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Prospecting for gold in athletic children

HUNDREDS of youngsters will be expected, almost literally, to jump through hoops as part of a Pounds 750,000 pilot project to identify basic sports skills and potentially talented athletes.

In the ten tests upper primary and lower secondary pupils will be asked to jump vertically to assess their leg power, throw and catch a ball to measure hand-to-eye co-ordination and sprint to judge their natural speed.

A Scottish Sports Council initiative, supported by the lottery sports fund, has invited local authorities and schools to take part in the first talent identification and development scheme.

Lawrie Randak, the scheme's architect, said: "Sport is simply missing many young people and many young people are missing opportunities for a lifelong, healthy involvement in sport."

The council wants to test its theories on creating a more sport-loving nation and tomorrow's medal winners in up to four diverse regions. It would prefer clusters of schools to be involved with each group receiving around Pounds 95,000 a year over two years. Councils will have to inject a further 25 per cent of the overall costs and schools will be given extra staff, hardware and software, and sports equipment.

Pupils will be able to use an interactive computer package to record data and match their basic physiological, physical and skill levels with sports and activities they are best suited to. All pupils will receive a positive personal profile, listing the sports they could do and local contacts.

Mr Randak said the second stage would identify pupils who had scored highly in the tests and link them with an out-of-school, multi-sport development programme. The third stage would direct talented athletes into more specific sports at regional level. National governing bodies would be involved.

When the scheme was floated earlier this year (TESS May 29), critics suggested the scheme was being implemented ahead of moves to strengthen local club structures. Mr Randak acknowledged the weakness but countered:

"The affect could be catalytic locally. It will ask questions. Are the clubs there? Are coaches there?" he said.

The Scottish pilot is being modelled on experience in Australia, where 60 per cent of schools are involved in similar sports tests, and in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Spain.

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