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Passing on hard won experience

Top-class athletes of all kinds know that sport can be life-enhancing and are lending their expertise to help children fulfil their potential, writes Roddy Mackenzie

In the aftermath of the Olympic Games, the stampede of children seeking to take that first step towards a medal will be heard in gym halls and sports fields across the land. In reality, only a tiny percentage will ever get the chance to perform in such an arena, but that will not stop the dreams.

Scottish-born cyclist Chris Hoy, yachtswoman Shirley Robertson and canoeist Campbell Walsh will all help their respective sports to recruit children in the months after their Olympic medals.

Former England and Great Britain hockey player Steve Batchelor, who won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, knows that such an experience is made to be shared. He set up a company, Sporting Matters, not long afterwards with the intent of providing schoolteachers and coaches with access to relevant, international-level coaching material and encouraging more children to take up not just hockey but as many sports as possible.

Sporting Matters is merging with Exsportise, a company with 15 years'

experience in organising sports coaching camps for 9- to 16-year-olds, and Sportplan, which provides on-line coaching databases and an interactive advice network, and later this month will relaunch as Exsportise with that same philosophy to help teachers and pupils fulfil their potential.

The Surrey-based company hosts frequent conference days with the aim of improving the level of coaching that children receive. The next one in Scotland will be held at Fettes College in Edinburgh on October 14, when teachers and coaches will gain instruction from Nick Gillingham, a double Olympic swimming medallist, John Shaw, a former England and Great Britain hockey player who competed in two Olympic Games, and Brani Bazany, coach to the England women's basketball team.

By having such high-profile coaches, the company is hopeful that 150 delegates from all over Scotland will attend. William Davis, who handles the marketing for the conferences, is quick to point out that they are not an exclusive preserve of private schools.

"We tend to use private schools such as Fettes College or Strathallan as they have access to such good facilities, but the conferences are open to everyone," he says. "At the last conference in Scotland, we had delegates from as far away as Orkney and there were a lot of state schools represented."

The conferences are designed for a range of coaching abilities, from perhaps a history teacher who would like to take hockey but wants guidance, to established physical education teachers who want confirmation that what they are doing is on the right lines.

"I think that having coaches like Nick Gillingham attending helps as people want to rub shoulders with the best and get an insight into what it takes to be successful at the top level," Mr Davis says.

The conference costs pound;127 per delegate but on-line teaching resources in specific sports are provided, and regularly updated with new material, and delegates get free access to a year of email feedback from coaches.

Exsportise is also piloting a scheme, with the aid of National Lottery funding, to allow children from low-income families to experience residential coaching camps to improve their sporting skills. The Get Real initiative currently involves 350 children, aged 11 to 17, in four English counties - Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset - but if the scheme is successful, Mr Davis says, it is likely to be rolled out to the rest of Britian.

The cost of the camps to low-income families would be as little as pound;25. As much as improving talent levels, the aim is to boost participation and enjoyment in sport.

"It is open to anyone; there are no barriers to ability or skill level," Mr Davis says.

"It is for youngsters who would not normally get the chance to attend a residential sports camp and get a feel for the experience.

"A child would get the chance to specialise in his or her main sport, such as football or rugby, for three hours in a morning but in the afternoon would try another sport that they may not have tried before, like squash or tennis.

"It's important at an early age that they get as much experience of different sports as possible, especially at under-12 level.

"The children will have the benefit of top-class coaches as well as advice on nutrition, sports psychology and physiology from experts."

He concludes: "The main reason Steve Batchelor set up the original company was that he wanted to give something back after his Olympic success as he knew that sport could be such a life-enhancing experience."

For more about the Fettes College conference, tel 01483 548500

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