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Motivated to keep active

A sports centre's programme to interest children in fitness is spreading into secondary schools, writes Marjory Gibson

How do you encourage inactive children, with no interest in standard school sports like football and hockey, to get fit and keep active for life? You Motiv8 them, whether they are primary school age or teenagers.

Perth and Kinross Leisure kicked off its sports development programme Motiv8, specifically for children, more than a year ago by providing fitness and exercise classes at Perth's Bells Sports Centre. At the beginning of January, Motiv8 was extended to primary school children in recreation centres in Crieff, Kinross and Blairgowrie, where they can try sports such as table tennis, gymnastics, racquet sports, athletics and basketball.

Following that success, this month the scheme has been introduced into three secondary schools: Perth Grammar, Perth Academy and Kinross High.

Laura Marshall, an enthusiastic member of the Motiv8 team based at Bells Sports Centre, says: "The level of activity in primary schools is really good. The classes here and in Crieff, Kinross and Blairgowrie are doing well. But we know that the level of participation in secondary schools drops and we want to encourage fitness at all levels. The answer is to take Motiv8 into secondary schools."

Qualified instructors will run classes at lunchtimes and after school.

Motiv8 is all about having fun, Ms Marshall emphasises. And the pupils are telling Motiv8 coaches that they want more fun activities, such as dance, aerobics and trampolining.

The benefits are obvious: pupils who can't access or afford to go to sports clubs will get free tuition at school and hopefully they will go on to make exercise a regular ingredient of their adult life.

There are also underlying advantages: new sporting talent could emerge and pupils considering a career in sport will be rubbing shoulders with the specialists and getting the chance to develop their own coaching skills.

Motiv8 also offers teachers great support, says Perth Grammar's sport co-ordinator, Alistair Paterson. "The staff do a lot but they can't do everything and we're not catching all the pupils.

"We're trying to encourage the pupils who don't go for majority sports, such as football and rugby, but prefer the likes of dance, gymnastics and circuit training. We need to get these children active.

"After the fourth year, physical education is not a core subject and while we do organise badminton and table tennis at lunchtimes, we're not actually coaching anybody. Bells Sports Centre has access to very good coaches and we welcome these people into the school."

The Motiv8 programme is funded by the Scottish Executive. Last year a reallocation of money meant Perth and Kinross Council received an extra pound;2.4 million for environmental improvements and initiatives for children and young people. Just over pound;200,000 is being spent on Motiv8 this year and further funding applications are being made to the Scottish Executive under its Quality of Life initiative. This will see pound;180 million being allocated to local authorities over the next three years.

The Motiv8 team takes its name to heart. The six young staff qualified in sports science and coaching are highly motivated.

"We love what we're doing and we've really gelled as a team. In fact we get called the Happy Gang!" says Ms Marshall.

She and her colleague Laura Petrie are excited by the response from presentations about Motiv8 that they have made at school assemblies. They issued pupils in the three secondary schools with questionnaires asking which, if any, sports they currently enjoy and which activities they would like to see in school. As a result, dance and aerobics will be the main fitness features at Kinross High and Perth Academy, while Perth Grammar will be more a test bed for minority sports.

During a visit to Perth Grammar, Ms Marshall, a former pupil, says: "We're really impressed with the reaction from the young people here. We know there's a demand for dance, aerobics and gymnastics. There's been a request for trampolining and we're thinking about offering body combat."

Ms Petrie, a kayaking instructor, adds: "If we can find the coach and the space we'll offer just about anything. We even know a couple of personal trainers who are happy to talk about nutrition."

Third year pupils Becky Brennan and Danielle Roberts are keen to take up aerobics and dance.

Becky says: "I'm doing gymnastics, basketball, hockey and badminton in school at the moment, but there isn't really a choice. I'd like to do aerobics and yoga."

She would like to attend a local fitness club but doesn't know any gyms that would welcome people her age into their classes. "All you can really do at our age is go swimming," she says.

Danielle echoes this, adding that she would like to try dance and kick-boxing. "I play football out of school and I definitely want to keep fit when I've left school."

Another S3 pupil, Chris Shepherd, says: "I think more different sports should be offered in school." (He is a black belt in karate, which he practises at a local fitness club.) "This would encourage more people to keep fit after they leave."

Bells Sports Centre, tel 01738 622301 to learn more about Motiv8

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