Who are young people’s role models?

Footballers and activists top list of young people’s role models.

Sports stars, doctors and nurses, teachers, campaigners and Youtubers are all sources of inspiration for young people, but only 1 in 5 see good role models amongst politicians. 

Marcus Rashford is the top role model for young people according to research by national mentoring and education charity ReachOut.

The Manchester United and England star was the most mentioned role model in a survey of young people aged 8-16 taking part in after-school mentoring programmes across Greater Manchester, Liverpool and London.

Other names in the top ten most mentioned were fellow footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, education activist Malala Yousafzai, civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr, social media influencer MrBeast, former US First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Jenna Ortega and singer Ariana Grande.

Over two-thirds (71%) of the young people ReachOut surveyed felt that young people had enough positive adult role models to look up to. When asked where they saw good role models, the top areas chosen were sports stars (65%), doctors and nurses (65%), teachers and school staff (64%) and TV and film stars (58%). Only 1 in 5 (22%) said they saw good role models among politicians.  41% said that they saw positive role models in their local community.

ReachOut, which celebrates its 20th Anniversary as a charity this year, pairs adult mentors with young people in schools across under-resourced areas of Greater Manchester, Liverpool and London. Young people are referred to ReachOut by schools to take part in an annual programme of mentoring and group activities, with weekly sessions that focus on confidence and character development as well as support with English and Maths. 80% of the young people surveyed said that they saw positive role models amongst their ReachOut adult mentors. 

Young people were also asked what it was that makes someone a positive role model, with the most frequently mentioned traits being kindness followed by being inspiring, having good character, helping others and being successful in their chosen field.  “Role models are responsible, and they help other people,” said one young person in Year 6, “they encourage other people to be brave and are not scared to show their true self.”

Joy Upchurch, Head of Programmes at ReachOut said: “It’s fantastic to see that many of the young people we work with feel that they have positive adult role models they can look up to amongst our sports stars, healthcare professionals, teachers and other walks of life. Having a mentor can be a transformative experience for a young person and bringing an additional role model into their day-to-day life can help them to navigate the challenges they face. It really speaks to the character of the young people ReachOut supports that they chose traits such as kindness and helping others as key to being someone to look up to.”

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“At first, I was really hesitant to take on the Project Leader role, despite having mentored with ReachOut. However, with the support of the team I’ve really developed my skills. For example, at the Mentee Graduation, I stood up in front of 200 people and presented an award which is something I would never ever have been able to have done before, and isn’t an opportunity I could gain in my other situations.”

Amy McCutcheon, Project Leader at ReachOut Academy, Dean Trust Ardwick, Manchester.


“Being able to spend the summer working at Rede Partners, was an amazing experience. Whether it was working in HR or Finance, I learned so much about the world of private equity, made great connections with fantastic people and I got to learn first-hand what it would be like to work there! I really believe that I can go onto build the career I want now I’ve been a part for a workplace for real”

Victor Adekunle, 18 years old, ReachOut Ambassador, London


“When I first my mentee, she was very reluctant to participate in the sessions. Now, I see a completely different person! Her confidence has grown and she is happy to join in! She still has some self-doubt when it comes to academic work, but that’s what I hope to help her overcome, because she is a very bright person!

Through mentoring, I’ve learnt I’m a lot more patient than I realised. There will be days where she refuses to participate and those are the days that I really see the importance of the character strengths, for both the mentees and the mentors. It also makes it easier for the mentee to understand the character strengths, when I use them myself”

Myrtle, ReachOut Club mentor at Tufnell Primary School, London


“There are more distractions than ever outside of school, and the commitment of our students to attend ReachOut sessions is testament to the value they place on the relationships they foster there, and the challenge and enjoyment they provide.

ReachOut’s focus on communication skills and character development has become an important aspect of our provision of support for these students. The opportunity to relate to a positive role- model other than their usual teachers is key to the programme’s impact, and the evidence of this has been seen in the students’ attendance, resilience and to their overall progress across all the subjects in the school.”

Thomas Janvrin, Assistant Vice Principal at the Petchey Academy London