of working on in the past as you’ve mainly focused on 800. Is that right? Yeah. So where are you at now then? What are you thinking? Are you focusing more on fifteen rather than the eight?
So, when I was younger, I always run 800, so I ran one European under 18s and 2016 for 800 hundred metres. Then to be honest after that I had two years our injured, didn’t race for two years, came back last year, was doing eight. Some fifteen is this indoor season and did more 15 hundred. I have done 800 it’s what I’ve always done as a younger kid. But then the 15, it’s new. I’ve been running PB’s and I’ve been winning races in that. But I think they’re both similar sorts of training that you have to do for some people, they’re 800 training is very different to fifteen training. But there’s quite a bit of overlap with me. I think like how my body is and how it reacts. I’m more than happy to do whatever I’m going to be best at.
What’s your coach want you to do?
John’s very relaxed on it. I mean, he knows you have to run a good fifteen, you have to run a good 800. So, it’s kind of like we work around both those areas. And then whichever one’s looking like it I am progressing towards.
You said you think the Olympics is unrealistic in your mind, but it must be something that’s on your mind.
One hundred percent. So, everybody gets sucked into like the big the Olympics every four years. It’s like the equivalent of the World Cup in football. The biggest stage that you could possibly perform on in your sport. So, yeah, obviously, it us in the back of my head when I’m feeling in a bit of a session. Oh, you never know. Like this could make the difference in the trials or you could just nick the time with this sort of thing. But yeah. Yeah, you dream about that. Yes. It’s almost it’s a dream really. Like It’d be something I’d love to be able to do, you know.
You said that you are younger than most the guys you train with. So, I guess would you look at it as these Olympics would be almost a bonus. The next ones would really be your peak one?
So that’s exactly what is, when I’ve been speaking about planning and stuff like if I was to make this one, it would be like completely a massive bonus and be a win win. Like I said, with the Glasgow indoors when I got the late call, it’s like a win win, like a complete bonus. It’s just a massive learning experience. Yeah and in a few years, then you want to be really performing and like pushing to do well.
Yeah. So, would you say that your next sort of big event would probably be the next world championships. But hopefully you get to the Olympics this year. On another note has the corona virus had any impact on your sport so far?
I’m heading out to Flagstaff in Arizona. Yeah. In about a month’s time, flying out there for an altitude training camp where I’ll be there for three weeks and then I’ll head to San Francisco and L.A. to do a couple of races- at the moment, those races are still on. But you never know.
Yeah. Do you talk about it within the group?
To be honest, Not really. Yeah. Nobody’s really talking about. It’s kind of just everybody knows it’s going on. Everybody knows it’s a horrible issue people having to deal with in different parts of the world. People seem to be just getting on with getting on with life. I don’t know if that’s because it’s not very severe here yet, which is a possibility. But yeah, everybody is kind of just working towards their goals and just keep keeping doing that sort of thing.
Yeah. I mean if the Olympics didn’t happen that would be one of the biggest sports stories ever. It has never been postponed or cancelled in peace time. It’s only ever been because of war.
It’s one of those things out of your control. When I was on my my first team, actually I think it was in England under 18s team. The team manager was like control the controllable. That has stuck with me for like the last six, seven years, whatever. If you are stressing about, you’re going to waste so much time, you can’t stay indoors all the time and your kind of just got to do what you can to maybe make yourself cleaner, healthier.
But I think if you think about it too much, I guess you got to think you’re going end up dropping off your training and then you have high life’s like any you come.
I don’t think you can be worrying about that, because if you’re anxious and worried about that, then it’s just going to affect your life really badly.
Yeah. Returning to your dad, I guess, for me I remember his football career best for the Leeds Champions League run and the 2002 World Cup. How old were you then?
So, In the 2002 World Cup. I was three and then Leeds, I was probably four or five. To be honest, I don’t remember any of that. Watched the old videos, which we used to watch when we were about eight or nine and we understood a little bit. I can’t play that anymore because nobody has a video player. I remember watching all of the highlights from that. And also, when he got promoted with Charlton in 1999. That was just after I was born. I do remember his days at Man City because he had retired to 2009, he was only 30 though. Yeah. I didn’t get to see him when I would have understood a little bit more because I was still young and I wasn’t massively interested. But we used to go and watch him play I remember sitting high up and being able to see on the pitch, he always waved when he came out. But I don’t remember the specifics. I just remember being there.
Yeah. I’m wondering what sort of professional sport sets up what you would have grown up through. So, you know, your dad came home from training, I guess every day and he’s a sports person that has there has to be discipline off the pitch as well as on its side. Yes. It’s a nice so I sort of mentality. So, he’s growing up around that sort of influence, Jay.
