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Fun sports are a winner

I hesitate to begin any contribution to a newspaper by questioning the integrity of journalists, but I have found recently that I can do no other.

There have been several articles in the daily and weekend press, though not in this august publication, suggesting that Edinburgh does not encourage competitive sports within schools. This is simply not true and I myself would not be where I am today if I hadn't been encouraged to participate in sport at school.

But there is no point in creating endless sporting opportunities if young people have been put off sport in the first place. So we begin our sporting activities by creating events that all children can participate in, whatever their ability. They compete against themselves rather than each other, going round different "stations" in teams. Each station uses skills in throwing, running, movement, catching etc.

This develops social skills, confidence and improved fitness as well as transferable motor skills for sport.

From there, we can focus on nurturing those children who display the talent, drive and determination to compete locally, nationally and even internationally in their chosen sport. And for those for whom traditional sport is not an attractive option, there are many other ways of staying fit through opportunities offered in pulse studios, dance, drama and classes like body balance and yoga.

Unfortunately, in the black and white world of instant journalism, such sophisticated thinking is not allowed. Instead, easy headlines about PC sports day make a few journalists' lives simple and everyone else's more complicated. The suggestion seems to be that, because we no longer have egg and spoon races, somehow Scotland will never win the world cup at anything.

We know we need to inspire as many children in sport as possible. We do this by introducing a range of sporting activities at primary level where all children are encouraged to participate. This method of introducing sport in an informal way encourages children to enjoy themselves under no pressure. If they want to progress, a competitive drive will develop naturally along with their desire to improve their performance and skills.

There are more than 25 different sports offered somewhere within Edinburgh's schools and, in the holidays, Play4it, GO4IT, Sporting Chance and our large football holiday programmes create more opportunities.

Our Soccer7s (primaries 4-7) and Fun5s (primaries 1-3) programmes are flourishing. Seventy per cent of all primary schools in Edinburgh field at least one team every Saturday. Currently more than 100 P1-3s take part in Fun5s, hard evidence that child participation in competitive team sports is well and truly thriving in Edinburgh.

This year our education department had the pleasure of hosting the BAA Youth Championships. More than 1,000 Edinburgh pupils took part in real, competitive sports.

We have a number of sports development posts, the most recent for a football development officer for girls. Girls' football is currently the fastest growing sport within Edinburgh's schools. In addition, some schools have now appointed their own, full-time sports development officers.

We want our children to continue enjoying sport no matter what their level, ability or how competitive they are. By placing as much emphasis on enjoyment and self-development as we do on competition, we will continue to see more and more children becoming involved in sport at all levels.

We can always do more, but there is already a great deal of competitive sport in Edinburgh's schools. What we might need however, are new courses for journalists on the difference between complementary activity and opposites - and between research and believing everything you read in the papers.

Ewan Aitken Executive member for children and families Edinburgh City Council

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