CHILDREN are not being taught how to hold a bat or racquet, or kick a ball, according to Trevor Brooking, chairman of Sport England.
The former England footballer said if these basic skills are not learned by the time children leave primary school it is too late for them ever to develop into competent sportsmen or women, let alone international sporting stars.
He told The TES that he was saddened by the contrast between his generation of PE teachers and today's. "My top priority is to get five, six and seven-year-olds interested in games. Any skill I had as a footballer was there before I left primary school.
"Top performers acquire the basic skills early in life which then become a habit, but bad habits can also form by the age of eight.
"The fundamental problem is that children are not taught the basic techniques of holding a bat, a racket, or how to kick a football," he said.
It was at school he was taught to kick with both feet, and he would practise in the park with his brother. "When you reach a certain level you need the intelligence to utilise that skill. I knew I could control the ball so I was thinking about where to put it. That skill is put in place at primary school." Mr Brooking, a former West Ham United midfielder, who played 47 times for England, said sport is important for all children - not just the talented. He has called for a major government audit of school sports facilities to form the basis of a national strategy to use lottery funds to their best advantage.
Sport England (the new name of the Sports Council) is one of the main National Lottery distributers which has awarded at least pound;1 billion to schools over the past three years.
But Mr Brooking thinks the Department for Education and Employment not helped his organisation which needs information on the distribution of playing fields, allocation of curriculum time, staff and the content of teacher training.
Sport, he said, has a key role to play in tackling crime and drugs among young people and in teaching children discipline and good behaviour.
He advocates greater investment in teacher training and would like to see more specialist coaches in schools working with PE teachers.
Mr Brooking, who was appointed by Tony Banks, former sports minister, last May, is lobbying hard to "get joined-up thinking between government departments" to develop a sports strategy for health, education, drugs and crime.
"The biggest hurdle is to get
everyone round the table. We need an overall national approach. And I'm aware that not everyone is convinced of the value of sport."
He praised specialist sports colleges for raising academic as well as sports standards in "some very tough areas". A DFEE spokesman said the next tranche of colleges would be announced next week.