Oh, without a doubt. 100 percent. So, he’s very much both hands on. But especially he’s very much-done everything you can, if you work as hard as you possibly can. If you don’t give 100 percent, that’s not good enough. So that’s very helpful when obviously in a sport that I’m doing now where it’s just about you. And if you give everything, you’ll get results. So very helpful and it’s inspired me to see that’s what you have to do, this is how you have to live and that sort of thing.
Yeah. We see quite a lot of famous sporting families. They often don’t actually cross sports.
My younger brother plays for Everton. So, he is carrying it on. He’s just coming towards the end of school. So hopefully. I think he’s been kept on for the next year or so. Got to keep working hard.
Yeah. You said that football is something you started off playing, is something that you really considered?
Yeah. That was a dream. I wanted to be a footballer. I think every kid would want to be a footballer. But at the end of the day I wasn’t good enough, which is normal, really. Hardly any people make it into that profession and then kind of moved, like I mentioned earlier, moved towards athletics in school and that sort of thing. And then around the age of 15, 16, I was like, OK, and I’m good at this. I think I can think I can do well here. Yeah, because I always loved seeing my dad being a professional sportsman. I was like, that’s awesome. That’s so cool. And then kind of saw athletics and running is like my opportunity to do that.
What sort of advice did he give you?
Well a lot of it crosses over experience in sport, like getting yourself ready for competition, getting yourself ready for training, recovery and nutrition, like all of that sort of thing, all crosses over. It’s purely just. Different sports. But I’d say it’s probably easier for him to help me with running than it would be for me to help somebody with football, right. Because running’s a fairly simplistic sport.
A lot of that is mental too isn’t it?
He’s very, very good with helping me mentally. You’ve done all the training. You can do this. Let’s just execute your plan and do everything like that.
He understands he has experienced this at the highest level in front of however many fans. Another big pressure. Yeah, exactly. So, Sundays he understands the pressure that I put myself under because that’s a lot of it. And pressure from yourself to perform, the pressure that you feel from the crowds or the events. He’s really helpful at managing me and helping me with understanding those things and knowing what to do in those scenarios.
Yeah, he’s clearly good at analysis as he has made a successful career and being a pundit since then.
Well that’s probably a matter of opinion, I think. I’m probably a bit biased.
Thanks for coming today. We finished all podcasts with just a few questions, which is just a bit of fun. Who is your biggest role model?
Obviously my dad, my dad’s probably, my biggest role model, seeing how he made it in his career, telling me what he did to make it in his career and seeing how he works like day in, day out, even if that’s not in a sport, that’s a massive inspiration for me. I like to see sportsmen and women that you can tell, they’ve given everything they can to achieve their goals, whether that’s a football or basketball player, a hockey player or anything like that. But it’s difficult to say I couldn’t hit the nail on the head because to me was my dad’s my biggest role model. Quite different to other people, because I don’t have a former England footballer as their Dad.
Who do end up supporting?
So this is a funny story. I’m a Chelsea fan. Yes. When I was like 3. One of my dad’s mates bought me a Chelsea kit and it just stuck. Right. But then ended up sticking and supporting them, which is weird. I have obviously a soft spot for leads and I would love for them to go up this year. I’ve been to a few games, that’s probably my dad’s favourite club and that sort of the team that’s close to home.
Do you get stick from your dad for the Chelsea support?
He’s not really bothered. But I have been a fan for obviously the last 17 to 18 years of my life.
Since coming to Sussex, where is your favourite place. And when you do get any spare time, where would you like to be?
So I usually love heading into the lanes in Brighton. It’s like a very different, different vibe. Different to lots of places I’ve been before loads of little nice independent cafes, restaurants. I love the beach you can go chill out. Go chill out there with a few mates. Chill and just have a lemonade occasionally.
Tell us something about you, which most people may not know?
That’s a difficult one. It’s probably a Chelsea fan.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I don’t think i really have one. I think everything in moderation isn’t bad. Right? So like I think if I have if I’ve had a big day, I’ve done a track session in the morning, I’ve been to the gym and I’ve run again that evening. It’s not going to kill you if you have a biscuit. It’s just it’s kind of like just making not sure you are not overdoing it. But it’s good to have a bit of normality and relax.
And finally, in 5 years, where do you think you’ll be or hope you’ll be so in 5 years?
I’d like to be an Olympian. So, a second Olympic cycle in there maybe and then other than that, I have no idea, five years is a long time.

Kerry Burnett • March 13, 2020


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